Red mist on a black night

Graeme Le Saux, the Blackburn player, describes a comeback that ended in calamity
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The Independent Online
NOVEMBER began as such a promising month as I returned after a five-week absence through injury. Everyone will have seen how sadly it ended, however, with the episode involving myself and David Batty early in Blackburn Rovers' Champions' League match against Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.

Along with the highs - and how long it seems since last May when we won the Premiership title - I have had some lows in my career, as everyone must. Last week was the lowest, though. With such an atmosphere surrounding the incident at the moment, there is little I can say or want to say except to reiterate my apologies.

The ironic thing is that we had seemed recently to be rediscovering our performance level of last season, domestically at least, as our 7-0 win over Nottingham Forest seemed to show.

MY telephone rings at lunchtime. The manager Ray Harford wonders if I am up to being a substitute for tonight's Champions' League match against Legia Warsaw. He needs some firepower, he says. I resolve to give it a go and so after the eight matches out with an injured ankle, I play the last 30 minutes. I run around like an idiot, trying to cram in an hour and a half's work.

I was surprised how quickly I felt out of touch with football after getting injured. Isolation soon sets in when the commitment to training and the sheer weight of matches no longer applies. It is disorientating and unnerving and can lead to loss of confidence and insecurity. Someone is playing in what I thought was my position.

Thankfully, the reception I receive at Ewood Park, even though they have to endure a goalless draw, is comforting and encouraging. But we will not be in the quarter-finals. Much has been written about the reasons why. There is no simple answer but I believe we will learn from the whole experience.

BACK in the starting line-up, at Newcastle, for the first time, having come through another 30 minutes against Everton on Sunday. Psychologically I have to prepare more than usual, and work on being positive, because of fears about not feeling sharp, not having enough stamina - and even kicking the ball straight. Before the match I have three warm baths.

All this with the most potent attack in the Premiership to be faced. I think we do a good job of containing them, even though we are beaten 1-0. Our away form is still a problem, with only one point to show, but I do feel tonight was a step in the right direction. Points will surely follow performance.

IT HAS been a pleasure being around the England squad again (for the game against Switzerland) after missing the Norway match, surprised as I was about getting the call following my injury. It is still a disappointment not regaining my place in the team, though, despite the comfort of being part of a night when we regain some national well-being with a 3-1 win.

The previous Saturday after training I had been asked to attend a press conference with the national football writers. While it is nice to get some attention, and an opportunity for an opinionated egotist like me to air my views (I was particularly upset that day about the hanging of the Nigerian dissident Ken Saro Wiwa) there is an element of pressure. Responsibility, tact and caution do have to be applied as you can so easily offend the people you work either with or for.

I do manage, though, to make a point that I feel should be taken on board by the football authorities when they come to convene a meeting of the clubs involved in our stumblings in European competition. I believe that the players themselves should be represented.

A SPECIAL day for Blackburn, as the rebuilt Ewood Park is given its official opening and we are led on to the pitch by the man who made it all possible, Jack Walker.

A special day, too, as we score seven without reply to end Nottingham Forest's 25-match unbeaten run. Even Le Saux manages a goal with a 30- yard drive that bounces into the roof of the net off the underside of the bar. Eat your heart out Matthew Le Tissier.

Alan Shearer is at his rampant best with a hat-trick and Lars Bohinen, so keen against his former club, shows all the assets he has brought to the team with his distribution, and his ability to link with other players and score goals. But then it was a day when we all linked and gelled and it augured well for our pride-salvaging trip to Moscow, starting on Monday.

AS I look back on the week, I feel almost as bone- chillingly cold as it was in Russia. But it had started so enjoyably in such a fascinating city.

I had been to Moscow four years ago with England B and the changes are immediately obvious, most visually the sprouting of advertising hoardings. You are almost conditioned to see Russia as an enemy because of all the propaganda down the years, and it took me a while to lose this mentality.

We were billeted in a luxury hotel, where the food is flown in every day. Stuart Ripley described it as "the oasis", with greyness surrounding it. We ventured out to the sights, and I remember being photographed by the press taking a picture of David Batty in Red Square.

Then came the match and the by now well-viewed events. I issued a public apology for my part in the proceedings via journalists with us in the early hours of Thursday morning at Blackpool airport and, after a few hours sleep, I also met with Ray Harford to discuss the situation. I accepted without reservation the fine of two weeks' wages.

Today I saw a specialist in Manchester, who confirmed that I have a fracture of the left hand. I had a special lightweight cast fitted and drove straight to our training ground to see if it was going to be feasible to play on Sunday against Arsenal, if selected. Like a rider thrown from a horse, I feel it is important to get straight back on. I am determined not to hide and I am desperately keen to play today. The day ends on a better note: a friend who is a local restaurateur brings me round some sympathy and a meal.

If people feel I have let down the English game, I am genuinely sorry. I can only look closer to home. I know I have to look within myself, learn from it all and do what I can to change my own approach without losing the competitiveness that is an important part of my game. I hope to start today.

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