Former manager changes view over football tackle

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IN A dramatic last-minute volte-face Malcolm Allison, the former Manchester City manager, defected from the 'defence' to the 'prosecution', in the first High Court case in Britain where one top flight professional football player is suing another for allegedly causing him a serious injury on the football field.

Until Tuesday Mr Allison, 65, was due to appear as a witness for Dean Saunders, 29, the former Liverpool striker, who is accused of wrecking the chances of the former Chelsea captain Paul Elliott, 30, of pursuing an international career by a negligent tackle in a match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on 5 September 1992.

Mr Elliott alleges that a reckless challenge by Mr Saunders ruptured the ligaments of his right knee. Mr Saunders and Liverpool FC deny liability, which is the sole matter at issue. If Mr Elliott wins, he is likely to go back to the High Court seeking up to pounds 1m in damages from the other parties.

Yesterday, Mr Allison appeared instead for Mr Elliott, saying that he had completely changed his mind about who was behaving dangerously in a chase for the ball which left Mr Elliott writhing in agony.

Initially, after seeing several screenings of a video recording of the incident, Mr Allison concluded that Mr Elliott was guilty of a reckless tackle and that Mr Saunders was genuinely attempting to play the ball - he signed two legal statements to this effect.

After a meeting of lawyers, players and officials to discusss the case, at the Anfield ground on 3 March this year, Mr Allison encountered Ronnie Whelan, the Irish international and Liverpool midfield player who was in the same match, and started to worry about whether he was supporting the right player.

Mr Allison told the court that Mr Whelan said to him: 'Mal, you can't let him get away with this. The him was Dean Saunders.' Mr Allison added that players know better than anyone what happened on the pitch.

After watching what he said was a higher quality colour recording of the incident, with two camera angles rather than one, Mr Allison concluded Mr Saunders was going in with the wrong foot for controlling the ball. If he had been genuinely going for the ball he would have been leading with his left foot.

Colin Mackay QC, for Mr Saunders and Liverpool FC, said that the video Mr Allison had seen was the same as the one he had originally been shown. Summing up, he said that part of the appeal of sport is its 'very precarious quality. The risks are there. A piece of pure misfortune or an error of judgement can lead to the most serious injuries'.

His case was not that players at the highest level owe no legal duty to each other. 'The issue here is the purpose for which the law goes on to the field of play, the extent to which the referee should have the judge at his shoulder, the lawyers should sit in the dugout recording every movement for later dissection and analysis,' Mr Mackay said.

Every professional footballer in the course of his career would commit some fouls, some of which might lead to injuries. But he should not be liable 'simply because the injury was foreseeable. He will only be liable where his actions show a reckless disregard for the safety of his opponent, or where he intends to do him physical injury'.

Mr Mackay said that the lack of an angry reaction to the incident by other Chelsea players spoke volumes.

Augustus Ullstein QC, for Mr Elliott, said it was curious that no Liverpool players had been called to give evidence. 'It is a proper inference that those players have not been called because they know what happened and cannot give evidence which supports Saunders,' he said.

Judgment will be given tomorrow.

(Photograph omitted)