Ten of the most appalling acts of violence ever committed on a football pitch, including Gerrard and Cantona

John Nicholson
France player Zinedine Zidane, Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard and Vinnie Jones
Violence: Modern football frowns upon it but everyone loves it and misses it

Vinnie Jones gives as good as he gets and the 1970 FA Cup final gets a mention, but Ben Thatcher’s thuggery will take some beating for appalling violence.


Johnny Giles and Kevin Keegan
More famous was Kevin’s off-pitch fight with Billy Bremner, but Giles had in fact punched Keggy square in the face earlier. This was, naturally, only a yellow card. Giles was a real hard man but also, counterintuitively a very skilful player, so flew under the radar. Keggy was absolutely ripped in those days, full of muscle and righteous indignation. He really took some knocking down. Giles apologised but something tells me he didn’t mean it. Must be appalled by today’s powder-puff actors rolling around. Still considers manslaughter to be only a yellow card.

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Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi
Whatever the reason for it, there was never a better headbutt on a football pitch delivered with the emotionless expertise of a professional hitman. Be in no doubt, he meant it. No shouting, no rows, no grandstanding. He just gi’ him the malky. Despite a stellar career, Zidane is still most renowned for doing this, which seems unfair ‘cos the boy was a dancer. So good it belonged in the 1970s when the Italian would’ve probably have been carded for hitting the deck.


Steven Gerrard and Ander Herrera
Came on as a sub; the boy was off his nut. Thirty-eight seconds later he was sent off for haring around like a lunatic when, in cruise missile mode, he launched into a full body tackle of United’s Juan Mata and then stamped Herrera’s leg which, though understandable in principle, is something you get locked up for nowadays.


Norman Hunter and Francis Lee
For a long time, this was the fight against which all other encounters were judged. Hunter was a ruthless hardman but he came second to the absolutely furious chubster Lee who deployed the fast fists method of conflict, his whole body shuddering with rage, even as they were both sent off. Captain of Derby, Roy McFarlane reports Lee as still furious in the dressing room. They later made up over a sheepskin coat.


Duncan Ferguson and Jock McStay
Duncan has a big menu of indiscretions but ironically wasn’t even booked for this headbutt when playing for Rangers against McStay of Raith Rovers. However, uniquely it did put Ferguson in jail. Imagine that happening now. It’d probably take the FA five years to decide if an offence had been committed even if you did it 115 times. It was his third conviction for assault; he received a three-month prison sentence in October 1995. Made his reputation. Had the glint of the genuine nutter in his eye.


Ben Thatcher and Pedro Mendes
Thatcher was touted for an England call-up by some simply because he hurt foreigners. He did play for the U21s, but ended up getting caps for Wales and was unafraid to smash the opposition into the middle of next week wherever they were from. Here Mendes is laid waste and lies semi-conscious pitchside after a forearm smash that was at the time called one of the most appalling acts of violence ever seen on a football pitch by someone who never saw ’70s football at Elland Road. Rightly named for causing devastation like his namesake. Just ask Nicky Summerbee, who got Thatcher’s elbow in his face.


Vinnie Jones and Eric Cantona
Wimblydon v Manchester United in the mid-90s was very dirty. The football was worse than now but much better. Vinnie had already tried to headbutt Roy in the lower portions, as you do, but this ‘tackle’ was so badly timed and was such a fully committed full-body assault as to be a crime of violence. Eric doesn’t make much of it, despite having his legs cut off at the hip. The footage looks like it was filmed by a frontline battle unit in Vietnam.


Gary Sprake and Bobby Gould
Sprake was famous for being a good goalkeeper for Leeds who occasionally literally threw one in. Here, in 1970, he was challenged by Gould as he went up for a ball and like any player in the ’70s battered the Arsenal man’s jaw. He wasn’t sent off of course. Playing on a pitch of rolled mud was more than enough punishment.


Jack Charlton and Peter Osgood
The replay of the 1970 cup final was more like a recreation of the Battle of the Somme with a football thrown in. Not just dirty – it was psychotic and featured at least 12 human rights crimes. You could pick any number of appallingly bad tackles but this one was especially violent. Charlton wasn’t just hard, he was tough. Osgood, who for the Ashington-born defender might as well have been a cravat-wearing member of the Young Generation, wasn’t so much tackled, as run over. Osgood crumples to the ground like a man hit by a giraffe.


Steve McMahon and Vinnie Jones
This was in the 1988 cup final. Jones had already jumped into a tackle with a man far harder but less reckless. McMahon was quietly one of the hardest men of his generation and very much inherited Graeme Souness’ blood-soaked boots in midfield and he wasn’t the sort to let such a thing go unpunished, whoever did it to him. He slammed Jones over a loose ball, smashing him to the ground. In fairness Jones didn’t protest and just got up from a sort of tackle which would see you in court if done today.

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