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10 of the greatest brawls in football history

Because secretly we all love them

10 of the greatest brawls in football history
Tom Victor
20 January 2018

Whenever there’s a massive brawl in a football match, we’re normally told that no one likes to see this sort of thing.

False: everyone likes to see this sort of thing.

The abiding memory of the 2010 World Cup final is not Andres Iniesta’s winner, it’s Nigel de Jong’s kung-fu kick.

We remember the 2006 final for Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt, not his first-half Panenka.

And we remember a good 22-man tear-up (or more, if the management and physio decide to get involved) with more affection than anything else.

So now, just to prove that the hierarchy of football enjoyment goes fights > goals > everything else, here are a few of our favourites.

1. Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer

Sometimes you don’t need everyone to get involved. Sometimes two men can do the work of 22, and that was the case in Newcastle’s defeat to Aston Villa back in 2005.

Steven Taylor might have tried to take the focus off his teammates with the best piece of acting in the history of professional football, but Bowyer v Dyer was always going to be the main event.

As Bowyer is pulled away from his colleague by Gareth Barry, it almost looks like he’s laughing; as if he just fancied a scrap and got it.

The best part? Both players were sent off for their part in the incident, meaning they both headed to the showers at the same time.

2. Chile and Italy

There aren’t too many games that come with a warning akin to those doled out by Marge Simpson at the start of a Treehouse of Horror episode, but Chile v Italy was no ordinary game.

Dubbed ‘The Battle of Santiago’, the game is known as much for an apologetic David Coleman as it is for the two second-half goals that helped the 1962 World Cup hosts book their place in the knockout stages.

Of course, neither of these factors are remembered as vividly as the sustained violence that ensured it would be the last time Chile were handed hosting rights.

“This is the first time these two countries have met; we hope it will be the last,” Coleman huffs. Naturally, they met at the next available opportunity at a major tournament – the first group match at the following World Cup in England.

3. Delio Rossi and Adem Ljajic

We don’t quite get a full 22-man pile-on here, but if we’re being honest there’s no reason why any of the Novara players would have felt the need to get involved in what was purely a Fiorentina matter.

Adem Ljajic thought he could get away with sarcastically clapping coach Delio Rossi for subbing him off after half an hour, and it’s probably fair to say part of this was because the dugout at the Stadio Artemio Franchi is a bit of a way down from pitch level.

That didn’t stop Rossi, though. The 52-year-old launched himself at the Serbian youngster like Tony Soprano taking on Bobby Bacala, continuing almost in slow motion as some colleagues look to step in while others leave off, assuming he’ll eventually tire himself out.

Rossi was fired by the Tuscan club almost instantly after the game, but while some managers might have found themselves blacklisted after moments like this, he was back in work less than nine months later.

4. Nene and Houssine Kharja

Like the Chinese Super League, the Qatar Stars League has been making an effort to bring over the best parts of the European game.

This means recruiting highly-rated players, like former PSG star Nene and Serie A journeyman Houssine Kharja. But while signings can seem forced, there’s nothing more organic than a spur-of-the moment battle royale.

Nene and Kharja were at the heart of this melee in a match between Al-Gharafa and Al-Arabi. You’ll have to wait a while for the pay-off, and you might spend some time wondering what all the fuss is about, but then it’ll hit you like a flying knee to the midriff.

5. Valencia and Inter

Is it cowardly to throw a punch and run away? Yes. Is it also funny? Sometimes.

David Navarro wasn’t even playing in Valencia’s Champions League meeting with Inter, but the Spaniard saw a fight and decided he wanted a piece of it.

Cue a rabbit punch that clearly wasn’t as subtle as he might have hoped, based on the fact that he instantly sprints away with the whole Inter squad downing tools to break from their regular fight and all just chase Navarro.

All it’s missing is Benny Hill music.

6. Barcelona and Real Madrid

There’s no such thing as a non-competitive game when it comes to Real Madrid and Barcelona. And if you needed any proof, let me point you to the 2011 Supercopa de Espana.

Ostensibly Spain’s equivalent of the Community Shield, the 2011 version saw two Madrid players shown straight red cards, Marcelo for a sickening stoppage-time tackle and Mesut Ozil for losing his shit in the aftermath. Yes, that Mesut Ozil, a man whose anger before and since has been limited to muttering under his breath after watching Theo Walcott fluff a chance.

The brawl gains extra points for the presence of Jose Manuel Pinto, the Barcelona reserve goalkeeper who looks like he could have been an extra in the Dead or Alive film that someone inexplicably not only made, but also gave Holly Valance a starring role in. You’ll know which one he is, even if you think you don’t.

7. Wolves and Bristol City (mascot special)

Ever seen a wolf punch a pig? Well you have now.

Don’t pretend you were waiting for a second paragraph on this one.

8. Diego Maradona and Athletic Bilbao

Diego Maradona here, attacking Athletic’s entire team like a permed Scrappy-Doo.

Diego Maradona, acting as the personification of the phrase “you want some”?

Diego Maradona, trying to recreate that famous Argentina v Belgium photo, except the opponents are keeping their distance because he’s been trying to kick the living shit out of them.

And the best part? Despite losing the final, and despite the aforementioned living-shit-kicking, Athletic’s league title meant Barcelona still had to play in the Cup Winners’ Cup the next season. No wonder Maradona fucked off to Napoli.

9. Ramsbottom United and Buxton FC

There’s something quaint about this non-league clip, the two fellas filming it having a little chat as if they’re on Test Match Special, not once raising their voices as more and more players join the scuffle.

Sure, the violence escalates and voices are raised, but these guys keep calm amid the storm. Credit to them for just enjoying the moment.

Side note: why do so many of these games end 1-0? Athletic v Barcelona, Barcelona v Real Madrid and Ramsbottom v Buxton: all the big ones.

10. Jamaica and Toros Neza

The best part of this brawl – and trust me, there are a lot of best parts – is that it happened in a friendly.

And not just a friendly, a specially-arranged friendly between a club side and an international XI. Jamaica went down the Lions Tour route ahead of a World Cup qualifier in Mexico, playing a warm-up match against local club Toros Neza, but they might have taken the rugby parallels too far.

We say rugby, it’s more just like your run-of-the-mill punch-up in the street, only with no one even trying to step in to say “Leave it Gary, he’s not worth it”.

Want to know the worst part? Jamaica lost the qualifier against Mexico – the game this had been preparation for – by six goals to nil.