People blasts 'whingeing' Arsenal in anti-French row

Arsenal Football Club’s request that the Sunday People apologise for a report criticising manager Arsene Wenger got a robust reply.

Sports editor Lee Clayton took legal advice before responding with a "Pardon our French" page lead on 6 January in which he branded Arsenal "the biggest whingers in football" and "The Groaners" rather than "The Gunners".

The newspaper has so far heard nothing more from the club nor its legal advisers.

The match report to which Arsenal objected appeared on 30 December when, after a victory over Middlesbrough, chief sports writer Paul McCarthy wrote: "So the French Prince of Paranoia sits at the summit of the Premiership as the New Year edges in.

"But if anybody hears Arsene Wenger whine about the injustice of referees or Soho Square [FA Premiership headquarters] again this season, you have my permission to ram a video of this match up his elegant Gallic hooter."

Three days later, solicitors Lawrence Jones wrote to the paper saying: "Our client considers that the first two paragraphs of your article are gratuitously offensive to French participants in football and border on racism.

"Our client expects you, as chairman of the Football Writers’ Association, to set a better example to others, and is inclined to take this matter further. Before doing so, however, it has instructed us to ask you to print a suitable apology in the next edition of your paper. Please confirm by return that you will do so."

Clayton said: "Racism? We are the newspaper whose recent investigation into racism in football forced the FA into an embarrassing climbdown over an incident involving black ref Joe Ross and former England skipper Mark Wright."

Alongside Clayton’s article, McCarthy wrote in his column: "I would like to offer genuine and sincere apologies to Arsene Wenger and especially his nose if I’ve caused any offence."

He also apologised to "Sacha Distel, Joan of Arc, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Toulouse-Lautrec, G?rard Depardieu, the Eiffel Tower, the man who drives Le Shuttle, Charles de Gaulle, French onion soup, Pepe Le Pew, Belle and Sebastian, Jean Paul Gaultier, anybody who lives in a cul-de-sac, all the staff at CafŽ Rouge and any other Frenchman who knows me".

Clayton told Press Gazette: "I was completely shocked by the letter. We value Paul rather highly. He played three times for England at under-18 level and, having been in the dressing-room and with experience of the football rat race, that gives him a unique perspective on football issues. From time to time, he upsets one or two people with his opinions and this was clearly the case.

"We are obviously hitting a raw nerve and I hope that we continue to do so."

By Jean Morgan

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