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Martin O’Neill, a naked right-back & the story behind one of the worst tackles ever made

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Phil Catchpole
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With Wycombe Wanderers taking on Doncaster Rovers in a top-of-the-table League 2 clash this Saturday, football commentator and BBC Three Counties sports reporter Phil Catchpole remembers a famous moment from a clash between the teams back in 1993

A Wycombe Wanderers attack down the right wing appeared to be going nowhere as half-time approached against Doncaster Rovers. Then this happens.

BANG! Jason 'Psycho' Cousins careers into shot, already airborne and flies fully two feet over the ball before crunching both his feet into the midriff of the Doncaster Rovers number eleven.

Quite simply, this tackle is the worst I have ever witnessed in my thirty years of watching the beautiful game.

Reviewing replays of the incident twenty-four years later still brings me to the same question that I had on the terrace that sunny September afternoon back in 1993: “What on earth was he thinking?” On reflection, the technique and distance covered would surely have qualified for the long jump at the Olympics.  

As horrific as it all is, I actually love this clip almost as much as I adored watching Psycho playing right-back for Wycombe Wanderers.

Just look as the victim immediately picks himself up and no one from the bench gets involved. These days, the fouled player would have probably rolled over countless times whilst his team-mates surrounded the referee, brandishing symbolic cards and jabbing fingers histronically in all directions. There is a small coming together of the Doncaster number seven and Cousins himself, who seems chillingly calm, like a serial killer surveying his latest victim, yet not afraid to approach the referee to receive his inevitable punishment. 

Brilliantly, Wycombe striker Keith Scott then appears at the side of the ref to try and defuse a potentially volatile situation.

He explains: “I went over to the ref, and because the player had got up straight away, I told him it's not as bad as it looks and appealed for leniency. It wasn't that sort of game really, yes there had a been a couple of niggles but nothing special.”

Now, Scotty is clearly the sort of bloke you want on your side talking to the boss if you've had a shocker at work, right?

Much is made of the team spirit between footballers, but this is true dedication.

Unbelievably, the referee produces just a yellow card for the foul but, unfortunately for Jason, he had already been booked earlier in the game for a bad tackle so he was off.

Cousins' walk to the tunnel is brilliant: a brooding strut of pure pent-up anger and frustration. Only the Wycombe manager Martin O'Neill is brave enough to interact with Cousins, delivering a one word riposte. 

Scott continues the story: “The half-time whistle went soon after so we were all in the dressing room when the gaffer [O'Neill] burst in screaming as to the whereabouts of Jase.

“Someone eventually piped up that he was in the shower so Martin ran over and physically threw him back into the tunnel, naked bar some soap suds, with Jase's desperate apologies falling on deaf ears.

“We're all sat there watching this, trying as hard as we can not to laugh, but then the gaffer shuts the door and - just like flicking a switch - very calmly describes how we are going to win the game in the second half. We did just that too, 1-0.”

Cousins had also been sent off in his previous game, for a comparatively innocuous 'deliberate' handball. The two dismissals combined led to a couple of letters from supporters arriving at Adams Park demanding that Jason should be sacked.

These were wonderful times as, nowadays, all of this would have surely generated an avalanche of pious rants on social media and forums. Still, as Wycombe Wanderers fans will testify, Martin O'Neill was a truly brilliant manager. He subsequently suspended Cousins from he the club for two weeks and fined him the maximum in wages, bringing him back for a League Cup second leg game at home to Coventry City, in which Jason scored in an imperious Chairboys performance and all was forgiven. 

Under O'Neill, Wycombe Wanderers went onto to win a second successive promotion that season with Cousins picking up the Player Of The Season award for the following campaign, scoring memorable goals like this along the way:

In the modern game, stuff like this is all too common:

I long for the days when everyone just got on with the game, meted out their own punishments and accepted whatever came their way from the officials. Simpler times which are epitomised by tremendous players like Jason Cousins. What a hero.

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Phil Catchpole

Football commentator and reporter for BBC Three Counties, Phil regularly finds the beauty of football in the lower reaches of the EFL. Music enthusiast and DJ, Phil once beat Sandi Toksvig in a head-to-head tie break question in a pub quiz. Follow Phil on Twitter @bluntphil

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