Fouls and Fisticuffs
A selection of unsavoury incidents we're supposed to condemn
Ron Harris and Ian Hutchinson on Eddie Gray (CHELSEA v Leeds United, FA Cup final replay, 1970)
The 1970 FA Cup final at Wembley between Chelsea and Leeds retains a period charm, a beguiling snapshot of more innocent times. Jack Charlton flaps his scrapeover at a cross. The ball trickles over the goal line, getting there slowly, half-turn by half-turn. Eddie McCreadie tries to kick it away, but takes a fresh-air swipe and falls on his arse like a drunk in a Frank Randle film. Big Jack jogs back to the centre circle wearing an uncomplicated expression of benign happiness, floating upfield like a balloon with a pair of dots for eyes and a U drawn on it. Peter Houseman equalises, then accidentally spits all over his shirt. The pitch is a quagmire. Innocent times.
The replay at Old Trafford wasn't quite so pure and wholesome. Had the game been played in 1996, when the referee David Elleray re-evaluated proceedings on video, there would have been 20 bookings and six red cards. It's not even worth contemplating the rap sheet in today's overfussy climate, suffice to say that upon filling out his post-match report, a referee would require several months off to receive lengthy treatment for RSI. Three Chelsea players — David Webb, Ron Harris and Charlie Cooke — did enough in Elleray's eyes to earn three bookings apiece.
Webb spent the opening quarter of an hour booting Eddie Gray and Allan Clarke up the Aris, then just before half time Harris clattered Gray — a delicate, floral genius — with one of the great reducers. Gray had attempted to turn the Chelsea galoot down the left. Chopper was having absolutely none of it. He took Gray's standing leg from under him as he turned, sending the Leeds winger arcing into the air. Clarke went up to remonstrate with Harris, who responded with an expression of stoned amusement. Gray meanwhile was on the turf grasping his left knee, face scrunched up in pain. The trainer Les Cocker came on to bend Gray's jiggered joint up and down, like a good old-fashioned 1970s quack, while Billy Bremner held Gray's hand, wearing a look of concern usually only seen on mothers taking their first-born to the dentist for the very first time.
It has become the signature moment of a brutal game, yet it was not the most outrageous act visited upon poor Gray's person. Two minutes after Chopper's Career Compromiser, Gray was hobbling around on the left wing, waiting for the half-time whistle and some proper rest and recuperation. He didn't really want a hospital pass from Johnny Giles but he got one anyway. Gray went to hoick the ball up the wing, away from personal danger. But it was too late. Ian Hutchison hoved into view, sliding along the grass and whipping the flaccid Gray into the air like a pancake. The recently damaged Gray understandably took exception and meted out retribution by stamping on his assailant's leg. At which point Hutchison sprang up and punched Gray right on the tip of his front tail.
Two red cards right there, not counting Chopper's earlier intervention. Injury having been added to injury, the referee pops a little insult into the mix as well, by doing absolutely nothing. Play went on. The half-time break did little for Gray, who was effectively jiggered for the entire match. The Leeds winger having run riot during the opening game at Wembley, Harris's assault had effectively won Chelsea the cup final, and lost it for Leeds, who had already fallen apart during the league run-in, gifting the title to Everton, and capitulated against Celtic in the European Cup semi-final. A trifecta of torture, and one reflected in the final line of the report by the man from the Guardian: "I understand that there is no truth in the report that the Leeds players were presented with statuettes of a blind-folded Justice."
Werner Liebrich on Ferenc Puskás (WEST GERMANY v Hungary, World Cup group game, 1954)
The 1954 World Cup is remembered principally for feats of scoring. Tournament records include the highest average number of goals per game (a whopping 5.38), the most goals in a single game (Austria 7-5 Switzerland) and the biggest win ever (Hungary's 9-0 victory over South Korea). All good, clean, wholesome, occasionally-one-sided fun. But the real signature moments of the tournament involved acts of mindless brutality – including one act of wanton hoodlumery which effectively decided where the pot was going.
