Continuing the series looking at some of the dirtiest matches of all time.
The Battle of Bramall Lane
What should have been a routine Championship fixture between Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion on 16th march 2002 ended by becoming the only match in English football history to be abandoned because one team ran out of players.
It led to fines, heavy sanctions from the Football Associations and sparked a long-running feud between the two managers, Albion’s Gary Megson and United’s Neil Warnock.
The home side had nothing riding on the game, whilst Albion were chasing promotion to the Premier League.
With the two clubs nearly 100 miles apart, there was no intense backdrop of rivalry between the two sides, although there was history between the midfield duo of Georges Santos of United and Werst Brom’s Andy Johnson dating back to a previous match when Santos had suffered an injury caused by Johnson.
The match started in disastrous fashion for United, who were reduced to ten men when goalkeeper Simon Tracey was sent off for handling the ball outside his area. Peter Ndlovu was immediately sacrificed to allow substitute goalkeeper Wilko de Vigt to take his place, but he was powerless to stop Scott Dobie giving his side the lead nine minutes later.
Derek McInnes doubled Albion’s lead in the 63rd minute, but then things quickly spiralled out of control.
In the 64th minute Warnock made a double change, sending on Patrick Suffo and Santos, who had started the match on the bench.
They lasted barely a minute on the pitch. Santos, who had been nursing his grudge since kick-off, exacted his revenge on Johnson with a two-footed lunge and was immediately sent off. In the subsequent melee which saw players from both sides exchanging blows, Suffo received his marching orders for head-butting McInnes.
That was not the end of it though, with two more united players lucky to escape red cards for throwing punches and dangerous tackles, with the referee Eddie Wolstenholme later admitting he had deliberately kept his red card in his pocket.
In the 77th minute, Albion scored a third and, shortly afterwards Michael Brown limped off, meaning that United were down to seven men, and he was soon followed by Robert Ullathrorne suffering from muscle spasms.
Under the laws of the game, the home side did not have enough players and the match was abandoned, leading to accusations that Warnock had encouraged his players to go down injured in a bid to get the game called off.
Albion were later awarded a 3 – 0 victory, and Suffo and Santos were both given six match bans, heavily fined and would never play for United again. Warnock, whilst Warnock was fined for comments, he had made towards the fourth official, but charges that he had made a deliberate attempt to get the match abandoned were never proved.
Andy is an exiled English football fan living in Cyprus. He loves all sports but football is his abiding passion, and he still has dreams every now and then about scoring the winning goal in a Wembley Cup Final, even though his playing days are long gone. He follows most major leagues, across Europe at least, and has a favoured team in each. When he’s not watching, listening, reading or downloading podcasts about football, he spend his time worrying about his beloved Arsenal.