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The Dirtiest Matches of All-Time (Part One)

Although football is often described as the beautiful game, there are occasions when things spill out of control, lines are crossed and the ugly side of the sport reveals itself.

It should be noted that the sport has changed over the years and what was once deemed acceptable, will no longer be tolerated.

For example, the 1970 FA Cup replay between Chelsea and Leeds United produced just one yellow card.

In 2007, a Premier League referee at the time watched it back, and decided that, had he been in charge, he would have shown five red cards to players of both teams. Twelve years later, current referee Michael Oliver judged that, by today’s standards, no fewer than 11 men would have seen red.

Purists may deploy some of these brutal confrontations, but there is no denying that, for man y football fans, there is some atavistic pleasure to be derived from watching footage of some of these clashes, from the safety of their own living rooms.

This series looks at some of the games that have gone down in the annals oof history for the wrong reasons.

The Battle of Highbury, 1934

In the early 1930s Arsenal were the dominant team in English football, with Herbert Chapman establishing a dynasty that would least until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Italy, meanwhile were the reigning World Cup champions, having beaten Czechoslovakia in the final a few months earlier, a tournament that England had refused to take part in because of the parochial attitude of the Football Association.

9It would take until 1950 before they took par in the World Cup, although the intervention of war meant that there were no tournaments in 1942 and 1946).

Despite that, the FA still tho0ught that their football was the best in Europe, and decided to prove it by inviting Italy to Highbury, home of the reigning League champions, with the Gunners providing seven of the representative side, the only time that one team has provided so many of the starting XI for England.

The tone for what was to come was set early, with Italy losing their centre-half Luis Monti to a broken foot after a  challenge from the English centre-forward Ted Drake.

Monti initially remained on the field, and England capitalised scoring three quick goals, tow of them by Eric Brook of Manchester City, with Drake himself netting the third.

 When Monti eventually hobbled of, Italy had to play the rest of the match with ten men, in an era when substitutes were not allowed.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Italy fought back in the second half with two goals in four minutes, and came close to equalising. The Italian press later dubbed them the ‘Lions of Highbury”, but for most  of the 51,000 fans who watched the game that night, the abiding memory was the brutality of the contest.

The England captain, Eddie Hapgood, had a bone in his nose broken, Brook suffered a damaged ankle, Drake left the field scarcely able to walk because of as serious leg injury, and another player, Ray Bowden, suffered ankle ligament damage.

One of the England players said after the match it was not a game of football but a battle, and there was widespread debate after the match as wo whether England should withdraw from international football altogether.

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