James Lawton: Bowyer and Dyer's disgrace shows ugly side of football at Newcastle

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You can live with a whiff of madness. You can offer a little help and therapy. What you can't do - and this is the problem now facing Newcastle United in particular and football in general - is appeal for respect and responsibility and discipline when it isn't there and, furthermore, has no reason to be.</p>Lee Bowyer and his team-mate Kieron Dyer, who on the weight of film evidence seemed to carry the lesser guilt, did not arrive quite by chance at their disgusting fight in a stadium filled with some of the most passionate and good-hearted football fans in the land.</p>They had history. It was of being indulged for so long they came to the point where they stepped beyond all restraint.</p>For their manager, Graeme Souness, it was the return of the anarchy he thought he had banished when another Newcastle player, Craig Bellamy, was sent off to Celtic on loan.</p>Bellamy claimed to be unfit when he was asked to play a role he didn't like. Bowyer was branded a liar by the courts and his professionalism was questioned by former manager David O'Leary. Even though he was found not guilty in the assault trial which did so much to destroy Leeds United, Bowyer did not, could not, deny he was involved in outrageously unprofessional behaviour.</p>But he survived as a pro; indeed he was rescued by the former Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, who, ironically enough, drew a public apology from Dyer in the pages of this newspaper a few hours before seeing the player dragged away from Bowyer, his attacker.</p>And for what did Dyer apologise? For helping to break the managership of Robson, by refusing, like Bellamy, to play in a certain position. For believing that a salary beyond the wildest hopes of almost everyone who filed into St James' Park on Saturday did not bring duty along with the most extraordinary privilege.</p>The more you consider the flailing fists of Bowyer and Dyer the more you realise you are looking at a classic study of cause and effect in today's football. The cause is the game's spineless refusal to impose proper levels of discipline. The effect is that anything, however squalid, goes.</p>You might say that, of all clubs, Newcastle United have shaped their latest crisis. The television pictures showed chairman Freddy Shepherd smouldering with rage, but could he ever have imagined that anyone on Tyneside would forget the shaming saga of his revelry with fellow director Douglas Hall as they were taped in a Spanish girlie bar? When they sneered at the "mugs" who bought the over-priced souvenir shirts - and Tyneside womenhood. When they poked fun at the local hero Alan Shearer, a vast asset for the club at the weekend when he announced his intention to carry on for another year, but a risible "Mary Poppins" as the champagne flowed.</p>Did Shepherd possibly just not see that it was the kind of behaviour which would linger down the years, polluting any sense that Newcastle United was an institution of solid values rather than some cynical money-making machine? And what did it say to the players when someone like Robson was so publicly undermined, when he was kept waiting for a settlement of his contract after doing so much for the club of his roots and then changing so quickly from a hero to a nuisance? Robson's successor Souness did well to so rapidly usher Bowyer and Dyer before the public gaze as they issued their apologies. But if Dyer's seemed to carry more of a hint of true penance, what, in the end, were either of them worth? Only one meaningful gesture could have come from Newcastle United on Saturday night. It was for the tearing up of the contracts of two professionals who had made a mockery of their status, but that was beyond all reasonable expectation because both players are still, despite their tawdry behaviour, worth many millions of pounds. In football, of course, you can turn your back on many things. But money isn't one of them.</p>When John Hartson, then with West Ham United, was caught on video kicking his team-mate Eyal Berkovic in the face during a training session there was no question, despite those sickening pictures, that his contract would be revoked.</p>When Manchester United's Eric Cantona went over the wall at Selhurst Park and attacked a fan, admittedly a decidedly unpleasant one, with terrible violence, there was no hint that his place at the club was in doubt. Cantona was a hero - and untouchable. It was the same when Rio Ferdinand was suspended for failing to take a drugs test. In the eyes of his club United and the Professional Footballers' Association he was a martyr.</p>When Arsenal players behaved so atrociously at Old Trafford, surging around Ruud Van Nistelrooy in a grisly imitation of a street mob, there was not a breath of criticism from their manager Arsène Wenger.</p>The picture presented by Bowyer and Dyer was truly shocking. But it couldn't have been too much of a surprise. It wasn't as though the fight came without so many wretched preliminaries. </p>

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