A week football went mad

THE PLAYER: Graeme Le Saux, the Blackburn defender, explains what makes players see red
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FIRST the confrontation between a fan and Eric Cantona; then, exactly a week later, another one - though averted - between a fan and a referee which happened just a few yards in front of me at Ewood Park on Wednesday night. These are certainly anxious times for football. The intensity of the game at the top level is one factor - the large sums of money involved nowadays coming into the equation along with the prestige of winning the Premiership. The standard of refereeing standards is another. But while there are mitigating circumstances in both cases, I believe there can be no real excuse for either incident.

I do understand, though, what Cantona must have gone through. I have been called some unpleasant things and I have heard sections of the crowd chanting "rent-boy" at me. My girlfriend Rachel finds it amusing, fortunately, though it does concern me that bad language is used freely at a time when more families are coming to games.

A worse form of abuse, for me, is being spat at, as has happened when I was taking throw-ins or corners at two London grounds. That really upsets a player because it is so disgusting and degrading. I have to admit there have been times when I've felt like reacting but fortunately a sense of responsibility has taken over. I am lucky to be performing on such a big stage so I have to take the drawbacks of that, too.

No player minds the chanting that comes from crowds. They pay their entrance fee, helping to reward people like me, and are entitled to voice their opinions. When away crowds shout at me, I actually take it as a compliment because it means I am worth shouting at. It all contributes to the marvellous atmosphere at grounds this season.

It is, though, when the abuse becomes personal and offensive that the problems arise. I do believe fans have a responsibility to respect the player for what he is trying to achieve on the pitch, in the same way that players respect the fans as the lifeblood of the game. Tolerance should be the watchword.

Which brings me to the incident at the end of our match against Leeds. I saw the fan come on looking very angry and felt I ought to attempt to intervene. It is something for which I have received some gentle ribbing from team-mates, who have called me Blackburn's UN peace-keeping force.

It was Bobby Mimms who really put himself between the fan and the referee Rodger Gifford and, while Bobby's actions may have looked aggressive, I think it is a good job he stepped in. The fan could have been in even worse trouble. In the circumstances, Ithink all at Blackburn did the best they could.

We players were angry, too, that all our hard work with 10 men for 87 minutes after Tim Flowers had been sent off had brought us only one point instead of three because of a late penalty award to Leeds, but fans, just like players, have to keep their cool. Supporters do not have to endure being fenced in, and they should, in my opinion, ensure that remains the case.

It was a tough old game against a Leeds side every bit as aggressive as Wimbledon ever were. If Alan Shearer looked, uncharacteristically, more angry than most, it was because he had had such a rough ride from John Pemberton without the protection from the referee he feels he was entitled to under the new interpretations of the laws, notably the tackle from behind.

In that, there was an inconsistency, as Colin Hendry felt he was being penalised every time. It is this that needs addressing in the game. I do not hold with talk of refereeing decisions being liable to provoke riots but I do believe that more consistentofficials would defuse potentially difficult situations.

It does seem childish to complain about refereeing, but I do think we at Blackburn have been unfortunate lately, especially at Manchester United when Tim Sherwood's goal was disallowed. But it is just such an important time for us. If we are to lose, letit be our own fault.

Football is an emotional game and long may it remain so. The game can be a stress-reliever in itself - you have only to watch Sunday morning football to see that - but we are in danger of injecting too much stress in the game. We all have to look at our roles in it.

I have been looking at my own conduct more and more recently. I will miss today's match at Tottenham because of my first suspension for two years and I am disappointed with myself. I do feel let down by the system, however. Four of my six bookings were for relatively minor offences and I feel that referees could have been a little more tolerant at times.

That said, I have been getting wound up as an historic title beckons Blackburn; and perhaps this is all a good lesson - in remaining calm and collected and not letting lack of professionalism and self- discipline creep in.

I am an aggressive player. Any player who wants to be a winner has to be. All I can say is that, as a player, I am aware of my responsibilities in the grand scheme of football and I endeavour to do my best to discharge them.

Perhaps I will go back to using that old punchbag I once picked up from a boxing gym on which to vent my frustration when things were not going well for me at Chelsea a few years ago.