Mark Chapman, a Sunday League footballer from Warwickshire, has become the first football player to be imprisoned for a bad tackle.
Chapman was sentenced to six months in prison for breaking the leg of Terry Johnson in two places during the dying seconds of the match between Wheeltappers and Long Lawford.
The challenge came in as Johnson was shepherding the ball into the corner to protect a 3-1 lead. Chapman then proceeded to commit a two-footed challenge from behind with his studs showing, breaking Johnson’s leg twice.
The injury has ended any chances of Terry Johnson playing football again, with full recovery estimated at 18 months. He has also not been able to work since the injury, which has left a scar the length of his shin.
Whilst there are two instances of footballers being sent to prison for on-pitch violence, this has been through violent acts far beyond what would be expected during the course of play (one was for manslaughter through a punch, one was for a leg-breaking tackle followed by a stamp and spitting on the victim ).
This is precisely why this case is so significant; by imprisoning Chapman, Judge Robert Orme has set a precedent that all football in this country will be referring to when assessing cases like this.
Legally speaking, when stepping out on to the pitch a player consents to any injury up to the degree of Actual Bodily Harm, which is legally defined as:
“Any hurt or injury calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim...[it] need not be permanent, but must be more than merely transient or trifling”.
This is vital in sports participation—without this law, the risk of being sued for causing injury would be too high for many people to take part. But in this instance, the judge decided that the injury was too severe and the intent too malicious for the crime to be classified as ABH.
He said, “This is a deliberate act, a premeditated act...A football match gives no one any excuse to carry out wanton violence”.
The ramifications of this case for football is huge. Players could now find themselves at risk of prison as a result of dangerous and malicious challenges that result in serious injury, a situation that has never before been the case.
It begs the question: should, and will, Ryan Shawcross find himself defending a GBH charge?
The answer is probably not. There seems to be a fair consensus in football that Shawcross’ challenge was not malicious, with a sweep of managers in the weekly press conferences showing this is the belief of Roy Keane, Alex Ferguson and, of course, Tony Pulis.
One of the key aspects of the Chapman case is that the judge ruled the challenge was premeditated, intending to harm and completely removed from what you could feasibly accept on a football pitch.
Shawcross could safely claim this was not the case with him. Whilst the injuries are comparable, the intent or ‘Mens Rea ‘ of the act was not.
This won’t protect other such cases in professional football in the future, though, and we could well see a high-profile pro in the stand before too long.
This article was written by Jon Naylor for Half Volley , the half sport, half science website.
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