Bradford City striker Gordon Watson won his claim for negligence against defender Kevin Gray and his club, Huddersfield Town. After a five-day trial at the High Court, sitting in Leeds, Mr Justice Hooper ruled in favour of Watson but against his club and fellow plaintiffs Bradford City, who were suing Gray and Huddersfield Town for recklessness.
The judge said he would give his written judgment on Thursday, when the legal team acting for Watson will press for an interim damages payment for the injury, which left him out of the game for 18 months.
The court was told a full damages hearing was not likely until April, when a full medical assessment of Watson's chances of making a full recovery will be available.
Yesterday the Professional Footballers' Association said it would investigate setting up an independent arbitration system to avoid players going through the courts.
Watson suffered a double-fracture of his right leg after the high sliding tackle by Gray during a local derby on 1 February last year. The match was Watson's third for Bradford after joining them from Southampton for a then record club fee of pounds 575,000.
He was out of the game for the rest of that season and for the entire 1997-98 season. He has still to play a full 90 minutes in a first-class game.
He said he was delighted with the ruling, but still had a long way to go to get back to full match fitness. "You don't want anyone to go through what I've been through, whether it's a professional footballer, a kid on a Sunday or someone playing in the park."
The 27-year-old striker said he had "no feelings whatsoever" towards Gray. He was only 75 per cent fit and still did not know whether he would ever regain full fitness.
The Bradford City chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, said: "Hopefully the football field from here on in will be a safer place." He was delighted Watson had won but disappointed the club had not succeeded with its claim. His legal team would meet after the judge delivers his written judgment to consider whether to appeal.
He hoped in future the football authorities would find a way of dealing with similar incidents without players or clubs having to resort to the courts.
Mr Richmond said it was still not known how much progress Watson would make towards a full recovery. "He has had five operations and a six-inch metal plate put into his leg."
Gray and Huddersfield Town denied liability for the injury, saying it was purely accidental.