In the group stages, with West Germany trailing Hungary by five goals, the mists descended on Werner Liebrich. Ferenc Puskás had been walking his team-mate Jupp Posipal around the pitch like a docile dachshund for the best part of an hour, so Liebrich took Posipal's place on the end of the lead, whereupon he began snapping at the Hungarian's heel. "My opponent," Puskas later recalled, "finding his skill of no avail resorted to roughness ... it was inevitable that sooner or later I would be badly injured." Liebrich viciously kicked the Galloping Gut on the back of his boot, putting Hungary's captain out of the next two games, and seriously handicapping him for the Magical Magyars' ill-fated final.
Not that the Hungarians themselves were saints. Their next match is probably the most outrageous in World Cup history, a quarter-final against Brazil that would go down in history as the Battle of Berne. Hungary went two up within seven minutes, Nándor Hidegkuti scoring one, setting up the other, then having his shorts ripped in two by an opponent, no mean feat in an era when footballers' apparel was made from durable, hard-wearing material (unlike today's skimpy confections of cobwebs and candyfloss fused together by the tears of an eight year old in a sweatshop). Hidegkuti's embarrassment was a harbinger of worse to come. József Tóth was forced to depart after finishing last in a midfield brawl. Brazil captain Bauer clanked into József Bozsik, who required lengthy treatment off the field, came back onto it wearing a face and was soon sent packing again after dusting the jowls of Nilton Santos, who retaliated and was also sent off. Djalma Santos went haring after Czibor with the express intention of smacking him in the mouth. Hidegkuti shoved Indio to the floor and went for a jaunty perambulation up and down the prostrate player's thighs. Didi clattered Hidegkuti by way of return. Humberto then walked for launching himself at Koscis.
Puskás later described the match as "a desperate tussle of ruthless brutality". Despite having sat the entire game out injured in the stand, he did his bit for the cause. With Hungary celebrating as they changed after the game, a Brazilian player threw a glass soda siphon into the dressing room, then bust the light bulb. In the darkness, a ten-minute melee ensued, during which Puskás clacked Pinheiro upside the head with a broken bottle, and Toth was knocked spark out. "What the Brazilians hoped to achieve," sighed Puskás, checking the damage to his knuckles, "we will never know."
Hungary went on to play reigning champions Uruguay in the semi. The much-fancied Hungarians, purported to be by some distance the best team in the world, stroked the ball around in a confident manner for fully 15 seconds. Jenő Buzánszky rolled the ball down the inside-right channel for Hidegkuti, who looked to turn cleverly. Víctor Rodríguez Andrade came straight through the back of him, a no-nonsense early softener which makes Roy Keane's demolition of Marc Overmars in a 2001 World Cup qualifier and Vinnie Jones's reducer on Steve McMahon at the 1988 FA Cup final look like exchanging of handshakes, pennants and air kisses. Fancy football? Not on Víctor's watch, Nándor! And yet the match was subsequently played out in the most sporting of fashions and is commonly regarded as one of the most entertaining and dramatic in World Cup history. "They were really great," said Puskás later. So well done to Mr Rodríguez Andrade for establishing that there'd be no playing of silly buggers early doors.
Jair Rosa Pinto on José Salomon (Argentina v BRAZIL, South American Championship, 1946)
Brazil and the beautiful game? Joga bullshitto! The stunt Brendan Rodgers is currently pulling on the more impressionable section of Liverpool's support aside, it's the biggest confidence trick in soccer. Look! Here comes the Seleção now, all packed into a cab trailing a massive tanker full of snake oil. Of course, let the record state that the Brazilian teams of 1950, 1958, 1970 and 1982 were some of the most aesthetically pleasing in the history of the sport. But the tippy-tappy fun shouldn't obscure their time-honoured embrace of the more thuggish aspects of the game.
The side they took to the 1974 World Cup is perhaps the most depressing. Defending the title they had won with such style four years earlier, but without Pelé, Clodoaldo, Carlos Alberto and Tostão, these toasters were a clodhopping shower. Brazil muscled in six goals during their six games, but three of them came against a travelling circus troupe from Zaire. The only memorable mark they left on the tournament was to be found on Johan Neeskens's leg, which Luís Pereira stopped just short of hacking off with a rusty axe as he lumbered from the centre-circle towards the Dutch star, who was about to break clear down the left, and put an abrupt halt to his gallop.
