Injury to player left team-mates 'stunned': Welsh international could face multi-million pound damages bill if footballer wins what is seen as test case for the sports world

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The Independent Online
A FORMER England footballer's career was wrecked by a tackle which left his team-mates as 'stunned and devastated' as by a horrific road accident, the High Court was told yesterday.

The former Chelsea footballer Paul Elliott, 30, suffered a ruptured knee which ended his pounds 4,000-a-week career after the tackle by Welsh international Dean Saunders. Mr Elliott is suing the Aston Villa player and his former club, Liverpool FC, for negligence over the challenge in September 1992. Damages could run into millions of pounds.

His action is seen as a test case as he is the first player with an international reputation to sue another high-profile player for damages for injury caused during a game. If Mr Saunders is found to have acted recklessly he could be forced to pick up the bill himself.

The court has seen a video of the tackle during a match between Liverpool and Chelsea. Detailed photographs of the incident have been produced and a table football set with cut-out figures has been used.

Augustus Ullstein QC, for Mr Elliott, said his client, a central defender, had been a professional footballer since the age of 16. He had played for Luton Town, Aston Villa and Pisa in Italy and was one of the first black players at Celtic, where he suffered racist abuse.

He moved to Chelsea for pounds 1.4m and was on the verge of the full England team after being captain of the England B side. The tackle occurred in a First Division game at Liverpool's Anfield ground. Mr Ullstein said the challenge happened after about 12 minutes when Mr Saunders made a two-footed jump into a tackle. Mr Elliott's knee was ruptured and had a five- inch abrasion. After three operations he was forced to retire.

Mr Ullstein said: 'There was no realistic prospect of playing the ball at all. Saunders had his feet in the air jumping over the top of the ball and clearly at Paul Elliott. Injury was absolutely inevitable.'

Mr Elliott told the court that, at the start of the game, there was no ill-feeling between the sides nor between himself and Mr Saunders. Both players went for the ball and Mr Elliott claimed Mr Saunders jumped at his knee. 'I felt the full force of him on my right knee,' he said. 'I was in excruciating pain. It was as if my team-mates had seen an horrific road accident. The players were stunned, they were devastated.'

Anthony Berisford, for Mr Saunders, who denies being negligent, said there had been little reaction from the Chelsea players. 'If they had really thought this was a wicked tackle they would have made their feelings clear.'

He said Vinny Jones, a former team-mate of Mr Elliott, who will give evidence in the case, had a reputation for sorting things out his way. 'If Mr Jones had thought Dean Saunders had intentionally gone over the top of the ball he would have been straight in to mix it,' Mr Berisford said.

He added that Mr Elliott had a poor disciplinary record and had been penalised for the tackle. He said Mr Elliott made up for lack of speed against Mr Saunders by jumping at the ball. Mr Berisford said he intended to make his mark on the game to push his claims for a place in the England team.

A former World Cup referee, Kenneth Aston, said Mr Elliott's part of the challenge was not dangerous play. He added: 'Dean Saunders hoodwinked the referee and Vinny Jones as well.'

(Photographs omitted)