This week three Leeds United players, charged in connection with an assault on an Asian student, pleaded not guilty in Leeds Crown Court. Former England under-21 captain Lee Bowyer and defender Jonathan Woodgate, previously capped for the full England team, pleaded not guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent and affray following the incident in Leeds city centre last January. They were joined by reserve team player Tony Hackworth and two others, neither of whom are footballers. Add to this Michael Duberry’s charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and you have a fair old charge sheet, even by West Yorkshire standards.
Since the incident there has been as many questions raised as those answered. What does the incident say about the individuals concerned? How does it reflect upon the professionalism of our current crop of young England stars? And finally what does it say about Leeds United?
The England team camp and the players’ club have chosen to act in differing manners. England have decided that the individuals should play no further part in international proceedings until the trial is over, while all four have continued to represent their club. Leeds, particularly, have behaved with the utmost dignity, especially in light of proceedings in Turkey less than six months ago when two supporters were stabbed to death.
Since the antics of Gazza and long before that Georgie Best, we thought we had seen just about everything from our overpaid, under-loved footballers. Drunken soirees the night before matches, legs akimbo in gutters etc – so this is where my £400 a year goes! Stan Collymore set an unenviable precedent with his altercations with Ulrika-ka-ka but this trial is the first to include hints of racism and it is this which has caused so much interest.
Just what happened that night would probably never be known, other than by the people who were there. Since the incident, the rumour mill has been working overtime in a small Northern town such as Leeds (joke). Player one’s best mate, player two’s girlfriend, player three’s dog have all had their story spread over town since the incident occurred. A court of law and a bunch of lawyers will eventually decide the difference between fact and fiction.
None of which answers the questions raised initially. If it had been Joe Public carrying on in this manner, do you think they would still be employed, let alone taking home tens of thousands of pounds each week? I doubt it very much. With most jobs these days, you are expected to act with at least the smallest amount of decorum. Phrases such as ‘bringing the company into disrepute’ are often used in sackings over far less trivial incidents. So why, when these footballers should be setting an even better example to the youth of today, are they still playing football each Saturday afternoon? Surely, these guys have a public duty, which should ultimately be maintained by their club.
If it had been members of the general public, such as you or I involved, you could be pretty sure that things would have been different. And you could definitely be sure of one thing – not too many of us would have their trial adjourned until the end of the season.