Football: Blissett denies intent to injure

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The Independent Online
GARY BLISSETT, the Brentford striker, appeared in Salisbury crown court yesterday and denied unlawfully and maliciously causing grievous bodily harm to John Uzzell, a defender for Torquay United, in a Third Division game on 14 December last year. It was the first time that court proceedings have been started as a result of an incident on the pitch during a Football League match.

Andrew Chubb, for the prosecution, said that Blissett had been beaten by Uzzell to a high ball in Torquay's half which Uzzell had headed clear, but as the players fell had 'cynically and deliberately' thrust his elbow into Uzzell's face, fracturing his left cheek-bone and eye-socket.

The socket had to be reconstructed with a plastic material and a metal plate was inserted into his face to bring the bone parts together. Uzzell had not been able to play again this season because of the injury.

The match referee, Arthur Smith, from Birmingham, told the jury that Blissett 'deliberately elbowed his opponent in the face'. He sent him off for violent conduct.

There was no dispute, said Mr Chubb, that the injury amounted to grievous bodily harm. Football was a contact sport in which players collided from time to time. 'Some of the things that happen in a sport like football would be unlawful assault if they were committed in the street,' he said. 'In football, though, they had to be accepted as a matter of commonsense. It is a lawful sport, but as with anything else there has to be a line drawn somewhere.'

In a statement read to the court Blissett said the challenge with Uzzell was to win the ball. 'Any injury he sustained was purely accidental and I had no intention whatever of injuring him when I challenged for the ball,' he said. 'I very much regret the injury he sustained, which was the result of a complete accident.'

The jury was shown two video recordings made by TV South West and Torquay United. A third video showed the club's version in slow motion. The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.