Allardyce hits back over Diouf racism claims

Blackburn manager insists striker is 'not guilty' of abusing Everton ball-boy
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The Independent Online

Most of the past week's football controversies spilled out of the Manchester derby but "Diouf-gate" is the event which will have explosive consequences, whatever the outcome.

The Blackburn manager, Sam Allardyce, yesterday responded to Everton's demands that El-Hadji Diouf apologise for claims the club's fans threw bananas at him in a racist gesture by proclaiming him innocent of racially abusing a 14-year-old white ball-boy and insisting he will play against Aston Villa at Ewood Park today.

Merseyside Police have pledged to continue investigating the race allegations against Diouf with rigour. But Allardyce claimed his striker was without blame. "As far as I'm concerned Dioufy is 100 per cent fit to play in the game and is looking forward to it," Allardyce said. "There's nothing wrong with him. He's as fit as a fiddle and played very well last Sunday. Dioufy was one of the few players who performed to the level that the rest of the players should have done."

The "other situation", as Allardyce described the encounter with the ball-boy, was "not a situation where Dioufy was the aggressor", he added. "He wasn't, but he's being made out to be. It's not a situation that would worry any of our players because they are not guilty."

It had been Blackburn's intention that Allardyce would not discuss the Goodison Park incident yesterday and his renewed assertions about his player will do nothing to enhance relations between the clubs. The suggestion, rejected by Merseyside Police in midweek, that bananas were thrown at Diouf has been greeted with horror by Everton and the city of Liverpool, who have made major strides against racism since the low point of 1988 when bananas were thrown at Liverpool's John Barnes in an FA Cup tie.

The racist killing of student Anthony Walker in the city in 2005 has also increased the general abhorrence of racist crime and Diouf might not have understood the significance of his assertion. The player has not expanded on those comments.

Allardyce is attempting to refocus attention on the game with Villa and to build from the depths of what has been a desperately disappointing start to the season in which his side have managed only four league goals. Villa's visit marks the return of defender Stephen Warnock to Ewood Park a month after moving to the West Midlands, the former Liverpool left-back having spent two and a half years at Blackburn before leaving in an £8m deal.

"I didn't want to lose Stephen," Allardyce said. "But when you work at a club like ours, we're not the wealthiest any more and we're in a position where our income dictates how we are run as a club. It was good business for us in the end and Stephen wanted to leave. He is a loss to us because he was player of the year last season. He was one of the key players who drove the team on with his performances."

The 3-0 defeat at Goodison was little less than shambolic and Allardyce considers today the biggest test of the season. "Villa are in good form at the moment and look a very good side away from home," he said.

David Moyes, the Everton manager, preferred not to talk about Diouf yesterday, mentioning instead that he had spoken to Phil Jagielka, who was confronted by knife-wielding burglars in his home this week, but Moyes said the club had not put specific plans in place to protect their players. "I have seen Phil and he is a bit shaken by the whole thing but seems to be OK," he said.

"Is it the club's duty to protect people? I'm not sure it is – that comes from the police and the authorities to whom we pay our taxes for them to do that. Criminals are out there but we have to hope the police will find them."

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