Offside, 16 August

Roy Keane shouldn't have a 'duty of care' towards Alf Inge Haaland - or anybody else he meets on the pitch.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

‘I’d waited long enough. I f***ing hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c***. And don’t ever stand over me again sneering about fake injuries.’

These are the infamous words that could land Roy Keane in court. Alf Inge Haaland has not started a game for Manchester City since that fateful tackle in April 2001 and is considering suing the Irishman.

‘I think it was the worst tackle I’ve ever received’, whimpered Haaland. ‘I was lucky to walk away. It could have turned me into an invalid.’ It’s amazing how Haaland, a player with a tough-tackling reputation himself, has so readily assumed the role of victim. Haaland wasn’t seriously hurt by Keane’s challenge, and indeed played in an international game against Bulgaria a few days later.

In fact, it is an injury to Haaland’s left knee that continues to sideline him today, whereas Keane’s studs, as the video replays clearly demonstrate, caught his right knee. But why should this mere detail get in the way of the latest media feeding-frenzy?

‘Is this act of planned violence soccer’s lowest moment?’, headlined the Evening Standard, alongside a picture of ‘the savage tackle that has shocked the world of soccer’ (1). It’s funny how it has taken 16 months for the world of soccer to even notice that its lowest moment had come and gone.

The red card and automatic suspension that Keane received for the tackle was, at the time, deemed sufficient punishment. Haaland was quoted shortly afterwards as saying that ‘as far as I’m concerned, the whole thing is over’. But Keane’s recent admission that he had been waiting to take revenge on Haaland has led to a retrospective reinterpretation of the tackle.

‘Ban him 12 games’, demanded the Sun (2). The Guardian’s Richard Williams believes that Keane ‘should have been prosecuted under the law of the land’ (3). ‘Here is a man being paid £60,000 to £80,000 a week, and he still feels that he can behave like a pub brawler outside the Dog and Duck on a Friday night’, bemoaned the former sports minister David Mellor.

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Remember Paolo Di Canio shoving referee Paul Alcock, or Robbie Fowler snorting an imaginary line of coke, or Duncan Ferguson being jailed for head-butting an opponent, or Patrick Vieira spitting at Neil Ruddock? The cacophony of moral outrage that follows every on-field misdemeanour by a footballer has become tediously familiar.

And now Roy Keane is in the dock for admitting – quelle surprise – that footballers deliberately try to hurt their opponents. This is hardly an Earth-shattering revelation. But that hasn’t stopped the world and his wife lining up to consign Keane to football’s capacious Hall of Shame.

Haaland has yet to decide whether to take legal action against Keane. ‘Am I going to sue? Make your own mind up. I’ve played only a few games after the tackle’, said the Norwegian.

If Haaland does opt for litigation it will not be the first time a footballer has taken an on-field dispute into the law courts. In 1994, former Chelsea player Paul Elliot sued Liverpool’s Dean Saunders for a reckless tackle that ended his career. Elliot lost his case, but subsequent litigants have been more successful.

In 1997, former Stockport’s Brian McCord was awarded around £250,000 in damages after his career was wrecked by a high tackle from Swansea’s John Cornforth. In 1998, Bradford City’s Gordon Watson was awarded compensation after Huddersfield’s Kevin Gray broke his leg in a tackle.

These rulings have established the legal precedent that footballers have a ‘duty of care’ towards their opponents, a notion that is relatively new to the realm of sport. In the past it was assumed that footballers understood and consented to the risk of injury when they walked on to the pitch. Volenti non fit injuria, as they say in the legal profession. ‘It’s a man’s game’, as they used to say in football.

But we live in litigious times, and for every dangerous tackle there’s a stretcher-chasing lawyer waiting to sue. One wonders where will it all end. ‘Get stuck in lads, but also bear in mind your duty of care towards the opposition.’ Could this be the team-talk of the future?

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Evening Standard, 13 August 2002

(2) Sun, 14 August 2002

(3) Loose screws and a masterpiece of self-justification, Guardian, 14 August 2002

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Topics Politics


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