VOX POP: Following the Fowler-Le Saux feud, has gamesmanship gone too far?

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The Independent Online


Gamesmanship is acceptable up to a certain point, but if Fowler had made a racist comment he would have been called up before every magistrate in the land. I can't see why there's any difference. Sometimes you get gamesmanship going on because inferior players try to wind up better ones to get their mind off the game, but this one with Fowler is nasty. I don't know how you can stamp it out - fines don't make any difference and banning players hits the club and fans unfairly.



You can't do this sort of thing because television picks up everything and players should realise that. But it went on when I played, although whether it was acceptable is a different point. The methods are pretty much the same - whatever you could do to upset an opponent you would. What happened between Le Saux and Fowler went on years ago, but it will never stop because players have a bit of a temper. When they get together for the next England game I think it won't matter a bit and they'll laugh about it.



I definitely think you've seen an increase in this sort of thing, partly because you've got less physical contact; the old folk heroes wouldn't survive today. So if you can't kick anyone then the next step is gamesmanship. I think it's happened on the continent for the last 25 years and we're now catching up. The players have to realise you can't get away with it because every game is covered by cameras. When I played you had an opportunity to square up and go toe to toe, but that's changed now.



You get verbal intimidation and gamesmanship all the time, although maybe not as pronounced or visual as the incident we saw between Fowler and Le Saux. It's very much part of the game. I've always thought testing a player's physical as well as mental strength is part of football. It's not something you can stop. As a Scottish striker playing in England I was always getting verbal abuse, testing my concentration, but I gave as good as I got. I'm all for fair play but also for keeping this game a contest.



In any competitive sport there will always be things said. I think it is a situation of sticks and stones; Le Saux should have ignored it. I'm sure he has been called far worse things, but to strike Fowler off the ball is beyond gamesmanship. There's nothing in the rules that says you can't backchat or wind people up. The whole point is to get a player's mind off the game. Le Saux should have laughed and dealt with it after the game. Once players take the law into their own hands you have problems.



It's difficult to cope with this sort of affair as a referee. The important thing is not to let things fester among players because that's when problems grow. I used to tell my linesmen to watch out for potential problem players who had a lot to say. I wanted my linesmen to try to control that situation, a referee can never control 22 players. But referees do need to get involved, although that may be more difficult now with foreign footballers who might not understand you so well.