The year of men behaving badly

Glenn Moore looks back over 12 months which began with a kick, ended with a punch and had plenty of football in between countless trips to court
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The Independent Online
Christmas approaches and football could certainly do with a season of goodwill. A year that opened with Eric Cantona vaulting into a fan draws to its conclusion with Graeme Le Saux grazing his knuckles on David Batty's stubble. Forget the TV series, if you want to see men behaving badly, go to the footie.

In between Cantona's and Le Saux's antics there were riots off the field and stampings on it; the England manager in court and the Scotland centre- forward in jail; managers treating their contracts with contempt, and a chairman and a director conducting a row through the tabloids.

However, it was even worse on the Continent. Patrice Loko, of France, exposed himself to a policewoman and ended up in a mental hospital; Dynamo Kiev were expelled from the Champions' League for attempted bribery; and PAOK Salonika were taken over by hooligan supporters.

In the wider world, Parma's Colombian international Faustino Asprilla was convicted of a firearms offence; an Angolan manager was assassinated, allegedly by rival fans; and Uefa and Fifa, the governing bodies of European and world football respectively, engaged in a power struggle.

These overseas shenanigans almost make Duncan Ferguson appear the nice boy Joe Royle claims he is. Even so, the days when the British game could loftily take the moral high ground are long gone. The most damaging case of all, the bribery allegations made against Bruce Grobbelaar, John Fashanu and Hans Segers, rumbles on with no sign of a conclusion.

But is the game morally bankrupt? Or is it merely suffering from more intensive media scrutiny? And if it is, does it merely reflect society? Yes, paradoxically, is probably the answer to all three questions, though it would be an outrageous (and potentially expensive) slur on the vast majority to suggest football people are morally bankrupt.

"You have to put things in perspective," Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the PFA, the players' union, said. "There have been problems this year but nothing compared with the tragedies of the Eighties, Hillsborough, Heysel and Bradford. Behaviour, safety and stadiums have all improved since then.

"We have more than 2,000 members and it is unrealistic to expect them all to be choir-boys. The vast majority are a credit to their profession. Players are expected to be role models and it is a burden for some. They are young men who are under intense pressure and are expected to have old heads on young shoulders. Men of much more senior stature, politicians and businessmen, fall by the wayside."

Taylor, who has first-hand experience of an intrusive media, admits that "the illumination of off-field activities is the price football pays for its increased stature. It is an indication of just how much football is part of the fabric of our society.

"Players are centre-stage, everything is on television now," he added. Indeed, Julian Dicks' stamp on John Spencer's head would not have received added sanction (he was booked at the time) were it not for television coverage. Ferguson would probably not have gone to jail.

In Scotland, especially, the legal authorities are picking up on televised incidents and Taylor added: "One thing that gave me great cause for concern in 1995 is the increasing involvement of the law. Some footballers are being judged by their club, their FA and the law. It is up to administrators to make sure we can show the community at large that football can handle its own affairs - within the law, but without recourse to it."

The FA are keenly aware of the game's image and react with greater speed and firmness than in the past. The Premier League have brought in tighter regulations and codes of conduct - although the latter appears to have had no impact on Alan Sugar, Ken Bates or Matthew Harding.

There are others who should have been silent. Terry Venables' refusal to settle with his enemies is ill-advised while for Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds, to speak in defence of George Graham was bizarre. As a senior figure in the League Managers' Association Wilkinson was representing the very men whose reputation had been tainted by Graham's conduct.

Managers also had to contend with ever-greater insecurity - 48 jobs changed hands. Mark McGhee may have struck a blow back by leaving Leicester through his own choice but his conduct also damaged his profession's reputation. Managers, like chairmen, do not have the players' excuse of immaturity.

"The managerial merry-go-round in our division does add fuel to the fire for those who say football is full of skullduggery," Kenny Swain, the assistant manager at Grimsby, said. "Morals could be questioned," he added.

Swain, together with Brian Laws, the manager, has instituted a strict disciplinary code at Grimsby and players have responded. "When players misbehave you would like to be able to say, `Let's get rid of him', but they are also investments," Swain said. "You have to work towards a better attitude. We do not tolerate dissent. If players are booked for it they are fined. It does not happen very often."

Swain's approach, which stems from playing under Brian Clough at Forest and working with Dario Gradi at Crewe, is growing. Stephen Lodge, the Barnsley referee, noted: "Dissent and encroaching at free-kicks are things players can easily avoid. There are more yellow cards but most of mine are now for mistimed tackles, especially from behind."

