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Football: Ince fights for his reputation

PAUL INCE yesterday denied he had abused the crowd following his sending off during England's 2-1 defeat in Sweden on Saturday, and made an impassioned plea that he be given no more than a one-match ban for his sins.

Roy Evans, the co-manager at Liverpool - where Ince is the captain - added his weight to the debate, claiming his player had been victimised during the European Championship qualifier because of his abrasive reputation.

Ince was seen on television apparently swearing and making a V-sign as he left the pitch after his red card for two bookable offences. He said yesterday he felt the matter had been blown out of all proportion.

"People [the media] have been trying to make something out of it all," he said. "It would be easy to forget that they are English, they are trying to wind things up.

"All the other stuff is a load of rubbish. I wasn't doing anything to the crowd and I don't care a monkeys what it looked like on TV. I know what I did and didn't do."

Ince also said he should only receive a one-match ban for the two yellow card offences, and not a lengthier penalty. "Two yellow cards is a one- match ban," he said. "I'm gutted to be missing one international, any attempt to make it any more would be very unfair."

The player then pleaded further mitigating circumstances, and said he had been attempting to play the ball when he picked up his second yellow card, for bringing down Celtic's Henrik Larsson.

"I went for the ball, it's as simple as that. That is what my game is all about," Ince said. "He was very quick and got away from me a bit. But I was committed to the challenge and was just unlucky the way it happened. It was not a malicious tackle at all."

Ince was supported by Roy Evans, who said his player's reputation had had more to do with his bookings than his actions. Evans said: "Why should people pillory Paul Ince? He's a very competitive player and he's on the field to win games. Neither of the tackles for which he was booked was vindictive nor designed to cause injury. Maybe they were slightly mistimed and maybe Paul's reputation preceded him.

"Paul has such a passion and desire to win, he was also very angry at seeing his team lose when he was on the field in Sweden. You can say he should control that, but when you are out in the middle of the pitch it is not easy to do.

"I don't see him as an assassin. He goes for the ball and more often than not he gets it. I'm not condoning him getting sent off, but if you take that passion away from his game you don't have the Paul Ince everyone wants to see.

"People forget the form he showed in the World Cup and also the qualifying game in Italy. It's sad that in trying to compete, people have a go at him."

Uefa will decide on the length of Ince's ban at its next disciplinary committee meeting, later this month, and will almost certainly ban him from England's next game, against Bulgaria at Wembley in October. Whether he will be penalised further will depend on whether Saturday's Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina, reports that Ince abused the crowd or not.

Meanwhile yesterday, the Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, confirmed his interest in signing Middlesbrough's Paul Merson. A meeting scheduled for yesterday between Merson and Bryan Robson, the Boro manager - for the player to seek a release from the club - did not happen, but Gregory said: "I can confirm that I have spoken to Bryan Robson about the Paul Merson situation."

Tottenham could face a pounds 6m compensation bill if they try to lure George Graham from Leeds to replace Christian Gross. It is thought that a clause inserted into the new contract Graham signed with the Elland Road club last December would require Tottenham to pay pounds 1m just to speak to him. "George signed a new contract last year, which runs until 2001. Anyone who asks permission to speak to him will be told `no'," Leeds' chairman, Peter Ridsdale, said.

Andy Goram, the former Rangers and Scotland goalkeeper, has signed for Sheffield United. Blackburn Rovers have made a pounds 3m offer for Rangers' unsettled Italian midfielder, Gennaro Gattuso.