After his head butt on Italy's Marco Materazzi all but overshadowed the recent World Cup Final, Zinedine Zidane could be forgiven for feeling relief that much of the coverage focused on what Materazzi must have said to elicit such a response, rather than on the response itself. Zidane is certainly lucky that his career has come to an end, meaning that while he has to pay the 7,500 SF (£3,260) fine, he does not need to serve the three-match ban FIFA imposed. He may also be fortunate that his reaction has not led to legal action being taken against him. Increasingly, on-field misbehaviour by players in the UK is leading to criminal and civil action.
Chris Kamara was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm and fined £1,200 for breaking an opponent's cheekbone in a match between Swindon and Shrewsbury in January 1988. This made him the first British footballer to be fined for an assault which took place on the pitch. However, it was not football's first brush with the law. Glasgow Rangers players Terry Butcher and Chris Woods were convicted of breach of the peace at Glasgow Sheriff Court following an on-pitch brawl during an Old Firm match at Ibrox in October 1987. Another Rangers player, Duncan Ferguson, was sentenced to three months in prison (of which he served 44 days) after an assault on Raith's John McStay which bore similarities to Zidane's. Eric Cantona took things one step further by assaulting a spectator in 1995. His sentence of two weeks in prison was reduced on appeal to 120 hours' community service. And as recently as 5 July this year, Lee Bowyer was fined £600 for assaulting his then-Newcastle team mate Kieron Dyer.
But it is not only criminal liability which players' on-field antics might attract. Several players have sued those whose reckless behaviour has ended or curtailed careers. So far, cases in Scotland, such as Rangers' Ian Durrant and Dunfermline's Jim Brown, have been settled out of court. In England, the Courts provide that the standard of care owed by one footballer to another is quite different from that which ordinary people owe each other. Chelsea's Paul Elliot lost his case against Liverpool's Dean Saunders when Saunders' tackle was found not to have fallen below this standard of care. However, others have been more successful, including Swansea's John Cornforth in March 1993 and Bradford's Gordon Watson who was awarded over £900,000.
Marco Materazzi has, perhaps wisely declined to raise the possibility of taking this matter further, in spite of his 5,000 SF (£2,170) fine and two-match ban. Given this, and the general good will shown to Zidane as a result of his great service to the sport, it is unlikely that "Zizou" will be contacting his legal representative any time soon.