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Tuesday, August 3, 1999 Published at 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK

Sport: Football

Life ban for Man Utd hopeful

Alex Ferguson: "You would expect such a verdict in Russia, not in Belgium"

Manchester United hopeful Ronnie Wallwork has been banned for life after assaulting a referee.

Antwerp secretary Rene Snelders: "This is the equivalent of the death penalty"
The incident occurred while Wallwork was on loan to Belgian second division club Antwerp, according to a spokesman from the country's football union.

The spokesman said Wallwork had grabbed referee Amand Ancion by the throat after favourites Antwerp lost a play-off match on May 23, which effectively ended their hopes of promotion to the first division.

Fellow Manchester United player Danny Higginbotham, who had been expected to be drafted into the English club's team this season, was banned for one season - until May 25 - for insulting the referee.

Antwerp and United said they would appeal against the decision, which is effective in all countries affiliated to FIFA.

"You would expect such a verdict in Russia, not in Belgium," United manager Alex Ferguson was quoted as saying in the Belgian press. "We will appeal and will probably also take this to a civil court.

Antwerp secretary Paul Bistiaux said: "We don't want these players to be cleared, they did something that was unacceptable.

"But...they should have put the incident in the right context and someone should not be robbed of his income for the rest of his [playing career] for a mistake that lasted just 15 seconds.

"We will certainly appeal...but we also consider other ways...I think the soccer union will not make a good impression before a civil court once again."

Manchester United and Antwerp, one of Belgium's oldest and most successful clubs, signed a co-operation deal last November to swap loan players on a regular basis.

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