WHETHER it is football, cricket or tiddly-winks, players probably abuse other players to gain an advantage in just about every sport there is.
In the wake of John Terry being found guilty by the FA this week of making racially aggravated comments against Anton Ferdinand, I started thinking about what the worst case of abuse I experienced on a football pitch was. It didn't take me long to remember.
I always used to get things like 'you big-eared b*****d' – if there is something players think they can pick on they will try it all day long – but if someone said that to me I would just fall about laughing. People who say you are this or that didn't scare me. Comments are the coward's way out. What scared me were the silent assassins and Ally Mauchlen, the former Hearts and Leicester defender, was one of them. In those days hard men were hard men. It was in the early 90s, I had just joined Dundee and we were due to play Hearts on the Wednesday and then again on the Saturday. I was playing quite well at the time and had started scoring a few goals so they decided to man-mark me. At first it was a guy called John Millar, who funnily enough I had been at Chelsea with, but I scored in the league match on the Wednesday despite him so he was left out for the Scottish Cup tie on the Saturday.
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In his place came Mauchlen and from pretty much the first minute he started punching me off the ball or giving a wee pull of the hair without saying so much as a word. I decided at a corner to elbow him in the stomach to try to get away from him, but Alan McLaren saw me and started jabbing his finger at me. Again, Mauchlen never said a word. But at the next corner, he waited until the ref was looking away and gave me a full-blown punch between the legs. I fell to the deck and Simon Stainrod – who was our manager at the time – went ballistic.
I got myself up and got on with it, but for the full game Mauchlen just kept pulling my hair, punching or slapping me in the face, another punch between the legs, pull of the jersey or rabbit punch on the back of the head. Even when Stainrod changed formation in an attempt to get me away from him he followed me there. He continued doing it for 90 minutes, even when they were winning. When the final whistle blew at the end of the match he just shook my hand, said: "You are a good wee player, wee man."
I came from a mining village, New Cumnock, and I didn't run away from anything. but I have got to hold my hands up and say I was just glad to get off the park that day. I suppose I was apprehensive about it: I was just a young boy.
Stainrod said he was a disgrace, and I think he went and had words with the Hearts management. But Mauchlen just said: "Look, I just nullified your best player. That was the job I was given to do and I did it."
There was one camera taking in the Scottish Cup action at Tynecastle that day but working in TV now I know what happens in the modern game. If they miss something the producer will shout out and see if any of maybe 14, 15 cameramen has got it.
There are no hiding places any more but there is still all sorts of abuse in the modern game, from light-hearted slagging or sledging to really nasty stuff. Although I do think the world is going PC mad at times – and they should drop the handshakes right now, all it is doing is giving people talking points and causing aggravation – racial abuse is the worst you can get these days and I have no sympathy for people who can't play by the rules.
WHO was the last SPL-based player who regularly got a game for the England national team? I know Alan Thompson and Chris Sutton both got a chance but the SPL was more respected then than it is now. Neil Lennon is better qualified than me if he thinks Gary Hooper is worthy of a call-up, but his striker is still a bit short if you ask me.
No doubt he is a really good player – I love his industry, touch, goalscoring prowess and he can hold the ball up – but whether he can do it at international level I am not so sure. And so long as he is playing in this league I think it is a definite no. I think Roy Hodgson will be thinking he has to move to a better standard of league before he can convince him he is worth a call up.
Or he could just score a few in this season's Champions League.