a fine example

The recent row over Alan Shearer's "robust" approach to the game and Ben Thatcher's dismissal at Selhurst Park have brought the matter of footballing crime and punishment into the spotlight once again.

England captain Shearer has been criticised for his clash with Leicester's Neil Lennon in the recent Premier League match. The flare-up on the touch-line appeared to end with the Geordie striker kicking the ginger Irishman in the head. Much debate has raged in the newspapers and on TV, but the talking point appears to revolve around the reluctance of referees to act against Shearer, possibly because of his position as England's captain. Bryan Robson, when in possession of the national team armband, seemed to enjoy similar protection in avoiding yellow or red cards that would be dished out to lesser internationals. There is no reason for the holder of that position to be excluded from the application of the laws of the game. Certainly, Paul Ince receives no favours from officials and although captains such as Gary Lineker and Booby Charlton avoided trouble with refs, they were hardly the type to get involved in bookable offences in the first instance.

While Lennon has come out and said that he has had enough of the whole saga and hopes that the FA will not pursue an investigation, the question remains, why should Shearer be allowed to get away with it, while others don't ?? At the time of writing, the FA are to look at challenges by John Hartson, Patrick Vieira and Don Hutchinson, which occurred during games, but video evidence will be examined to determine whether further punishment is necessary. In recent games, Shearer has been blasted for "assaulting" Hasselbaink repeatedly, a stray elbow in the Spurs match broke Ramon Vega's nose and later in the same game, he took a hack at David Ginola, after the whistle had already been blown. He received cards for none of these incidents. There is no doubt that he has been frustrated by Newcastle's plight this season, but as Ginola stated, "he is a better player than that". Or should be.

In Tottenham's victory over Wimbledon, the dismissal of Ben Thatcher for an X-rated tackle on Allan Nielsen seemed the only course of action available to the referee. However, the applause for the Dons full-back as he made his way to the dressing room seemed strangely out of place. The following day on Sky TV, Robbie Earle commented that Thatcher had not caught Nielsen and that the Danish international had quickly got to his feet, so he could not have been badly injured and the referee had acted rashly. He also said that because the players had rushed to the scene of the crime, this had influenced the ref's decision to send Thatcher off. Well, excuse me. Allan Nielsen was lucky that he didn't wake up in hospital on Sunday morning after the Wimbledon defender's two-footed lunge. Tackles like that really have no place in football and deserve heavier punishment than the automatic ban that accompanies a sending-off. Being the player's third red card of the season speaks volumes about his approach to the game and rather than deflect the responsibility for the sending-off, Earle may be better off taking a long hard look at hiss team-mate. I would be interested to hear the Jamaican international's opinion of such a "tackle" had it been inflicted on him.

I always thought that captains were supposed to set an example to the rest of the team. It is all very well for team-mates and managers to stick by their fellow professionals, but surely it would be nice for someone, sometime to come out and tell it like it is. A few people speaking out against challenges that endanger opponents could go a long way to eradicating them from the game altogether. With the World Cup coming up soon and the new refereeing directive on the tackle from behind, prepare yourself for a regular dose of managers being unable to see the incident or players saying that the whole-hearted player was only trying to get the ball, as another player gets hacked down from behind.


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