When football turns nasty: Five shocking violent acts on a football pitch

Today marks the 17th anniversary of Zinedine Zidane’s final match in professional football, however it will always be remembered for the Frenchman’s shocking headbutt on Italy’s Marco Materazzi.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the second half of extra time of the 2006 World Cup final, Zidane appeared to lose his cool and headbutt Materazzi straight into his chest, with the midfielder receiving his marching orders as France went on to lose the final to Gli Azzurri on penalties. With that, we look back at other violent incidents that have happened on a football pitch.

1. Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer [2005]

Whilst headbutting an opponent is a fairly common reaction to when emotions begin to boil over, coming toe to toe with your teammate is somewhat taboo. That is exactly what happened when Newcastle United teammates Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer came to blows in April 2005, with the Magpies 3-0 down to Aston Villa, with players from the opposing team having to separate the two. Rumours circulated that Bowyer was unhappy with Dyer not passing the ball to him and although both players apologised for their actions, neither of their Newcastle careers would last much longer.

2. Jack Grealish’s Birmingham City punch up [2019]

Fights between players have been a mainstay in football for generations, but at times fans take it upon themselves to take it to an extreme level. Ten minutes into the Midlands derby between Aston Villa and Birmingham City, Jack Grealish was struck on the side of the face by a Birmingham City fan who had evaded security and ran onto the pitch. The match, which was being televised live on Sky Sports, caught the incident as it happened, leading to a mass upheaval from Villa and Blues players. The fan was arrested and subsequently sentenced to prison, whilst Grealish had the last laugh, scoring a second half winner in front of the travelling Villa fans on their way to promotion back to the Premier League.

3. Aaron Ramsdale and the Tottenham fan [2023]

Arguably the most recent incident, and one that raises the concerns of player wealth fare during football matches. Title chasing Arsenal made the short trip across north London to visit fiercest rivals Tottenham, who were having problems galore under Antonio Conte. The Gunners dominated the match, securing a convincing 2-0 win, but the derby drama boiled over after the final whistle. Spurs forward Richarlison appeared to be visibly upset with Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale with the Brazilian gesturing aggressively in the Englishman’s face. Soon after, a Spurs fan jumped onto the advertising boards and kicked Ramsdale in the back, with a subsequent brawl between the two teams kicking off. The fan in question was found guilty and ordered to pay Ramsdale £100, alongside a four year ban from football.

4. Nigel De Jong’s kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso [2010]

It is not always common that a footballer is remembered more for one action than their entire career, but some could say that is exactly how Nigel De Jong will be after his notorious kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso. Another incident in a World Cup final, this time in 2010 with the Netherlands and Spain, as Dutchman De Jong launched his foot studs up into the Alonso’s chest, with referee Howard Webb on branding a yellow card to the midfielder. It gave the world yet another iconic photo to live by, with De Jong pleading his innocence eight years later in an interview with FourFourTwo, ‘I just wanted to play the ball – that was my only focus.’ Spain went on to win the World Cup with a late Andres Iniesta goal securing the Spaniards their first triumph in Johannesburg.

5. Roy Keane’s horror challenge on Alfie Haaland

In what is seen as one of the most infamous tackles in Manchester derby history, the reason this challenge is one our list is because of Keane’s admittance to deliberately hurting Haaland. A long-standing spout, after the Irishman came to blows with the Norwegian in 1997 after Keane injured his ACL against Haaland’s team at the time, Leeds United. In 2001 during the Manchester derby, Keane flew in studs up on Haaland, sending the Norwegian flying into a crumpled heap, with the midfielder admitting in his autobiography that he had ‘waited long enough’ for payback. The United captain was sent off, suspended for three games and fined £5,000. However, when Keane admitted that the assault was intentional, he was fined an additional £150,000 and suspended for a further five matches. Haaland’s career would end two years later due to the subsequent injury sustained.

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