The pitch of pain and pleasure

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A MOST extraordinary case is in progress in the High Court which - if the jury brings in a verdict of guilty - may well lead to the game of football being declared illegal, on sexual grounds.

The case dates back to a League game last year in which the plaintiff, Wayne Fishbone, was challenged for the ball by defendant (and defender) Rod Pylon. Wishbone came out of the clash with a fractured skull, which has kept him out of the game ever since. Rather than charge his 'assailant' with assault or GBH, Fishbone has amazed the football world by suing Rod Pylon for damages on the grounds of a sexually perverted attack.

'The jury may at first have thought that sex has no place on a football field,' said the judge in his summing-up. 'But you have now heard this so-called game described to you in sickening detail and you may well have changed your mind.

'Remember, you have heard the defence insist that the sole object of football is to kick the ball into the opposite net, or goal. But you have also heard the prosecution ask why, if this is really the true aim of football, it does not happen more often?

'After all, the average football encounter lasts 90 minutes. During that time, the ball enters the net perhaps once or twice, often not at all. Do you seriously believe, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that 22 grown men will voluntarily risk grave injury week after week merely for the pleasure of seeing a leather ball collide with the back of a net? Or do you believe with the prosecution, that there may be some less worthy object of the game?

'You have heard experts testify that for every goal that is scored, there are at least 10 injuries on the field. Play is constantly being stopped while men lie writhing on the ground. Sometimes they are carried off on stretchers. Not infrequently they sustain injuries that keep them in hospital or put them out of the game. You have seen the photographs of Mr Paul Gascoigne's knee. Some of us are still having bad dreams about those photos.

'Yet you are asked to believe that these constantly recurring injuries, all the result of stern physical clashes between fit young men, are incidental to the game, while the infinitely rarer scoring of a goal is actually the essence of the match. You may certainly take this view if you wish.

'You may also agree with the defence that the sheer pleasure of kicking a ball in a game of soccer is sufficient reason for participation. Do you take this view? Then you must also take into account the prosecution's forceful point that 90 divided by 22 is just over four, and thus that if 22 men play football for 90 minutes, they will each have contact with the ball for an average of four minutes. Do you really believe, members of the jury, that grown men will willingly dress up in very short trousers and lethal boots, and then go out on the field for 90 minutes, merely for the pleasure of four minutes' close contact with a ball? Or do you think there may be some less noble reason involved?

'You have heard during this trial many expressions that may seem to you to have little to do with ball playing. Expressions such as 'playing the man, not the ball', 'taking his legs from under him', 'going in hard', 'showing the studs' and so on. You may have heard players referred to admiringly as 'hard men', 'physical players' and so on. The defence would have it that physical contact is an important, but incidental, part of the game, this so- called man's game. But is it not equally possible that the physical contact - the crunch of the tackle, the breaking of bones - is the main object of the game?

'You may well take the view that young men may indulge in sado-masochistic pleasures - that is, causing each other injury for pleasure - in private. For them to do so in public, in front of a paying crowd of more than 20,000, is not quite the same. And if one of them ends up with a fractured skull, is he not entitled to some recompense?

'Members of the jury, I put it to you that Mr Fishbone was unwittingly involved in a sinister circle of sado-masochistic perversion. It is up to you, of course, to make up your own minds in this matter. As someone who, at the age of 12, was nearly crippled for life by a late tackle by a huge yob called Ted Armstrong, who then stood and leered over me, I have my own views on the matter, and you are perfectly entitled to have the same. You may now retire to consider your verdict.'