Wycombe’s Jason Cousins and a lunge that encapsulates the brutal past of the position

Jason Cousins does not have the status of Dani Alves, Philipp Lahm, Cafu and Kyle Walker but the former Wycombe Wanderers right-back gained a measure of fame in September 1993 for what might be the worst foul of all time.

Cousins was the captain of Wycombe, in just their second month as a league club, when he launched a flying eight-yard leap three feet off the ground into the midriff of the Doncaster Rovers midfielder David Moss. It’s probably just as well for Cousins that he was playing in an age before social media but the foul has become a belated online sensation with a YouTube clip generating more than 80,000 views.

Ian St John said in his role as an ITV pundit that Cousins deserved to face criminal charges. That matters were not taken further was largely due to the fact that Moss suffered no serious injury, climbing to his feet after the incident. Cousins didn’t even receive a straight red card, although he was shown a second yellow by the referee Mick Pierce.

Cousins’s teammate and brother-in-law Keith Scott tried to convince Pierce not to show a red card. “I went over to the ref,” he said, “and because the player had got up straight away, I told him it’s not as bad as it looks and appealed for leniency.” Steve Thompson, another teammate who was providing co-commentary, also tried to defend the indefensible.

But the Wycombe manager Martin O’Neill was furious and the cost for Cousins could have been considerable. Cousins had been a stalwart with Wycombe in their non-league days after signing from Brentford in 1991. A fan favourite, he had climbed the fences at Wembley earlier in the year to celebrate scoring in the FA Trophy final against Runcorn. But none of that mattered to O’Neill. Outraged at not only a second dismissal in as many weeks but the manner of it, O’Neill stormed into the dressing room at half-time and launched a showering Cousins into the corridor, naked.

In addition to a four-match FA ban, Cousins was immediately suspended by his club, fined, stripped of the captaincy and lucky not to be sacked. But a couple of weeks later, O’Neill had calmed down. “It was sickeningly brutal, needless and completely incomprehensible,” he wrote in his programme notes. “The girls in our office told me that a few supporters came in after the match to say that they wouldn’t be watching us anymore because of that challenge.

“I cannot prevent anyone from taking whatever action they see fit, but I can, as manager of this football club, tell you that I will not tolerate such behaviour from my players and that if Jason does it again he won’t need to be told to leave the club. He has been fined and suspended and the captaincy will be taken away from him.

“But when judgment is passed on him please take last February’s game with Bromsgrove Rovers in the FA Trophy into consideration. Jason Cousins was stretchered off unconscious when, while still lying on the ground, he put his head in front of an opponent’s boot to prevent a goal being scored. We eventually triumphed 2-0 in that game and went on to enjoy another memorable day out at Wembley. Jason Cousins lay unconscious for over four hours in Wycombe General Hospital for the cause of this football club.

“He will no doubt have to live with his actions for quite some time. Perhaps you are still not in the forgiving mood but Jason Cousins will get one more chance by this manager to prove himself all over again. I hope he, for his family’s sake, succeeds.”

And Cousins did. On returning to the side he scored a free-kick as Wycombe nearly knocked Coventry City, then a Premier League side, out of the Coca-Cola Cup. He went on to help the club to promotion to the third tier of English football that season and stayed at Adams Park for a further eight years, making nearly 500 appearances in total.

In one of his final acts as a Wycombe player, Cousins played in the 2001 FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, grabbing a young Michael Owen by the neck after he attempted to win a penalty. He now collects passengers rather than cards as a chauffeur on the outskirts of London. His type of player has vanished almost entirely.

But whatever else he did it is that early autumn day in September 1993 for which Cousins will always be remembered.

This article first appeared in Issue One of The Squall, a monthly magazine we produced for six months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. You can read all six issues, for a recommended donation of £3 each, here.

Order our latest quarterly – an analysis of some of football’s boldest talents such as Roberto Firmino and Leônidas; instances when football and politics intersected in the UK, Argentina, Georgia and Qatar; tragedy and surprise in the midlands and so much more – Issue 39.