Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Tabloids blast `league of shame'

PREMIER LEAGUE Nine players from Leicester City were arrested while in Spain this week after allegedly breaking into a hotel room and sexually assaulting three women

AP , LONDON

Leicester City player Matt Elliott leaving Luton Airport Friday after being released by a Spanish court.Three players from the team remained in custody in Spain over an alleged sexual assault on three women.

PHOTO: EPA

For years, hooligans have given English soccer a bad name. Now, it's the players who are repeatedly shaming the game.

"Not Again!" screamed the back page headline Friday in the Daily Mail following the latest off-field scandal to shake the sport.

"Another black day for the league of shame," said the Daily Telegraph.

On Friday, three of the players -- Keith Gillespie, Frank Sinclair and Paul Dickov -- were charged with sexual assault and breaking and entering. They were sent to Sangonera jail outside Murcia, and are expected to be back in court in Cartagena tomorrow.

Two players, Matt Elliott and Lilian Nalis, were freed without bail but remain under investigation. James Scowcroft was released on 20,000 euros (US$24,700) bail but also faces further investigation and must report to Spanish consular officials twice a month.

In Spain, conviction for sexual assault carries a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.

Two others players, Nikos Dabizas and Danny Coyne, were freed conditionally Thursday night. German player Steffen Freund was released without charge.

Police said three women, described as German tourists of African origin, alleged a group of players forced their way into a hotel room in Cartagena and sexually assaulted them, causing injuries.

The Leicester players were at a midseason training camp at Spain's La Manga complex, a favorite resort for English clubs because of its balmy weather and top sports facilities.

Four years ago, Leicester was thrown out of the same resort after one of its players, Stan Collymore, set off a fire extinguisher in a piano bar.

Whether or not any of the players are convicted, the arrests in Spain were viewed here as another example of the degeneration of what Brazilain great Pele once called "the beautiful game."

"We have come to expect the worst of our overpaid, overrated and overindulged Premiership degenerates," Daily Mail sports columnist Jeff Powell wrote Friday. "Through their moronic conceit, they continually plumb new depths of debauchery, without a thought of the shame they heap upon the game which pays them so excessively."

In the Independent, James Lawton lamented that "a culture of hedonism and professional irresponsibility is now deeply entrenched" in English soccer and accused pampered players of "defrauding'" the fans.

Hardly a day or week has gone by this season without blaring headlines involving players accused of sex offenses, drunk driving or nightclub brawls.

In September, the sport was rocked by allegations that a 17-year-old girl was gang-raped by Premier League players at a five-star London hotel. Charlton's Carlton Cole and Newcastle's Titus Bramble were arrested but no charges were filed because police said there was insufficient evidence for a conviction.

The case led to lurid headlines and stories about "roasting" -- groups of players sharing women for sex.

Another term, "dogging," was brought into the national mainstream this week by Collymore, who admitted going to remote parking lots to watch or engage in sex with strangers in cars. He was dropped as a BBC radio soccer commentator.

In other cases, Leeds United midfielder Jody Morris is due in court later his month on charges of raping a 20-year-old woman last October. On Thursday, former Nottingham Forest defender Gary Charles was ordered to stand trial on charges of sexual assault.

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