9:56am Wednesday 14th January 2009
By Dale Haslam
A FOOTBALL player has had his contract terminated after taunting fans by mocking the death of 23 people in an air crash.
John Lawless, aged 26, who played for Merseyside side Marine FC, was given an official police warning at half time in a match against Unibond League rivals FC United of Manchester at Gigg Lane, Bury, on December 20.
While taking a corner at the end of the ground in which most of the 2,122 spectators were gathered, Mr Lawless was seen to wave his arms to make an aeroplane gesture in an apparent reference to the Munich air disaster in 1958.
The crash killed eight players of Manchester United - the sister club of FC United. Three Manchester United staff and eight journalists also died.
Mr Lawless’s taunt led to uproar in the stadium and stewards had to prevent several fans from going onto the pitch.
At half-time, officers from Greater Manchester Police told Mr Lawless and his teammate Shaun Tuck, who was also seen to make the gesture, that they would be arrested if they continued to offend supporters.
After the game, it came to light that Mr Lawless was a member of social networking website Facebook and his profile showed he was a member of an interest group called Munich 58 Was The Best Thing Ever. He has since left the group.
Referee John Corkhill included the incident in his match report, which prompted Unibond League officials to report the matter to the Football Association (FA).
Football intelligence officer, PC Tony Brown, said: “Offensive behaviour will not be tolerated and it is testimony to the swift actions of the officers at the match that this situation was dealt with quickly and without any further incidents.”
On Tuesday, a Marine FC spokesman said: "Marine FC announces that contract player John Lawless has today left the club and his contract has been cancelled by agreement of both parties."
The club's chairman, Paul Leary, added: “We have received a written enquiry from the FA regarding allegations. The club has responded to the FA in writing and has also spoken to the players regarding the complaints.
“The two players have also been written to by the FA and they too have responded in writing. Both the club and the players are cooperating fully with the enquiry by an officer of the FA."
FC United general manager Andy Walsh said: “We will have to see what the outcome of that investigation is.
“I would like to praise the professional approach of the matchday stewards and police who moved quickly to deal with the incident in a responsible way so problems were kept to a minimum and I want to say ‘thanks’ to FC United fans who did not rise to the bait.”
The matter is likely to come before the FA’s regulatory commission, which will consider the referee’s report and decide if a charge should be brought. Mr Lawless would then have about one week to respond to any charge.