Most pre-season football friendlies are as dull as watching England. About 12 people turn up to watch, nobody cares about the result, and none of the players want to get hurt.
Weirdly, though, sometimes they do get hurt, like when a ding-dong breaks out between sides from neighbouring islands. In fact it’s amazing that three of the footballing fracas listed below were in friendly matches.
Top 10 football punch-ups
1. Great brawl of China (February 2007)
QPR assistant boss Richard Hill was banned from football for three months and the club fined £40,000 following this unfriendy with the China Olympic team. You get the feeling that the Chinese ended up worse off, though, and not just Zheng Tao, who was taken to hospital with a broken jaw. Seven players were sent home to do the walk of shame.
2. Dyer consequences (April 2005)
On-field football fights are not always just confined to the opposition, as highlighted here when the war of words between Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer escalated into fisticuffs over whose turn it was to get the drinks in.
3. Batty boy battle (November 1995)
Another embarrassing set-two between so-called team-mates took place after just four minutes of a Champions League match against Spartak Moscow, with Graeme Le Saux getting on the wrong side of David Batty over who was marking who. In the end I think it was Le Saux who marked Batty.
4. Inter-national incident (March 2007)
There was a time when Inter Milan couldn’t anywhere near the Champions League final, for love nor money, nor punch-up. In truth it was Valencia who most disgraced themselves at the end of this knockout match, although Inter’s inability to catch David Navarro gives a good indication as to why they lost the match.
5. The battle of Old Trafford (October 1990)
Often identified as the match where the intense rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal originated, this 21-man brawl began after Arsenal’s Nigel Winterburn lunged at Denis Irwin, then everyone lunged at everyone else, apart from David Seaman, who remained in his penalty area stroking his moustache and looking bored. Manchester United lost one point, whilst Arsenal were docked two – but George Graham’s team still went on to win the title.
6. Mary Poppins in-step in time (April 1998)
For some reason Alan Shearer was known as Mary Poppins by Newcastle’s directors but I don’t ever remember Julie Andrews kicking anyone in the face while they were lying on the ground defenceless. Had he been sent off, Shearer would have been suspended FA Cup final but somehow he got away with it. Maybe he cast a spell on the referee and the Football Association. Oh, so that’s why they called him Mary Poppins.
7. Freddie and Olof’s lover’s tiff (June 2002)
Ljungberg and Mellberg were two of the best-looking players in the game; unfortunately, though they weren’t the best of friends. Perhaps jealous of Freddie’s gay following, Mellberg took out the Arsenal player (not in that sense) during a World Cup training session and Ljungberg reacted. To be honest, I think they quite enjoyed the Greco-Roman man-grappling.
8. Not so Keane on Haaland (April 2001)
Anyone who was in any doubt about Roy Keane’s volcanic temperament were soon put right after this incident. Unfortunately, Haaland’s knee wasn’t. The Irishman had been stewing about Haaland’s reaction to Keane’s injury in a previous Manchester derby, when he wrongly accused him of diving while he was writhing around on the ground. Keane not only exacted retribution with a horrendous career-ending knee-capping on the City midfielder, but then rubbed the salt in afterwards. ‘I’d waited long enough,’ he wrote in his book. ‘I fucking hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). “Take that you cunt. And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries”.’ Nice chap.
9. Kung-Fu Cantona (January 1995)
Cantona was cut from the same cloth as Keane. Not quite as consistently violent but capable nonetheless of snapping if the wrong buttons were pressed, as one Crystal Palace yob discovered to his cost by screaming abuse at the red-carded Frenchman. Cue Kung-Fu Cantona, an eight-month ban and a speech about seagulls and trawlers.
10. Craig Bellamy and John Aarne Riise (February, 2007)
On a pre-season training camp in Portugal, Aarne Riise irked his Liverpool team-mate by refusing to take the stage during a karaoke night. Bellamy did what any other right-minded team-mate would do and burst into his hotel room to attack him with a golf-club. In fairness, though, the bonding worked – at least it did for Bellamy – who scored in the next game against Barcelona and celebrated with a golf swing celebration.