Football: Belated honour for an honest grafter

Norman Fox sees a fitting end to a turbulent week for Liverpool's rising star
To all intents and purposes it was only a reserve game for England, and a friendly, so you would have thought that yesterday was a perfect time to promote Robbie Fowler's one-man campaign for honesty in football.

Who would be the first to hobble after the referee and plead: "He didn't intend that 20 yard, two-footed sliding tackle. Please don't send him off, there's a good fellow?" Was it cynical to predict no one? Certainly not Paul Ince, beneficiary of a dubious penalty. In any case it would probably have been a lost good cause because yesterday's referee came from Portugal and so may not have been aware of quite what a fuss there had been about Fowler's apparent veracity against Arsenal last weekend. Nor would he have concerned himself about Middlesbrough's unsuccessful appeal against crying off a match when "only" 17 of their squad of over 40 were fit to play.

Glenn Hoddle had been in much the same situation as Bryan Robson but did the decent thing and turned up. Or perhaps the thought of having to employ the expensive George Carman, QC, in a high court defence of failing to turn out a team against the might of Mexico in the year's most unwanted international was more than the famously mean old FA committee men could face.

Either way, there we were, a surprising lot of us, deprived of our weekly fix of proper football in which it is generally assumed that the word "team" means a high proportion of players who have played together a few times before. And, shame on him, not even the captain of this make-shift team, Ince, did the decent thing by confessing that the penalty which set up England's win was no such thing.

There was, of course, no chance that Ince was going to suggest that the outstretched leg of Pavel Pardo that touched him and led to the penalty was not really worth stopping the game, let alone turning it to England's much-needed advantage. That would have been too much honesty for one week.

In reality, Fowler himself is not really one of those people who often says sorry as doubles partners cringingly do to each other in club tennis. This boy is as tough as old toe-capped boots. He had merely lapsed into something few could remember, called sportsmanship. Yesterday he was fiercely aware that he needed a good game to convince everyone that his club qualities could be transferred to the international stage.

Having Teddy Sheringham alongside was helpful as long as it lasted but when Ian Wright came on it was more a matter of each man for himself up front.

Wright was afforded the unwelcome compliment of seeing Fowler's marker, Claudio Surez, moved on to his shoulder, which was the reason why Fowler was able to home in on goal more or less unmarked to take England's second goal and his first as an international. He will remember that long after a week in which he was proclaimed as some throwback from some era of perfect sporting spirit that may never have existed.

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