Football club will pay any damages over tackle

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The Independent Online
The Aston Villa footballer Dean Saunders will not have to pay damages even if he loses the High Court case in which he is accused of negligence by the former Chelsea player Paul Elliott over an injury that ended his career.

Mr Saunders's former club Liverpool yesterday announced that it would indemnify him for costs and damages if he loses the case. Colin Mackay, the club's QC, said that it had become clear during cross-examination that no intent to injure was alleged.

The case was based on an allegation of pure negligence and committing a foul with reckless disregard for its consequences.

Anthony Berrisford - counsel for Mr Saunders - said Liverpool's decision was taken on the grounds that Mr Saunders was 'doing his job', and in order to save legal costs he had agreed to withdraw, leaving the player to be represented by Mr Mackay.

Augustus Ullstein QC, for Mr Elliott, said his case was that Mr Saunders had attempted to go over the ball and play the man but not to cause such injuries as to ruin Mr Elliott's career.

Geoff Hurst, the only man to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, told yesteray's hearing that in his view Mr Saunders was just trying to protect himself from injury when he jumped to avoid a lunging tackle from Mr Elliott in the match at Anfield in September 1992.

Mr Elliott ruptured the ligaments of his right knee, and the injury ended his career.

Mr Saunders, who joined Aston Villa for pounds 2.3m five days after the incident, and Liverpool FC deny liability, the sole issue to be decided at this stage. If Mr Elliott wins, he may go on to seek up to pounds 1m in damages.

Mr Hurst - who scored three times in England's 4-2 win over West Germany in 1966 - said that 'realistically' there were only two options for Mr Saunders. To avoid the challenge altogether or to go for a defensive damage limitation tackle which would attempt to keep the ball between the player and his opponent's studs.

Mr Saunders adopted the 'classic position of a forward trying to keep the sole of his foot on the ball to prevent himself from being injured . . . to stop the opponent going through and hitting his legs'.

'If you didn't protect yourself, you would not finish a game, or a season, or a career,' he said.

John Key, who refereed the match, said that in his view Mr Elliott was guilty of 'ungentlemanly conduct and dangerous play' when he made a flying tackle in which both feet left the ground. Mr Saunders, he thought, was genuinely attempting to play the ball.

Mr Key said there was no reaction or animosity after Mr Elliott had been stretchered off. Normally if players felt one of their team mates had been deliberately injured by an unfair tackle they would be liable to take matters into their own hands, but there was none in this instance.

His evidence was backed by a linesman, Terence Atkinson, who said he had raised his flag to signal dangerous play by Mr Elliott. In his opinion Mr Saunders was making a challenge for the ball.

The case continues today.