British TV soccer pundit Ron Atkinson has been forced to quit after launching a racist attack on black CHELSEA player MARCEL DESAILLY.

Atkinson, 65, who commentated on Chelsea's European CHAMPIONS LEAGUE match against MONACO for network ITV on Tuesday (20APR04), branded the club captain and French WORLD CUP winner a "f****g lazy big n****er" after Chelsea slumped to a 3-1 defeat.

Former Manchester United manager Atkinson - affectionately known as Big Ron - thought TV coverage had ended and his microphone was switched off, but his outburst was picked up by an Arab TV channel, screening the game to expatriate soccer fans, who flooded the network with complaints.

He immediately resigned from his $360,000 (GBP200,000) a year job with ITV and offered a grovelling apology: "I must have rocks for brains. I'd like to apologise to Marcel Desailly.

"I am very disappointed with myself. I was blazing at the end of the game but had no idea my comments were being transmitted.

"I am particularly upset because nobody is less of a racist than me. I have done as much as anyone in the game to help black footballers."

Atkinson is famous in Britain for his colourful personality and his creative take on the English language - in 2002 he released a Christmas single, LET'S GIVE LOVE A TRY, which flopped in the charts.

22/04/2004 02:55