Brazil's winners from 1994 were decent enough, and nothing more, but could have been something special had Leonardo not decided to crump his elbow into Tab Ramos's cheek and get himself thrown out of the tournament . The 2010 selection would probably have made the final in South Africa had Filipe Melo not morphed into a Tony Pulis wet dream made flesh midway through a game against Holland. And Brazil's first win, back in 1958, is remembered chiefly for the carefree antics of Pelé and Garrincha, yet the victory may never come about had Vavá not cleaned out Robert Jonquet in the semi-final with a malicious trundle through the French captain's standing leg. The score was 1-1 at the time; effectively down to 10 men, France crumbled to a 5-2 defeat.
But at least Brazil were bringing something to the table in 1958. Thirteen years earlier, a 6-2 win over Argentina was overshadowed by the striker Ademir Menezes's leg-breaking assault on José Batagliero. The challenge, egregious in the extreme, allowed resentment to fester, and in a South American Championship decider the following year in Buenos Aires, all hell broke loose when Jair Rosa Pinto showed his studs to José Salomon, resulting in a second broken Argentinian leg. The repercussions were immense, starting with an immediate full and frank exchange of views via the medium of ABH. Salomon's pal Juan Fonda went chest to chest with Jair, whose team-mate Chico soon arrived on the scene. The Brazilian went to grab Fonda, at which point four Argentinians decided it was indeed Chico Time, clocked him to the floor and gave him a good shoeing. Cue crowd invasion.
The game did eventually restart, with Argentina winning 2-0 to take the title, but with Salomon's career effectively over, relations between the South American neighbours soured. Argentina refused to enter the 1950 World Cup as Brazil were staging it and the two countries didn't play each other again for a decade. Beautiful game? They're doing doughnuts in that tanker!
Graeme Souness on Iosif Rotariu (RANGERS v Steaua Bucharest, European Cup quarter-final second leg, 1988)
Rangers on the verge of a European Cup semi-final. It seems a long, long time ago now. Mind you, it seemed a long, long time ago back in 1988, too. The club hadn't made the semis of Europe's premier competition since 1960, the year they learned their place in the grand scheme of things: a 10-4 evisceration at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt, who would in turn get their arses skelped in Glasgow by Real Madrid in that final.
But after years in the doldrums, Rangers had started thinking and spending big in the mid-1980s — hell, why not, what could go wrong? — and after winning their first domestic title for nine years in 1987, the investments made by the new manager Graeme Souness started paying off in Europe. Rangers fought their way past a superb Dynamo Kyiv side in the first round — albeit by bringing the sidelines in to negate the left-wing sorties of Oleh Blokhin. "The pitch didn't have to be a fixed width as long as it was above a certain minimum, so I thought: Right, I'll make it the absolute minimum," explained Souness. "On the Tuesday afternoon the Kyiv players trained on the pitch when it was the normal size. On the Wednesday night they came out for the match and must have been shocked to discover that, after 15 paces, they were on the touchline. It wasn't purist stuff but it was within the rules."
If that episode didn't clearly illustrate Souness's raging desire to succeed at all costs in Europe, the quarter-final second leg against Steaua Bucharest at Ibrox — Górnik Zabrze of Poland having been dispatched in round two — would complete the picture. Steaua had won the first leg 2-0 in Bucharest, the home side helping Ally McCoist, who had undergone a knee operation eight days earlier, test his surgeon's skills by repeatedly trying to knacker his tender joint. "They whacked me twice," winced McCoist after the game, "but they picked the wrong leg."
The result left Rangers with a rare old traipse up a hill against a side built around the emerging Gheorghe Hagi. And that journey soon became mountainous when Marius Lăcătus scored within 150 seconds in Glasgow to leave Rangers needing four goals. Souness's reaction was legendary and outrageous. In possession of the ball near the centre circle, he looked to advance into Romanian territory. Miscontrolling, he raised his boot and pushed his studs into the upper thigh of Iosif Rotariu, who had otherwise been minding his own business. It was the challenge he had been building up to ever since making his competitive debut for the club at Hibs, which had lasted 37 minutes and ended in a 21-man brawl that saw Souness off and every other participant booked. Some marker.
