A top Wellington footballer has been hit with an 11-month ban for violent conduct, but he has received support from an unlikely source - the victim of his on-field assault.
Stop Out's star striker Joe Gaughan, who is the Capital Premier league's leading scorer, was handed the lengthy suspension yesterday, after his attack on Lower Hutt City player-coach Alex McDonald in a club game at Hutt Park on August 9.
The attack sparked a bench-clearing brawl between the rival clubs, and referee Bryan Botha sent off four players, two from each side.
Gaughan's punishment is far harsher than that of Uruguay star Luis Suarez, who was banned for four months for biting an Italian opponent at the World Cup in June.
Englishman Gaughan is easily the Capital Premier's leading scorer, with 24 goals - his nearest rival has 11 - and Stop Out are on track for promotion to the top-tier Central League on the back of his goals.
McDonald said yesterday: "I can't be happy with it [the ban], it's a tragedy for all involved as far as I'm concerned, because the guy is a talented football player.
"It's bloody sad seeing a guy with that talent missing from the game. I don't really know Joe, but I absolutely hold no grudge. If I saw Joe tomorrow, I'd happily shake his hand and I hope he feels the same way."
But at the time, McDonald said he was "stunned" at being attacked by Gaughan while lying prone on the pitch after making a tackle on him in the second half.
"There were kicks to the upper body region and I know that it did look pretty bad, but I received no injuries," McDonald said yesterday.
Gaughan could not be reached for comment, but told a football website in his native Yorkshire that he intended to head back to Britain after Christmas, and then decide on his future.
Richard Reid, chief executive of Capital Football, which handed out the ban, said it would bar Gaughan from any "football-related activities" in New Zealand and, in theory, the world.
"If he wanted to play in the UK or Zambia, it doesn't matter, the club must request a transfer," Reid said.
"New Zealand Football would then contact us and we would say ‘no, it's not possible'."
He said the ban was not only for Gaughan's physical attack. "He was also found guilty of directing abuse at the referee and, when he was leaving the field, a further incident involving opposition players and supporters . . . This is disappointing, this is a serious incident."
Stop Out have until Friday to decide whether to appeal against the severity of the ban.
Chairman Neil Kemp said Stop Out were "reviewing" the suspension but had no further comment.
In a Facebook post soon after the game, Gaughan said he was expecting a long stint on the sidelines.
"I will be getting a hefty ban, and I am prepared to accept that, but one thing is for sure, by the time the ban is up I will be fitter, stronger and more determined to do as well as I can."
Gaughan wasn't the only player in the game to cop a ban.
McDonald's son, Alex Jr, was suspended for four games for referee abuse, Stop Out's Sam Zarka for one game for the same offence, and McDonald's other son, Aaron, an automatic one-game suspension after running to his father's aid during the melee.
- The Dominion Post