Football: Why Shearer must face up to justice

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IF Alan Shearer does the same in the World Cup but England go on to win, he will be a hero and we will all be cheering him on, according to the former England rugby union captain Will Carling. He is not alone in that view, but Libero suggests such an attitude insults most fair- minded fans.

Arguments for and against perpetrators always blur the issue in the days after an incident but, lest it is forgotten, TV pictures clearly showed Shearer kicking Leicester's Neil Lennon in the face in midweek. And no amount of whitewash by the Newcastle manager, Kenny Dalglish, or back- tracking, self-justifying statements by Shearer himself will alter that. His action was, quite simply, wrong.

There may be mitigating circumstances. The feisty Lennon was pushing Shearer and tugging his shirt. Besides, Shearer is frustrated by the lack of service he is receiving from a mediocre Newcastle team. Perhaps he is not yet fully mobile after his long absence through injury. It can be no excuse for what followed, though, just as the worse provocation that Eric Cantona endured at Selhurst Park when he kung-fu kicked one Matthew Simmons was no justification.

A problem arises because it is often mistakenly assumed by over-sensitive people in the game that to condemn an action is to condemn the person. Dalglish, for example, echoed the thoughts of the Blackburn Rovers owner Jack Walker when he said on Wednesday night that any father would be proud to have Shearer for his son.

That may well be true, but what kind of father fails to deal properly with an action like Shearer's? If you are proud of your son and want him to be the best he can be, you do not indulge such behaviour. If Libero's eight-year-old had committed such an act, dad would have banned him himself for at least a month. There may be no need to employ the rod, but certainly no need to spoil the child.

Clearly Newcastle, in these needs-must days, are not going to censure Shearer and it has fallen to the FA to act. And disciplinary matters being among the few functions and duties they have left now that the Premiership runs the game, they should at least be able to deal with that decisively, as seems possible with reports that Shearer will be charged with misconduct.

Shearer, opponents say, has been getting away with things for too long; the manhandling of Jimmy Floyd Haisselbank against Leeds, the push on Adie Moses before scoring against Barnsley in the FA Cup. Then there was the unpunished tackle from behind on David Ginola last weekend. That, like Wednesday's incident, happened right in front of both dug-outs - last Saturday against a background of laughing kids on the Newcastle subs' bench - and one can only speculate on Shearer's motives.

The FA will be doing a service to the game and Shearer if they call for video evidence - and if they also demote the lenient referee Martin Bodenham - as they did when Patrick Vieira escaped for flicking a kick at West Ham's Ian Pearce. Toughness and wanting to win is one thing, by foul means quite another. Often it is said that combative characters like Paul Ince and David Batty could be a liability in the World Cup and by reminding Shearer of his role, and responsibilities, as the national captain, a repeat can be avoided this summer.

Not that Shearer should be punished for who he is but because of what he did; justice should be blind after all. Neither should he miss the FA Cup final; a suspension - perhaps five games at the beginning of next season - should come in the competition in which it occurred. Then, justice done, perhaps he can return to being the fair, admirable figure and exceptional player he should be, and we can go back to being proud of him.

THIRTY goals in the Premiership, Terry Venables used to say, would be worth about 20 in Serie A, where the world's best defences operate. Given scoring trends then, is the standard of defending improving in England? In 1994/95, Alan Shearer scored 34 goals and five other strikers more than 20. The next season, Shearer netted 31 but only two others hit more than 20. Last season, Shearer had 25 and only Ian Wright also passed the 20 mark.

This season, the top scorer before this weekend's games was Chris Sutton with 17 and it could be that no player reaches 20 for the season. Does this mean that the Premiership is no longer a soft touch? Alas, it is too easy a conclusion. Shearer, Wright and Robbie Fowler have been injured for much of the season. We will just have to wait another year to find out if it's three or two balls per million quid in the coconut shy.

AND THEY shall rise again in glory. It has been heartening - above all for Doncaster Rovers, perhaps - this non-League season to see "big" clubs recovering lost ground. Halifax will return to the Football League, Barrow are back in the Conference, the new Aldershot have made it all the way to the Ryman's Premier Division, Southport will be in the FA Trophy final. And Weymouth, hallelujah, are back below where they belong, in the Premier of the Doc Martens League. At this small mercy, much rejoicing in this column.