Get your apologies out for the lads

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No matter how sophisticated you try to make them, how lavishly you clothe them in Armani and Gucci and propel them around in Lamborghinis and Porsches, your average British footballer will still possess the tendency to behave as if his arse is hanging out of his trousers. I use that old expression to indicate a level of impoverishment, not to raise another cheap laugh at the conflict that has raged between Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea and Liverpool's Robbie Fowler.

There have been more than enough of those as the press plunged with relish into the controversy over Le Saux's violent reaction to Fowler's homosexual taunts in the match at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Even the Guardian joined in with the headline "Queering The Pitch" over a feature on the subject which was not very friendly to him. This was particularly unkind because the fact that Le Saux is a regular reader of the Guardian had been taken as an indication of his sexual predilections.

Bitches. Strange that this unseemly row should flare up in the same week that the Professional Footballers' Association launched a lifestyle magazine which contains all manner of advice and advertising designed to help players spend their lavish earnings in manner befitting their new status. I suggest a section entitled "Civilisation: How We Can Help" should be added immediately.

A sign that this might already be in hand came on Friday night when both men issued statements that reeked of having being processed through the layers of agents, solicitors and counsellors to which the modern player has instant access. Le Saux's came in the shape of a public apology for elbowing Fowler in the back of the head, and he acknowledged that provocation is something many people face and that he has to deal with it in a more mature manner.

Fowler's response came later - apparently there was a delay in finding the bamboo splinters to stick under his finger nails - and was far less contrite. He thought the incident was "highly regrettable" and felt that Le Saux had misinterpreted his actions. So, presumably, when he stuck out his behind at the Chelsea player it wasn't the lewd invitation we imagined; he was speaking through it.

Sadly, their elders and betters haven't helped the situation. The Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, never a man to shrink from pouring oil on troubled fires, called Fowler "disgusting". Liverpool's manager, Gerard Houllier, who has obviously been taking a crash course in English diplomacy, countered with the allegation that there was a London conspiracy against Fowler.

The Football Association are faced with another difficult problem to solve. Having to jump from subjects like reincarnation to homophobia is a little tangential to their remit, especially as their findings will be closely examined for correctness by the normal crowd of navel-gazers, moralisers and philsophers who have been offering the usual denigration of insensitive behaviour in our national game. No one can argue with that view, but it is odd is that their expectations should be so high.

Football may have experienced a degree of gentrification among those who clamour for the best seats and those who believe it is fashionable merely to be interested in it, but the game is still deeply rooted in the lower ranks who make little attempt to keep their prejudices out of sight. When it comes to football, even those prejudices are not what they seem.

What was condemned as rampant homophobia last week would have been more correctly identified as opponentphobia, which is a condition governed by a hatred of anyone standing between you and victory. You then hit him verbally in whatever area you think he is vulnerable. It is hardly subtle but you may recognise it from the playgrounds.

This applies as much to supporters as to players, perhaps even more so. To a football crowd, nothing is sacred and no subject too unpleasant to be chanted about if it carries the potential of discomforting an opponent.

David Beckham has had to endure some particularly vile choral insults regarding his Spice Girl wife which, we hope, will cease now that their baby has been born. At least, such calumnies are audible. The nature of the dialogue taking place on the field can only be imagined but we can be sure that it is both cruel and continuous and the reports of Fowler's abuse would certainly confirm that.

However, it is much less likely that the Liverpool player's barbs were prompted by homophobic motives than by a realisation that such was the way to ignite Le Saux's famous short fuse. He has a poor and well-quoted disciplinary record, which includes fighting a team-mate during a game. Le Saux's preference for a lifestyle far removed from the more laddish footballer's existence has long made him a target for the sharp barbs Fowler fired and he should surely have learned by now to ignore them. Chelsea won that game, which is all that should have mattered to a professional.

It was the delicacy of that particular subject which gave it extra media mileage but homosexuals mustn't think that they corner the market in sporting persecution. Whatever makes a player different from the norm will attract derision as generations of short-arsed sods, long streaks of piss and ginger-headed twats will testify - not to mention bastards of Scottish, Welsh and Irish extraction plus a growing number of other nationalities.

Such is the nature of the coarse Britisher at play.

Of all the suffering in this area, none can match that of black players, but there is evidence of great improvement which is due almost totally to the respect they have earned themselves. Thanks to last week's debate, gay footballers may well replace them as the main target, and you can be sure the tabloids will not be tardy in spotlighting them.

It is difficult to see how the FA can control attitudes. For all that some would like to see the football as a stage for balletic performances, by far the closer resemblance is to the factory floor. Football remains an accurate reflection of life and beyond the rim of its polite society lies a nasty world about which there is far more amiss than insensitivity about other people's feelings. It hurts to be reminded about it but it helps to aware of what you are up against.

First to acknowledge that cricket needs every marketing assistance it can get to inject more interest and excitement into the County season, I am not entirely enamoured by the plans announced by the England and Wales Cricket Board on Friday for the new National League.

Aimed at lifting one-day standards and attracting new spectators to the day-night matches, the reshaped league will comprise two divisions and several new features. But you don't need many reactionary nerve-ends to bristle at the introduction of team nicknames such as the Essex Eagles, Lancashire Lightning and Somerset Sabres. The foisting of false identities on teams still grates in rugby league but is even less suitable to cricket. If you must have them, at least use names that mean something in cricket. Surrey Sloggers, for instance, or Yorkshire Yorkers, Leicester Long-legs, Essex Edgers, Kent Clouters and Glamorgan Googlies.

To ring true, nicknames should come naturally and should convey something meaningful about the people concerned. ECB Berks comes to mind as an example.

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