Football: Mabbutt may sue Fashanu over injury: Recuperating Tottenham captain accuses Wimbledon striker of 'playing without due care and attention'

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The Independent Online
GARY MABBUTT yesterday presented the other unacceptable face of football - his own scarred and battered one. Speaking for the first time since last week's contentious challenge by Wimbledon's John Fashanu landed him in hospital with a fractured cheekbone and eye socket, he accused his opponent of a 'very, very clumsy challenge' and of 'playing football without due care and attention'.

Mabbutt, who must await the surgeon's all-clear before he can resume his career, has not ruled out the possibility of a civil suit against Fashanu. Spurs have felt compelled to proceed with an official complaint to the Football Association about the incident even though Keith Hackett, the referee, has chosen not to report it after studying a video of the match. Fashanu has been asked by the FA for his version and has been given a week to reply.

Mabbutt, wearing dark glasses, looked pale and fragile when he appeared at the club's training ground at Mill Hill, north London, to explain the extent of his appalling injuries and his views in general on the use of elbows in the game. He revealed that the surgeon had told him afterwards he came within 'millimetres' of losing the sight in his right eye.

'Before the operation the surgeon himself didn't know whether I would lose the sight in my eye. My eye socket was smashed in three places, my cheekbone was smashed in four places. Metal plates have been used to screw the two together and I have been told that they will remain there for ever.

'It shattered all the nerves in the right side of my face. But the surgeon said there's a 70 per cent chance that the feeling will come back but that it could take up to a year.

'Initially I was shocked, I thought I may never look like myself again. I resembled John Merrick (the 'Elephant Man'). If the impact had occurred a millimetre the other way or a bone splinter had gone into the eye, that would have been it. . . You can't rule out the possibility of a fatality if this goes on.'

Clearly Mabbutt, who is 32 and has six months of his contract to run, was reluctant to be drawn on the question of a civil suit, which he denied he had ever said he would not pursue. He did not rule out such a course of action. 'You never know what's around the corner. Civil actions are not what you want in the game, but people must remember just because you're playing football doesn't make you above the law.'

He said that he had read only last week how John Uzzell, the Torquay player who has never played since suffering similar injuries to those of Mabbutt, 'says he can't go jogging without a lot of pain from the plates in his head. Of course I'm concerned, but I've come back from a lot of things and I feel sure this will be no different.'

Among those things the former England player has come back from is diabetes, which is something he combats every day. Typically, he seemed to be in an upbeat mood, joking that he would now beep every time he went through customs. No one would dispute that here is a steely character in every sense: it is his intention to resume full training by the new year.

Both Mabbutt and his manager, Ossie Ardiles, were at pains to stress there was no personal animosity towards Wimbledon or Fashanu. In 10 years of 'tough confrontations' against him, Mabbutt said that he had only ever received a few cuts and bruises.

Ardiles stressed that neither were his club looking for compensation, only justice. 'I think it was a very bad challenge. It is up to the FA, professional footballers, everybody to eradicate this kind of thing. If we can save somebody in the future from these kind of horrific injuries at least I will be able to rest OK because I did something. If we don't clean up this side of football, someone else will.'

John Pemberton, of Leeds, has become the first player to have a booking erased on video evidence. Joe Worrall, the referee, changed his mind after watching film of Pemberton's challenge on Tottenham's Nick Barmby at White Hart Lane on 20 November.

Football Diary,

Team news, page 26

(Photograph omitted)