Saturday night's all right for biting

Put a foot wrong and you may get your finger chewed off. Is this the start of disco rage?
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ON SUNDAY night 24-year-old Michelle Gordon had her finger bitten off by another woman on the dance floor of Liberty's nightclub in Dudley, West Midlands. Her attacker allegedly grabbed her left hand, bit off the tip of her index finger below the knuckle and spat it back at her, snarling: "You're dancing in my area." The woman also stamped on her foot.

It was an unpleasant end to what had been the single mother's first night out in four months. Despite intensive efforts, the severed finger was not found for hours. It had apparently been trampled on and, although officers packed it in ice, surgeons could not sew it back on. Michelle Gordon also needed stitches in her toe, and may have trouble continuing with her care assistant job.

While nightclubs have never been monuments of courtesy, one generally doesn't expect to have one's finger bitten off. Not even after six Sea Breezes and an overdose of EuroDisco. There are other more conventional ways of marking out territory on the dance floor, such as brandishing a cigarette at arm's length. But actual bodily harm while you're stomping away to Sash?

Peter Stringfellow, veteran of the disco industry, says fighting in clubs has always been an occupational hazard. "When I first started out in 1962, we used to say that there were three things you went to a club for - to see a band, to pull a girl and to have a fight. At my first club, The Black Cat, we regularly used to have to empty the dance floor because of fights. But not now, not in the West End."

Further proof that discos are dangerous comes from Dr Chris Luke, a consultant at the Royal Liverpool Hospital's Accident and Emergency unit, who has been dubbed the "disco doctor". He estimates that 1,000 people a year pass through his unit suffering from injuries sustained at clubs. He believes "club rage" is a symptom of a much wider problem.

"We are increasingly living in a society where rage incontinence is an epidemic. Big clubs are more vigilant," he says, "although the Hacienda in Manchester closed down largely because of fights and turf-wars." He points out that an estimated 15 million Britons are regular clubbers, most of them "hyper-liberated" with drink and drugs, so the figures for assaults should be read in that context.

Paul Manson, editor of Ministry magazine, the clubber's bible published by the Ministry of Sound, believes that post-Ecstasy, nightclubs are becoming less friendly. "There is less hugging and kissing in clubs than there was in the summer of love 10 years ago. The `One Love' spirit has waned and the money has moved in."

However, he points out that British clubbers have always been more relaxed than those on the Continent or in America. "There's an unspoken territorial rule in Britain that you respect other people's space. That's why incidents like the one in Dudley are probably more common abroad than here. When you do get club rage, it tends to be at the type of club where alcohol is the focus as opposed to dance. And to be fair, Dudley is not exactly the dance capital of Britain."