Taylor believes the game is nowhere near as hard as it was 20 years ago and Lodge agrees. "The cynical fouls now result in a red card, not just a booking. The more skilful players are protected."

The future, however, is unclear. "Local refs are getting assaulted and abused," Lodge said. "It is hard to attract them into the game. Policemen and schoolteachers are finding it hard to get respect, never mind a young lad in black. Society is changing and it is going to be a problem in years to come."

But that cuts both ways. The canonisation of Cantona and Ferguson, and indifference to the Bates-Harding row, shows that supporters are more concerned with the game than its morals. Apart from the alleged match- fixing, the Bosman judgement and the prospect of revived spectator violence are greater dangers to football's prosperity.

"Football still attracts increasing sponsorship and attendances," Taylor said. "Next year we have Euro 96 which I hope will bring as much enjoyment as the World Cup in America. I hope we will see Pele's `beautiful game'."

Perhaps Santa will drop it down the chimney at Lancaster Gate.


Eric Cantona assaults Matthew Simmons, a Crystal Palace supporter, with his feet and fists. Mick McCarthy and Steve McMahon, managers of Millwall and Swindon, have to be separated by police during the second half of a Coca-Cola Cup tie. Peter Shilton is sacked by Plymouth over his personal debts. Paul Merson confirms he was addicted to drinking, gambling and drugs. Five police are hospitalised after crowd trouble between Millwall and Chelsea.


England fans riot in Dublin George Graham is sacked for taking a pounds 425,500 transfer "bung" Dennis Wise is convicted for assaulting a taxi driver (he is sentenced to a jail, then cleared on appeal). Cantona attacks an ITN reporter in Guadelope. Thirty-eight arrests and 11 police injured after crowd trouble at the Chelsea and Millwall replay.


Chris Armstrong of Crystal Palace and two Charlton youngsters fail drugs tests Bruce Grobbelaar, John Fashanu and Hans Segers are arrested in connection with match-fixing claims. Cantona is sentenced to jail in connection with the Selhurst Park incident (sentence later reduced to community service). Paul Ince is bailed on similar charge (later found not guilty).


Paul Nixon, a Crystal Palace fan, dies after being attacked by Manchester United supporters before FA Cup semi-final. Roy Keane is sent off in semi- final replay for stamping on Gareth Southgate. He is fined pounds 5,000. Before the match both managers had appealed for good behaviour from their fans. Chelsea fans rip up seats and fight police in Zaragoza. Birmingham's Paul Tait wins the Auto-Windscreens Shield then parades a T-shirt reading "Shit on the Villa". Robbie Fowler fined pounds 1,000 for baring bum to Leicester fans. Swindon's public address announcer sacked after criticising the referee at half-time.


English season ends with a record 376 players sent off in domestic competition. Ray Parlour is fined by a Hong Kong court after an incident on Arsenal's tour in which a taxi driver is injured Howard Kendall is sacked at Notts County. He is later accused of a drink problem.


Martin Kuhl of Bristol City given 18-month ban for drinking and driving. Alan Sugar threatens to use Jurgen Klinsmann's shirt to wash his car.


English clubs make such a fiasco of the Intertoto Cup that England later loses a Uefa Cup place.


Everton and Manchester United directors row over Andrei Kanchelskis's transfer. Mike Marsh sacked by Galatasaray after drunken incident in Turkey.


Arsenal's David Hillier is questioned by police in connection with the theft of baggage from an airport. Television catches Julian Dicks stamping on John Spencer's head. He is later suspended.


Duncan Ferguson starts a three-month jail sentence for an on-pitch assault committed in April 1994. Crowd trouble around the Stoke and Newcastle game. Terry Venables settles libel case with Tony Berry out of court. A Millwall fan invades the pitch and threatens Kevin Pressman of Sheffield Wednesday.


Millwall accuse a Birmingham fan of punching substitute Dave Savage as he warms up. There is fighting after the match, both clubs blame each other. Chelsea chairman Ken Bates and director Matthew Harding conduct a slanging match in the tabloids. Birmingham's Liam Daish is banned after post-match brawl with Ancona leaves the Italians' coach in hospital. Graeme Le Saux and David Batty trade punches in Moscow.


Terry Venables is criticised by a judge after losing a legal suit. Crowd trouble at Swindon and Cardiff. Terry Westley is sacked by Luton to become the 48th manager to lose his job this year.