TUNBRIDGE WELLS Football Club has breathed a collective sigh of relief after been cleared of a charge of discrimination by one of its supporters.
The appeal verdict was announced at the end of last month after an investigation that lasted almost six months – and had cast damning aspersions on the club.
A Southern Counties East Football League match against Croydon at Culverden Stadium on September 27 last year was abandoned with three minutes to go when the referee walked off and did not return.
The official, John Nazari, gave no reason to the players or officials as he left the field. He had sent off two players during the match.
Tunbridge Wells were leading 1-0, and were finally awarded the three points last week, which could prove invaluable as the team are currently caught up in a relegation battle.
Mr Nazari submitted his report to the Kent Football Association stating that he had been abused by a spectator, which contravened FA Rule E3.
The rule states: “A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”
Until the national FA releases its written notes on the case with the transcript and the basis of judgment, it is not known if the incident constituted an ‘aggravated breach’ of E3.
This specifies that it ‘includes a reference, whether express or implied, to any one or more of the following: Ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability’.
Tunbridge Wells FC contested the charge of discrimination at an Appeal Board hearing after it was upheld, and they were fully exonerated.
Scott Bartlett, chairman of Tunbridge Wells FC, said: “No one heard what was said apart from the referee, and there was a crowd of 300 there that night.
“The incident occurred in the area where the Tunbridge Wells and Croydon officials were standing and they didn’t hear anything either.”
He added: “The referee couldn’t tell who had said the alleged comment and so it wasn’t necessarily a Tunbridge Wells supporter anyway.”
“There was simply no foundation to the allegation. And it’s not the first time he’s done it. He has been told that he will not officiate in our league again.”
According to Richard Judd, Football Services Manager of Kent FA, such cases are heard by an FA chairman from a county association and an independent panel comprising anti-discrimination bodies, local leagues and county FA representatives.
Mr Nazari, who is of Iranian origin, has previously been involved in a discrimination case which led to the resignation of officials running another league.
Three administrators in the Combined Counties League stood down in May 2014 over the FA’s alleged failure to act on their behalf following complaints about Mr Nazari. He in turn claimed that he had been a victim of discrimination over his performance assessments.