Almanack: Hard men and tough talk in Court 14

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The Independent Online
THE domestic football season is all but over but, having missed the play-offs, Almanack felt drawn to one of the best matches of the year, at the High Courts of Justice, where Paul Elliott's right knee is the subject of a legal contest.

The knee ended Elliott's career and it may well prove costly to Dean Saunders, who injured it, and Liverpool, the club for whom he was playing at the time. The prize money could be anything up to pounds 1.2m.

The case hangs on one third of a second of football at Anfield on 5 September 1992, and the cast lined up to dissect it is intriguing. The judiciary has been noted in the past for its lack of knowledge of Paul Gascoigne and the like, but Justice Drake is playing a blinder. In fact, he is well-qualified to deal with matters of the male anatomy. He recently oversaw the Gillian Taylforth case.

A third of a second's football was, likewise, no problem for Augustus Ullstein, representing Elliott and once a qualified referee, but Anthony Berrisford, representing Saunders, was less at home. It was only Day Two when Berrisford's poor pedigree was outed, by Dennis Wise. 'You have never played football, obviously,' the Chelsea captain said to a man who once described his own client as Dean Richards, the England rugby union No 8.

Berrisford, nevertheless, proved a quick learner, and was soon demonstrating knowledge of the advantage rule and chucking around phrases such as 'attacking spearhead' and 'putting himself about a bit' (a reference to Elliott, of course) with the assurance of a seasoned pro. Armed thus, and intimidating all who entered the witness box, Berrisford soon developed into the hard man of Court 14, surviving the entertaining tackle with Wise before swiftly brushing aside a rather quiet, uncertain Dave Beasant, the Southampton and former Chelsea goalkeeper.

So where, then, was Berrisford's true match, football's own hard man, Vinnie Jones? Subpoenaed to arrive at 10am, his absence had Court 14 all a-whisper by lunch, with even Sam Hammam, his chairman at Wimbledon, claiming ignorance and saying that he was only there because he liked the girl in the second row.

Almanack's man did suspect Hammam of being somewhat disingenuous, though a second look pinpointed Saunders' wife as the possible victim of his fancy. She, like her husband, sat stony-faced throughout as replay after replay of the incriminatory tackle appeared on video before them.

Not even Jones's arrival could lighten their faces, even preceded, as it was, by the Sun headline 'I won't shop Deano'. In the event, he only stayed 20 minutes and the Berrisford v Jones showdown didn't materialise. So it was that Berrisford found himself in the ring Brian Glanville, the respected football writer, formerly of the Sunday Times, now of the Sunday People, who had marked the referee on 5 September with an 'inept' four out of 10 (translated by the paper as 'a stinker') and who was keen to amend his answers with references to the Italian Serie A.

'If we can just get on with the questions, Mr Glanville,' said Berrisford.

'Come on then.'

'You have a particular fondness for Chelsea, do you not?'

'No, I'm a North Londoner so I support Arsenal.'

'So you're an opponent of open play,' came the reply before the verbal jousting continued, a lengthy exchange which would probably have earned Berrisford a nine or a 10.

The case continues.