This week, we’re focusing on acts of footballing charity – both on and off the pitch. Mirror football writer John Cross has picked five acts of benevolence in the beautiful game – including some from surprising sources.
In the spirit of charitable acts, we’re asking football fans to do a good deed and volunteer at a Men United match day. As the Official Charity Partner of The Football League we have a presence at over 60 games in March and April.
Read on for John’s article…
Paolo Di Canio
Di Canio won the Fifa Fair Play award for this little act of goodness, which came in 2001 while he was playing for West Ham. Through on goal, the Italian caught the ball – snubbing a clear goal-scoring opportunity because Everton keeper Paul Gerrard was down injured. The controversial striker rightly won worldwide recognition for his sportsmanship, and after his stormy time in charge of Sunderland, it's good to remember this wonderful piece of benevolence.
However, Di Canio is not sure others would do it now. He said: "It seems to me that the new generation has grown up with the idea that you are intelligent and more clever than others if you benefit from a bad action or situation. You see it on reality television shows, where some people become famous just for acting in a bad way."
Back in 1997, Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler looked to have been fouled by Arsenal keeper David Seaman and the referee gave a penalty. But Fowler, to his enormous credit, protested – he knew it wasn't a foul and urged the referee to change his mind. However, the offical in question, Gerald Ashby, would have none of it, and insisted on the spot-kick being taken.
Fowler's response was to fire the tamest of shots towards Seaman, which was easily saved – though Jason McAteer spoiled the party somewhat by scoring from the rebound. Nevertheless, Fowler's great sportsmanship earned him a Fifa commendation.
You often think of Craig Bellamy as a hothead, getting himself into trouble on and off the pitch – he famously once whacked team mate John Arne Riise with a golf club on a trip abroad with Liverpool. Yet there is a very different side to the Welsh striker - he has poured more than £1.4m of his own money into setting up a football foundation in Sierra Leone.
Bellamy set up the academy, in a country with which he has no ties, to encourage kids to go to school and to teach them discipline. "I had always wanted to get involved in charity work in the UK but going to Sierra Leone made me think, 'We’re OK, these kids have nothing,' said Bellamy. "They weren’t playing with footballs. They had rolled up socks or oranges, but their love for the game is what we had 20 or 30 years ago."
Leicester were 1-0 down to Nottingham Forest at half-time in a 2007 League Cup tie at the City Ground when Foxes defender Clive Clarke collapsed in the dressing room and, with his life potentially in danger, the game was abandoned. Forest’s medical staff helped treat Clarke – who’d suffered a cardiac arrest – and when the game was eventually played three weeks later, City expressed their gratitude in the club programme. It was a similar story on the pitch, as Leicester’s players stood aside to allow Forest keeper Paul Smith to dribble the ball up to the other end, making it 1-0 to restore the advantage from the first game.
The Yeovil manager clearly has a charitable streak, having twice told his players to let the opposition score – though his acts of goodwill weren’t always appreciated. In August 2004, Johnson ordered his players to stand aside and allow Plymouth to equalise during a League Cup tie, after striker Lee Johnson (Gary’s son) accidentally swept the ball into the net instead of playing it to the Plymouth keeper, while another Argyle player, Graham Coughlan, was injured.
Johnson’s second walk-in goal wasn’t deemed quite as worthy. In this season’s Capital One Cup clash with Birmingham, Town’s Byron Webster chipped in a controversial 90th-minute equaliser after the ball had been kicked out so Blues defender Dan Burn could receive treatment. But Johnson waited until extra-time before ordering his players to let Birmingham equalise, something with which City boss Lee Clark took issue. "I might be wrong but my parents made me grow up to be a good sportsman, win, lose or draw," he said. "It's always easy to give a goal back when you're leading. We were winning going into injury-time."
Read John Cross's article on footballing charity, then do your own good deed by volunteering for a Men United match day!