THE arbitrator who heard Thurrock’s points dock saga case concluded that "the club never checked with The FA in August 2012 to ascertain if Joel Barnett was eligible.”
David Casement QC refused to overturn a guilty verdict handed to Fleet by the Football Association in May for playing Barnett, who was on the West Ryding FA suspension list, after hearing the club's case on Monday but said he was "sympathetic".
The club were docked three points - which they picked up during a win over Lewes with Barnett playing - as a result of the ruling. The deduction saw them drop into the Ryman Premier League’s relegation places after they finished the season one point clear of the drop zone.
Mr Casement said in terms of the punishment the rules had been applied appropriately.
Fleet told the arbitrator that relegation to Ryman Division One North could cost them £40,000 in loss if income. The Gazette also revealed on Tuesday that club chairman Tommy South has spent over £12,000 fighting this case.
In his report, Mr Casement said Graham Bean, representing Thurrock, had “valiantly attempted to paint a picture of [Thurrock FC] as having done everything it could reasonably”. But the arbitrator claimed this was not true.
He added that the circumstances “were not exceptional” and that “ineligibility is ineligibility irrespective of the reason or the amount of the fine”.
Mr Casement resolved that while Thurrock did check with the Essex County FA to see if Barnett was suspended, they did not check with other associations. This is something which county associations should advise, but Thurrock secretary Mark Southgate said that advice was not received and he was unaware of other systems.
Mr Casement concluded it was the responsibility of club officials to be aware of the procedures.
He said: “Clearly a further check was needed to ensure that a player was not under suspension by another county association.”
Mr Smith maintains the club did nothing wrong. In the past, he has even pointed out that Barnett was sent off while playing for Tilbury, but even then the suspension was not flagged up.
Yet Mr Casement concluded: “The consequences I accept are severe and regrettable however that is as a result of the clear application of the rule which makes it mandatory to deduct points.”
As part of the appeal, Mr Bean also argued that the Ryman League could have ordered that the game be replayed, in accordance with league’s rule 6.9, rather than deducting points and that there had been a delay in the case being heard, citing “procedural unfairness”.
But in his findings, Mr Casement said the rule was “clear” that “if the club fields an ineligible player, the league has no discretion” because of the wording of the rule which states a club “shall” have points deducted.
He added that the game could have been replayed “in addition to a points deduction”, which is set out in the wording of the rule.
Thurrock argued that had the case been heard sooner - considering the FA and Ryman League were aware of the issue in January - the club might have been able to recoup the three points on the pitch.
But Mr Casement said: “I do not consider there was undue delay in this case. Thurrock had requested a personal hearing and there was no request for expedition. The period between the charges being brought and the eventual hearing cannot be left solely at the door of the Respondents.”
There was “no serious prejudice to Thurrock as a result of the fact the hearing took place on May 24”, Mr Casement believes.
Mr Bean also argued, according to the arbitrator’s report, that in 2007, AFC Wimbledon had an 18 point deduction reduced to three. But Mr Casement said he was not provided with detailed reasons for that decision and implied he could not include it in his analysis.
On Tuesday, after the verdict was released, Mr Bean, who runs Football Factors, a firm that specialise in representing football clubs and officials in disputes with the FA, called the Ryman League "incompetent". He tweeted: "Two Ryman League officials should hang their heads in shame - and they know the reason why. #IncompetentRymanLeague."
He later added: "The FA and Ryman League should look at just how badly they have come out of this mess."