Admirably, having studded Rotariu, Souness had the chutzpah to bend down and point at an imaginary tender spot on the back of his sock, offering the referee an explanation for the righteous retribution meted out. The ploy worked: he was only booked — and Rangers, still with their full compliment, gave their attempted comeback a good rattle, Richard Gough and McCoist scoring before half time to cut the arrears in half. But Steaua, who had won the trophy two years earlier, and would make another final within 13 months, held out.
Souness's foul would attract understandable opprobrium, but one of the most vociferous critics was his own newly purchased Danish full-back Jan Bartram, who while on international duty soon after denounced his new manager to the Copenhagen paper Ekstra Bladet as "a hooligan... I will not follow orders and deliberately kick people." Bartram retracted in stages. "I regret saying so much, but I wanted to give only honest answers," he whimpered a day later. "I could not sleep at night after giving the interview. I expect a very hot reception because of what I said. I think I may be fired." Upon his return to Govan, Bartram appeared in front of the press with Souness in a sweetness-and-light press conference, explaining that "it would be suicide for me to say the things I am supposed to have said." What was discussed backstage between the pair remains a secret but we can hazard a guess, for Bartram left not long after anyway.
Romeo Benetti on Kevin Keegan (England v ITALY, World Cup qualifier, 1977)
You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for little Kevin Keegan, the poor wretch, who has spent much of his life getting roughed up by the big boys. Take what is perhaps the signature image of seventies football: Keegan taking his leave of the 1974 Charity Shield with shirt off and face on, his top lip and nipples quivering gently in the summer breeze after being worked over by Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner, the Leeds pair taking turns to clank their fists into the Liverpool striker's indignant face. Keegan was banned for 11 matches for the privilege, time he at least put to good use by playing lots of golf and getting married.
Mind you, that wasn't even the height of it that summer. On a post-season trip to Yugoslavia with England, Keegan was spotted gooning around in Belgrade airport near the luggage carousel. He was taken by the throat by some Yugoslav officials, pinned against a wall, punched on the nose and in the stomach, and then dragged into a side room for a proper going over. FA officials eventually negotiated the release of their hapless striker, who was cashiered back into society bleeding and crying but not before smashing an earthenware coffee set he'd just purchased in the duty-free shop.
And then there's that business with the baseball bat. But let's leave the man with at least a sliver of dignity.
But before we move on, it's worth remembering the attention Italy gave England's mighty mouse during a qualifier for the 1978 World Cup at Wembley. The Azzurri were certainly in the mood that night, with Romeo Benetti and Claudio Gentile both going in the referee's notepad for lunges which were perfectly timed, in the comedic sense, on the heels of the dancing winger Peter Barnes. And yet it was Keegan who attracted most of the flak. To be fair, he had brought some of it on himself by loosening the teeth of the moustachioed nutcase Benetti, a challenge which led to the Juventus midfielder promising to "get" Keegan "before the finish". Also, it probably didn't help Italy's mood that Keegan had already scored the opening goal.
Benetti would honour his promise, but not before his teammate Marco Tardelli had softened Keegan up a wee bit. Chasing a ball going towards the corner flag, Keegan fell a step behind Tardelli, affording the Italian the opportunity of crumping his elbow into the striker's face. Keegan was sent to the floor spark out; the referee shrugged and took no action as the smelling salts were administered to England's groggy star. And with 10 minutes to go, the pièce de résistance. Keegan slid a peachy pass down the inside-right channel to split the Italian defence in two and allow Trevor Brooking to seal a 2-0 win — and had both legs whipped from under him as Benetti arrived to clean him out while everyone else's attention was occupied by Brooking. The referee, needless to say, took no action there either, but he'd missed this one. Sneaky, spiteful, and perfectly timed. There's genius in this.
Mario David on Leonel Sánchez (Chile v ITALY, World Cup, 1962)
The history of football is littered with instances of bench-emptying brouhahas. A 1997 game between Mexican also-rans Toros Neza and the Jamaica national team ended (on 19 minutes) with the sort of brawl only previously seen in the saloon bars of the Wild West. A common-or-garden trade of scything tackle and retaliatory smack in the mouth instigated a five-minute 22-man synchronised display of haymakers and highkicks, before several members of the Jamaica side nipped into the changing rooms, coming back tooled up with bricks, bottles and — deliciously — a chair. All that was missing from the scene was a staircase with a rickety wooden bannister for folk to fall through and barrelhouse piano to fall on top of and we'd have had ourselves a John Ford movie.
