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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

Players seek the safety found between the touch lines.

(Sunday, February 18, 2001) -- Rio Ferdinand, the world's most expensive defender, injured himself watching television recently, according to his British club Leeds United, causing him to miss at least two games.

Ferdinand, who cost Leeds a hefty $26.5 million to acquire from English Premier League rival West Ham three months ago, strained a tendon while resting his foot on a coffee table as he watched TV.

Ferdinand is just the latest soccer player to suffer a freak injury. American goalkeeper Kasey Keller knocked out his front teeth in 1998 while pulling his golf clubs out of the trunk of his car.

Goalies seem especially prone to quirky injuries. Former England keeper Dave Beasant suffered his career-worst injury when he cut the ligaments in his ankle after dropping a bottle of salad dressing on his foot. Chic Brodie, who played for London club Brentford, saw his career come to an abrupt end in 1970 when he collided with a a black-and-white terrier that ran on to the field. Brodie shattered his kneecap while the dog got the ball.

In 1975, Manchester United goalie Alex Stepney screamed so hard at his teammates in a game against Birmingham City that he dislocated his jaw and had to leave the field. Perhaps the strangest injury suffered by a goalie nearly ended Welsh international Andy Dibble, who suffered severe chest burns from sliding along a field two years ago when he was playing for Barry Town against Carmarthen. Dibble, who had to have a skin graft, believed it was chemicals on the field that caused the burns.

Field players also have their share of quirky injuries. Danish ace Alan Nielson missed a number of games after his daughter poked him in the eye and Norwegian defender Svein Grondalen missed playing for his country after colliding with a moose while out jogging.

Brazilian forward Ramalho spent three days in bed after swallowing a suppository to treat a dental infection. Croatian striker Milan Rapaic missed the start of his club's season after sticking his boarding-pass in his eye at the airport.

And watch those celebrations.

French star Thierry Henry required treatment in a game last year after hitting himself in the face with the corner flag while celebrating a goal for his club Arsenal. Another Arsenal player, Steve Morrow, broke his collarbone after falling off a teammate while celebrating the 1993 League Cup final. Yet another former Arsenal player (is there a special curse on that club?) Perry Groves banged his head badly on the roof of the dug-out celebrating a goal.

Soccer players in England seem particularly susceptible to bizarre accidents.
* National team defender David Batty re-injured his Achilles' tendon when he was run over by his toddler on a tricycle.
* Barnsley`s Darren Barnard was sidelined five months with a torn knee ligament after he slipped in a puddle of his puppy's pee on the kitchen floor.
* Alan Mullery missed England`s tour of South America in 1964 after injuring his back while brushing his teeth.
* Leeds striker Robbie Keane ruptured his knee cartilage reaching for the TV remote.
* Aston Villa defender Alan Wright strained his knee stretching to reach the accelerator in his new Ferrari.
* Barnet's Lee Hodges slipped on a bar of soap in the shower and wrenched his groin.
* Arsenal's 1971 F.A. Cup hero Charlie George cut off his toe with a lawnmower.

And lastly, spare a thought for Indonesian player Mistar, 25, who was killed by a stampede of pigs that overran his team's training field in 1995.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

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