Rovers Fight Club Revealed
The notorious scene when Blackburn Rovers teammates Graeme Le Saux and David Batty had a fight on the pitch in a Champions League match will NEVER be forgotten. Graeme Le Saux's soon to be released autobiography "Extracted from Left Field" is being serialised by The Times, and this sheds some light on that incident and what caused it.
Le Saux talks about the break-up of the team, and how players started playing for themselves as individuals and not as a team, and how small groups were starting to be formed within the squad as the team turned on itself as the decline began.
Below is an extract from the latest offering from The Times, focusing purely on that infamous night in Moscow, what caused it and the aftermath:
In the midst of raging against the loss of our dominance at home, we travelled to Moscow to play Spartak in our doomed Champions League campaign. It was against this back-drop that Batty and I fell out so spectacularly.
People had started looking after themselves rather than playing for the team and there were a couple of games where David and I had had a go at each other. David was one of those players who would always come short to get the ball. Occasionally, I'd tell him he didn't need to come so close. But if I didn't pass to him and ended up losing the ball, he'd have a go at me.
Gradually, that started to worsen. Then, two weeks before the incident in Moscow, I nutmegged him in training and he got the hump. He came after me and I got prickly about that. There was a sharpness developing.
The next game, he said something to me about being selfish and I came in at half-time and had it out with him in front of everybody. I told him to repeat what he had said and he backed off. I thought that was it. I was frustrated at the way things were going and I knew he was, too, but I thought we had got rid of the problem.
It was a horrible atmosphere in Moscow. It was bitterly cold, the pitch was frozen and the dressing-rooms were miserable. I felt weighed down by a general air of anxiety even before kick-off. They scored early and things felt fraught, as though they were unravelling. Everything was going from bad to worse.
It was still the first half when I set off after a loose ball. I was running up the touchline, the ball in front of me. I was going to intercept it. David was coming across the pitch to try to get there as well. We arrived at the same time and ran into each other.
I hit the deck and, as I got up, he came at me very aggressively. He was being threatening and screaming things. His face was contorted with anger, as if he was going to rip my head off. Hitting him was more of a pre-emptive strike than anything. If I had not hit him, I felt he was going to hit me.
It is a myth that he was hurling a stream of homophobic abuse. It wasn`t the words that got to me, but a combination of four or five things. I was upset at what he said and that he was accusing me of being selfish again; I was upset that we were not doing well as a team and I reacted because of the way he behaved.
His words were irrelevant, really; it was just that he was right in my face and I felt I had to protect myself. I swung at him, connected and knew immediately that I had broken my left hand. I am not a fighter. I hadn't closed my fist properly. Tim Sherwood ran over to intervene and I thought he was going to hit me, but he pulled us apart. He was embarrassed. So was I.
I was in a lot of pain, which just made me feel more ridiculous. I knew I could not come off. Mainly, I was in shock at what had happened. At half-time, Ray had a go at us. He said he was ashamed. He said he hadn`t been able to believe what he was seeing and that no manager had been asked to deal with that kind of situation before. I was getting my hand strapped.
David didn't say anything. He seemed OK. I suppose he might have had a sore cheek. The whole scene was very weird, a terrible situation. I was in bits because of the injury and the realisation of what I had done.
There has always been speculation about what David said to me. Most have assumed that a homophobic taunt made me snap. But I never considered this incident similar to the one with Robbie Fowler, nor even in the same league. What David said was between me and him. I am not condoning it, but I am not condoning what I did, either.
People at Blackburn had started to lose respect for each other, the European campaign was the most embarrassing part of that season and I don't think it was a coincidence that our problems flared up abroad. We were just two men who were deeply p***ed off at what was going on at our football club and who felt powerless to stop the slide. We were in an inhospitable environment, getting beaten, heading for more misery, more criticism, more underachievement and, when we ran into each other, we just lost it.
The aftermath was appalling. We were miles away from home, we had been battered 3-0, I had a broken hand and I had just hit my own teammate. I sat by myself on the coach to the airport, cowering at the back.
The atmosphere was terrible. Ray Harford was distraught. He felt that it was a reflection on his management, that it showed he must be doing something badly wrong. Poor Ray - he didn't deserve that.
More than anything, that night is the one thing I wish I could erase from my career.
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