At times, a player’s emotions tend to go over the boil during a football match. It may have been due to an unfair call by the referee, a dangerous tackle by an opponent, misplaced passes during a counter-attack or maybe simply being too selfish and going for all the glory when there are other teammates in better positions.
These instances may be few and far between, but there have been plenty of occasions when the ignominious side of football has reared its ugly head and some brutal fights have broken out on the field.
Let us take a look at 10 of the biggest altercations that took place during a football match.
#10 Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer
As if being 3-0 down to Aston Villa at home wasn’t bad enough already, Newcastle fans had to then witness 2 of their own players fighting it out on the half-way line. In 2005, Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer, both England internationals, fought it out in front of the St James’ faithful.
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Both players were furious with each other and when Dyer refused to pass Bowyer the ball, all hell broke loose, resulting in shirt-pulling, scratching, and shouting before peacemaker, Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry eventually broke them up.
Needless to say both players saw red-cards in what can only be described as one of the Premier league’s more embarrassing fights.
#9 Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Arsenal
Back in the early 2000’s, Manchester United vs Arsenal was one of the most hotly contested affairs in the league, with these matches often deciding where the title would end up, come the end of the season. During the 2003/04 season, these 2 teams met for a match that is now infamously known as ‘the battle of Old Trafford’, with the match marred by various incidents on the pitch.
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United committed 13 fouls and Arsenal, 18 with a total of 8 yellow cards handed out – 2 of them to Patrick Viera, who was sent off in the 80th minute for a kick at Van Nistelrooy. The score was 0-0, but in the final minute, Forlan won a penalty and Nistelrooy stepped up to take it; he thundered his effort onto the crossbar and was mobbed by celebrating Arsenal players as the final whistle went.
With both sides boasting of some ‘tough guys’, a full on scrap was narrowly averted. In the aftermath of the match Lauren, Martin Keown, Viera and Ray Parlour were all banned for a combined 9 games, but the draw enabled Arsenal to go an entire season unbeaten and win the Premier League.
#8 David Batty and Graeme Le Saux
While these 2 players had a less than exemplary career, they make this list because it was one of those very rare occasions where 2 players from the same team ended up fighting with one another.
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In 1995, the landscape of English football was quite different. Blackburn Rovers were the current holders of the league and in the Champions League they lined up against Spartak Moscow. 4 minutes into the game in Russia, Batty gained possession in midfield but Le Saux tried to take the ball off him, clattering into his teammate and giving away a throw-in to Spartak.
Batty was furious and ran over to the defender to give him an earful, and Le Saux responded by punching him in the throat. What made it more incredulous was that Le Saux broke his hand in the attack, with their skipper Tim Sherwood having to calm things down.
#7 Alan Pardew and David Meyler
While it is incredibly unlikely to see teammates get into fights with one another, a manager getting into a fight with an opposition player is arguably unlikelier. The former West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace boss has been involved in his fair share of controversy; from claiming he couldn’t be racist because his wife was Spanish to calling Manuel Pellegrini ‘a f**king old c***.’
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Pardew, however, managed to outdo himself during a Newcastle vs Hull City match in 2014. With the Magpies 3-1 up in the 70th minute, the game was all but over. But when Hull City’s David Meyler bumped into Pardew while retrieving the ball for a throw-in, Pardew responded angrily and gave Meyler a headbutt.
He received a 3 match stadium ban, a 4 match touchline ban, was fined 60,000 pounds by the FA and 100,000 pounds by Newcastle for his troubles.
#6 Francesco Totti and Mario Balotelli
Another person that you’d have definitely expected to see on this list is Mario Balotelli. Totti has a reputation for being one of the gentlemen of football, and it was definitely going to take someone of Balotelli’s reputation to tempt him into a scrap. Over the years, the controversial Italian has managed to irk the likes of Jose Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and pretty much everyone in both Milan and Manchester.
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In 2010, Inter and Roma faced off in a Coppa Italia final, with the game largely being bad tempered. When Totti came on at half-time, Balotelli taunted him with ‘You’re finished granddad,’ and continued to insult him for the rest of the match. Totti responded by upending Balotelli with a hard tackle and as a result was sent off, with Inter ended up winning the match 1-0.