A more sinister rumble was played out at Boca Juniors' Bombonera stadium in 1971, upon the home side letting a two-goal lead slip in a must-win Copa Libertadores tie with Sporting Cristal of Peru. In the dying minutes, with Boca desperately pressing for a winner, the striker Robert Rogel collapsed it in the box, but failed to get the penalty decision he was after. Cue a 19-man dust-up which saw Boca captain Rubén Suñé fly-kicked in the face (seven stitches), Cristal's Fernando Mellán toe-punted in the head (initial prognosis brain damage, although this was later downgraded to fractured skull) and the Cristal defender Orlando de la Torre's mum suffering a fatal heart attack while watching the rumpus unfold on the telly. We were also going to mention Arsenal's spats with Manchester United and Norwich City during their morally bankrupt (and therefore really rather entertaining) years under George Graham but those suddenly seem oh so tame.
But quite often the most obvious choices are made for a reason and the infamous Battle of Santiago remains the yardstick by which all Outrages Which We Secretly Swing Our Boots Up On The Desk To Enjoy are measured. David Coleman famously introduced the BBC's highlights package — no live intercontinental transmission back in 1962, pop kids, with footage having to be flown back from Chile by metal bird — by calling the match "stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful", and questioning whether the World Cup could even "survive in its present form". But he was always a pompous bag of flatulent air. And in any case, he could barely disguise his excitement when actually commentating on the antics as they unfolded.
In retrospect, the game was always going to kick off. A couple of Italian journalists had written a travelogue describing Santiago as a slum full of sluttish women, the charmers, and had been chased out of the country as a result. The poor sods representing them on the football field had no choice but to stay put, however, and face the music in a group game with the hosts. AC Milan's Mario David, fresh from winning Serie A, decided to address any potential recriminations in a proactive manner. His performance, fuelled by one long hot rush of blood, stands as one of the great indiscreet meltdowns of all time. On five minutes, he hacked the opposing midfielder Leonel Sánchez to the floor, then seconds later raked his studs across Eladio Rojas's ankles, before springing to his feet with dukes up. The brazen wantonness of the double whammy set the tone. "This looks like turning into a real battle," chirped Coleman, adding with an audible smile: "What a scene!"
The view in Italy was more circumspect. "There is a lot of electricity in this match," noted the Canale 5 commentator Nando Martellini. "The climate is very heavy." He'd called that damn straight. Within three minutes, Giorgio Ferrini launched a needless roundhouse at Honorino Landa and refused to walk. The peelers were called on to escort him off. Meanwhile David's over-enthusiasm could not be curbed. Just before half-time, he decided to kick away at the prone Sánchez in a wholly disingenuous attempt to release a ball that had been trapped under the Chilean. Bad move. Sánchez, the southpaw son of a pro boxer, jumped up and clattered David under the chin with a majestic haymaker. David was spark out. Sánchez, amazingly, was allowed to stay on the field without so much as a caution from the referee Ken Aston. As a Fifa advisor, Aston would later revolutionise refereeing with the coldly logical red and yellow card system but appears to have taken a more avant-garde, freeform approach to administering the laws of the game when on the beat himself.
It's just as well Sánchez was allowed to stay on because had he walked we would never have witnessed the foul we're about to celebrate. By way of retribution, David launched himself towards Sánchez a few minutes later, pushing his studs into the Chilean's coupon with kung-fu grace. "Ooh, that was one of the worst tackles I've ever seen," cooed Coleman. "He's bought it right in the face!" David having been sent packing, consumed by his own hot heat, the rest of the match was tame by comparison: Sánchez broke the Internazionale striker Humberto Maschio's hooter after throwing hands again; Jorge Toro rugby tackled Bruno Mora, the two rolling around on the floor like actors in a PCP-fuelled production of Women In Love; Sandro Salvadore and Honorino Landa went chest to chest in the very last act of the match. But it's Sánchez's sweet left hook and David's divine retribution that everyone remembers. The highlight of the 1962 World Cup by some distance. Can you replay the goals from the final in your mind's eye?
