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Darren Fletcher – an injustice that has to be righted

Posted on 6 May 2009 | 9:05am

Despite the objections of one son, who thinks Burnley fans should not attend Manchester United matches, I went with my other son, who supports Manchester United, to see his team beat Arsenal.

It was all over pretty quickly which at least allowed me to get revenge on Arsenal supporter Piers Morgan for the ‘taxi for Campbell’ text he sent when Burnley went two down at The Emirates in the FA Cup earlier this year. His reply ‘Go back to Burnley’ suggested he was pretty deflated. Not up to  his usual insult standard. All very childish I know, but Piers and I have been insulting each other childishly since he was a child.

In addition to the brilliance of goals 2 and 3, there were a few other moments to enjoy. ‘Fergie, Fergive give us a wave,’ followed by the United manager appearing to cross his arms, Benitez style, to indicate ‘game over’ was a good one for the afficionadoes. Bumping into rugby player Mark Cueto, and reminiscing about the Lions trip to New Zealand, filled in a bit of pre-match time. Good too that I narrowly missed being hit by the bottle of coke that came our way after the second goal. And for once, I could walk home from the stadium, as opposed to the four or five hours it takes to get from Burnley.

But the satisfaction for my son and his fellow United fans, despite all the ‘we’re going to Rome and that’s a fact’ singing (another dig at Benitez for his unwise rant of a few weeks ago) was minimised significantly by the fact that Darren Fletcher was sent off unfairly and will miss the Final.

As Jamie Redknapp and Ruud Gullit know from my occasional childish and not so childish texts to them when they’re commentating for Sky, Fletcher is the Campbell household’s Number 1 United player, who does not get anything like the recognition he deserves.

He has overcome quite a lot of grumbling from supporters in his early days at the club to become a key player who would almost certainly have played in the Final. He has heroic fitness levels, is a team player par excellence, and a Scot.

His tackle on Fabregas, whilst not elegant, was a superb piece of defending, not a foul, certainly not a red card. As he trudged off to one of the few loud Arsenal cheers of the night, all around us were trying to find out if he could appeal. That he could not adds to the injustice.

Uefa is entitled to have its rules, which appear to stipulate that his case can only be looked at if the Italian referee, Roberto Rosetti, looks at the tape, decides to admit he made a mistake, and he can recommend the card be rescinded.

But surely, for a match as important as this, there should be a better system than that. There is talk that this will lead to a change in the system, that such incidents could be reviewed by a refereeing panel after the event. But that is not going to  happen in time for this.

In which case, public and media opinion may be the only thing that might even begin to swing it. So I hope Redknapp and Gullit pile it on in their pre- and post-match discussions at Stamford Bridge on Sky tonight. They might spread the word among the Continental stations likely to be watched by Uefa’s hierarchy, and get Geoff Shreeve to ask the Chelsea and Barcelona managers in their pre-match interviews whether they think it is grossly unfair for a player to miss a Final in these circumstances. They both seem like decent men.

What is the greatest injustice anyone can face? Probably to be in jail for something you haven’t done. Missing a Champions League Final for a red card that should never have been given is not far off from being a footballing equivalent.

Of course some will say that Fletcher will continue to draw a huge weekly salary and all the perks that go with being a modern Premiership footballer. Right now, I bet he would sacrifice the lot to be able to  pull on his shirt in Rome’s Olympic Stadium on May 27.