Balotelli then accused Totti of racism, which the Roma skipper denied, though he did admit that the media outcry that resulted from his outburst on the pitch had him seriously considering retirement.
#5 Joey Barton and the Manchester City squad
The last day of the 2011/12 season was one of the most special in living memory. Aguero’s late goal against QPR won them the league and helped City pip arch-rivals United to the title and relegation 6-pointers and battles for European places going on elsewhere during the day.
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Going into the match against City, QPR thought they had needed a draw to stay up, but Barton still wasn’t able to control his temper and was sent off on 55 minutes for an altercation with Carlos Tevez. Never one to go quietly, Barton kicked Aguero and nutted Vincent Kompany before having to be dragged off the field, while still trying to fight Balotelli along the way out.
QPR ended up taking a 2-1 lead a few minutes later, but with a man advantage, City managed to rack up 44 shots, with the Hoops’ goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny making an incredible 13 saves before conceding again. In the end, both clubs celebrated as Bolton failed to win their match and were relegated instead.
#4 Eden Hazard and the Swansea ball boy
The ball boys of almost every club around have a reputation for being incredibly petulant. They often waste time, pretend like they don’t know how to throw a football when the opposition asks for it and generally just simply get in the way.
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Eden Hazard, definitely not one of the more temperamental players around, let his anger get the better of him during a match with the Swans in 2013. Chelsea had lost the first leg of the League Cup semi-final 2-0 to the Welsh club, but in the second-leg at the Liberty Stadium, the score was 0-0 with 15 minutes to go.
The ball went behind the goal and as Hazard went to retrieve it, a ball boy threw himself on top of it, thereby preventing a quick restart. Hazard proceeded to try and kick the ball out from underneath the kid, with the boy making exaggerated motions of rolling around and clutching his ribs.
Hazard was red-carded and the ball boy later sold the jacket he was wearing that night for an astonishing 28,600 pounds on EBay.
#3 Roy Keane and Alan Shearer
A list of the biggest football fights wouldn’t be complete without the hothead that is Roy Keane.
In 2001, Keane managed to pick a fight with Alan Shearer during an away match at St James’ Park. The Magpies had the lead going into the last few minutes and as the ball went out for a United throw, Shearer tried to stop Keane from taking it quickly and the fiery Irishman responded by throwing the ball at Shearer’s head.
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The Newcastle man provided a verbal response which made Keane go ballistic, swinging a punch, missing, and then getting immediately sent-off.
The 2 men still hate each other to this day, with Keane saying afterwards, “I was sent off for pushing, but if you’re going to get sent off, you might as well punch him properly.”
#2 Paolo Di Canio and the referee
Referees are often the target of most of the abuse hurled around in a pitch, but seldom actually face any consequences from the authorities if they take repeated bad decisions.
Di Canio decided to take matters into his own hands during a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal in 1998. Once again, Patrick Viera was involved, getting fouled by Di Canio and then fouling him back in response and then getting fouled again.
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Both men were shown red cards, but by this point in the match, Di Canio had lost all sense of calm. He proceeded to gouge Martin Keown’s eye, kicked everyone in sight and then shoved referee Paul Alcock to the ground.
The FA slapped a 11 match ban on the mad Italian and levied him a 10,000 pound fine.
#1 Jose Mourinho and Tito Vilanova
Mourinho doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being the nicest chap on the block, but even his most hardened supporters were shocked by this incident in 2011.
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In the 94th minute of the El Clasico, with Barcelona leading 3-2 in an already incredibly heated game, Marcelo flew into a tackle on Cesc Fabregas that resulted in a red card for the Brazilian left-back and a mass brawl between all the players on the pitch. Both sets of coaches also clashed on the touchline and it wasn’t until TV replays showed the fight that Mourinho was caught gouging the eye of the late Tito Vilanova.
In the immediate aftermath of the disgraceful act, Mourinho flat out refused to apologise to Vilanova, claiming that he was defending the honour of the Los Blancos.
Mourinho was banned along with Vilanova, who had shoved him in return, and it took nearly a year before the Portuguese manager admitted that he regretted the decision and apologised.