Oscar Malbernat and Carlos Pachamé on Joop van Daele (Feyenoord v ESTUDIANTES, 1970)
Alf Ramsey had some cheek calling out Antonio Rattin and his Argentina side for their animalistic tendencies during that 1966 World Cup quarter final, given the way Nobby Stiles had autographed the France midfielder Jacky Simon's leg a few days earlier. But English football's most successful old xenophobe should be congratulated for his prescience, if nothing else. Because as the sixties trundled towards their depressing denouement, everyone involved with the Argentinian club scene was busy loading up the handcart in preparation for a journey to the bottom of a very hot hole.
The first stage of their diabolical journey was embarked on in 1967, when Racing Club took on Celtic in the Intercontinental Cup. Argentina still harboured a grudge regarding the perceived injustices of the Rattin affair and were simply not interested in the fact that Celtic's homeland is not wholly in sync with their neighbours from the south. In no mood to differentiate between the English and the Scots, Racing spent the two legs of the prestige rubber kicking the two legs of Jimmy Johnstone. With the sides level after 180 minutes of Jinky being tossed around like that plastic bag in American Beauty, a third match was staged. It was described by Reuters as "a bar-room brawl with soccer skills abandoned for swinging fists, flying boots and blatant body checking". Johnstone was again hacked down and retaliated, causing a melée which resulted in Alfio Basile and Bobby Lennox being sent off.
Johnstone was among four other players dismissed during a tumultuous second half, John Hughes, Juan Carlos Rulli and Bertie Auld also walking. Auld, cooking at gas mark nine, refused to leave the field and was allowed to play on by a referee who had lost all control. Celtic, having had four men sent off, fined their players £250 each. The Racing players, who had won 1-0, were all rewarded with a new car. The game cost Jock Stein a knighthood. "His name was removed from the New Year's Honours list because of the unfortunate events in South America," said a letter sent by the Scottish Office to the prime minister Harold Wilson in 1970. "The next year when Manchester United won the European Cup an immediate knighthood went to Matt Busby in the birthday list. Had we been able to move as quickly the previous year, Stein would have had his honour before the troubles in Argentina."
Enter Estudiantes de la Plata, who would raise the bar with their anti-fútbol. (One of their tactics was known as 'pincharratas' and involved players carrying pins which they would jab into opponents at corners and free-kicks.) Their 1968 clash with Manchester United was nothing short of explosive — Bobby Charlton getting his head broken open, George Best goaded into punching José Medina on the nose, Medina being pelted to the ground with coins as he attempted to make for the dressing-room — but their brouhaha with Milan a year later was thermonuclear.
In the second leg of that nonsense, the Milan striker Pierino Prati was flattened by the elbow of Alberto Suárez (who had once served a 30-day jail sentence for a soft-shoe shuffle on the head of a prone opponent in a league match). While Prati was receiving treatment, the Estudiantes goalkeeper Alberto Poletti sidled up behind the player and, as he tried to get up, kicked him in the back.
After Milan scored, Poletti went on a small rampage, setting about several Italians as they celebrated their goal. Suárez then punched Nestor Combin in the face — the striker nearly lost an eye — and was sent off. Combin was stretchered off and immediately arrested by bobbies who falsely claimed that the Argentina-born star had evaded national service. He was later released after several hours of frantic diplomatic chat. Suárez meanwhile was arrested, along with Poletti and the midfielder Madero, on the order of Argentina's embarrassed president, and put in the jug for a month.
But Estudiantes' zenith came the following year, when the defender Oscar Malbernat whipped the spectacles off the nose of the Feyenoord defender Joop van Daele and passed them to his teammate Carlos Pachamé, who stamped on them. It was an act of playground brutality — kids really are the cruellest — although Van Daele had the last laugh by scoring the winner to secure the trophy.
Ajax would refuse to play Nacional of Uruguay the year after. They relented to face Independiente in 1972, but when Johan Cruyff's ankle was shredded, Europe decided enough was enough. The next few years saw the European champions Ajax, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest all turn down opportunities to compete. Forest got back on the horse in 1980 and some sort of intercontinental match has been played in some form or other ever since. But while hostilities were resumed, hostilities have never been resumed. The pundits can get as pious as they like, but it's never been anywhere near as much fun. Good old Estudiantes!