10 of Soccer's Most Violent on-Pitch Incidents Ever
Soccer is referred to affectionately by millions all over the world as "the beautiful game." But over the course of its history, it has shown a dark side as well.
Many of the world's biggest football clubs are known to have fan bases packed with thugs and hooligans, and these fan bases have brought about terrible moments in the history of the game.
Earlier this year in February, for example, we had the Egypt soccer riots which killed over 70 people, and when Tottenham visited Lazio in the Europa League this season, many Spurs fans were brutally attacked by the Italian club's Ultras.
But just as the game can get ugly off the pitch, it can get ugly on the pitch as well.
Many of the world's highest profile players have made a name for themselves by beingLazio physical beyond what is deemed necessary—in the modern game, think Pepe, Joey Barton, Nigel De Jong, just to name a few.
Today, we'll be running through 10 of the most violent on-pitch incidents ever, ranked on the basis of intent, level of violence, level of damage caused, and uncommonness compared with the nature of the game at that time.
Nigel de Jong Kung Fu Kick on Xabi Alonso
This one should be fresh in the minds of most readers, since it took place only two-and-a-half years ago.
Though it looks crazy, it's hard to say that Nigel de Jong genuinely intended to take out Xabi Alonso in the manner he did, especially in the World Cup Final. Highlights during the game showed that De Jong was simply too focused on the ball and not enough on his opponent.
Luckily, Alonso was able to continue playing the rest of the game, which Spain would win 1-0.
Martin Taylor on Eduardo da Silva
Arsenal fans will remember this tackle pretty well.
As Eduardo da Silva embarks upon a run towards goal, he comes across Martin Taylor, and takes a deft touch to get around him. Unfortunately, Taylor reacts too slowly, and the result is a horrific, forceful tackle right on Eduardo's shin, which leads to a nasty leg break.
It took Eduardo almost a year to recover from the injury, but he would eventually recover to play one more season for Arsenal before moving to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. Arsenal's season, however, underwent a dramatic downturn following the injury, leading Arsenal to lose the title to Manchester United.
Francesco Totti on Mario Balotelli
Unlike the previous two honorable mentions, this one was full of malice.
With Roma losing to Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia, Totti decided he'd had enough of the game and decided to get himself off the pitch as soon as possible by taking the strong kick he could to the back of Balotelli's legs.
Later, Totti would clarify his attack (h/t ESPN) by noting that Balotelli had said some things about him and the city of Rome that he did not appreciate. He did apologize though, and luckily Balotelli emerged from the attack uninjured.
10. Lee Bowyer vs. Kieron Dyer
This one's more bizarre than it is violent, but I just couldn't leave it off the list.
Down 3-0 to Aston Villa, tensions between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer boiled over, so much that the two went to blows and had to be separated by players of the opposing team.
It's never been confirmed, but rumor has it that Bowyer was upset with Dyer not passing him the ball a couple of times, and finally had enough.
Both players would go on to apologize to their manager (h/t BBC Sport), but neither remained a Newcastle United player for much longer after the game.
9. Vinnie Jones vs. Everyone
It amazes me to think that players like Vinnie Jones were allowed to exist back in the day. Had he played modern football with the physicality he showed over his career, he'd probably have received a red card every two or three games.
But remarkably, the way the game was played back in the late 80s and early 90s, Jones was able to intimidate opposing players with his rough play regularly, and even went a while season with Leeds in the second division (46 games) without picking up more than three yellow cards.
By the time his career was done however, Jones had picked up 12 red cards, and set the record for the quickest booking ever in a football match, just three seconds into a game between Chelsea and Sheffield United.
Jones also reportedly ended ex-England international Gary Stevens' career with this tackle.
8. Joey Barton vs. Everyone
Joey Barton's most recent incident may be crazy final day antics against Manchester City, but he's had plenty of other on-the-pitch incidents of violence throughout his career.
In the 2010-11 season, he violently overreacted to a brush of shoulders with Morten Gamst Pedersen, punching him full-force in the chest. He then dishonestly attempted to sell it to the referee as nothing more than a slap or soft push on the chest.
All in all, Barton has received six red cards and about 70 yellow cards throughout his career. He's also known for a couple of violent off-the-pitch incidents which have arguably been more damaging to his career, but we'll leave discussion of those for another time.
7. Ryan Shawcross vs. Aaron Ramsey
This tackle still infuriates Arsenal fans to this day.
When Shawcross manages to dispossess one of the Arsenal players of the ball and get it at his feet, he takes a touch that knocks the ball too far and into the path of Ramsey. However, rather than let Ramsey get past him, Shawcross goes in for the ball with almost no chance of getting to it cleanly.
The result of what is very clearly a poor, poor tackle is a leg break for Ramsey.
It would take Ramsey more than a year to make another appearance for Arsenal, requiring loan spells with Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City to get back to his old level. Many Arsenal fans argue that he still has not reclaimed the potential he showed as a 19 year old back in 2010.
6. Zinedine Zidane vs. Marco Materazzi
This incident didn't cause much physical damage, but it remains one of the most controversial incidents in the history of football.
With France and Italy tied 1-1 in the second half of extra time of the World Cup Final, Zinedine Zidane inexplicably lost his cool and served up one of the meanest headbutts, right into Marco Materazzi's chest.
Unfortunately, Materazzi would be the only with the last laugh as his team would go on to win the World Cup on penalties.
5. Elizabeth Lambert vs. Women's Collegiate Soccer
For those who think that women's soccer is much softer than men's soccer, guess again.
Meet Elizabeth Lambert, probably the most violent female footballer you've ever seen. Competing in the Mountain West women's soccer tournament in 2009 for New Mexico, Lambert's physical ways finally caught up with her.
Though Lambert was only booked in the day where the above incidents took place, she was suspended indefinitely by her team afterwards for her actions. These included punching an opposing player straight into the back, and yanking a girl by her hair straight into the ground.
In 2010, Lambert would eventually return to team, expressing great remorse for her actions. To her credit, there have been no similar incidents reported from her since then.
4. Roy Keane vs. Alf-Inge Håland
Roy Keane established a reputation as one of the most tenacious midfielders in football history by the end of his career. Yet, of all the crunching tackles he launched into during his career, this one remains the most famous, because of its story.
In September 1997, when Manchester United were losing 1-0 to Håland's Leeds, Keane injured his anterior cruciate ligament. As Keane lay prone on the ground, Håland criticized Keane for an attempted foul and suggested that he was feigning injury to avoid punishment.
Keane was booked as he was stretchered off the field. He was out of action for nearly a year afterwards, missing the remainder of the 1997-98 season. Never one to let go of a grudge, Keane would have his revenge three and a half years later, with the tackle in the video above.
Initially, Keane was simply fined £5,000 and received a three-match ban. However, in his biography he admitted that he wanted to "hurt" Håland as revenge for the criticism he received years previously.
After this revelation, Keane found himself subject to an FA inquiry and received an additional five game ban, and £150,000 fine.
Claims that this tackle ended Håland's career are a bit wide of the mark as he would in fact finish the rest of the game, play in the next one up to the 68th minute, and play in a friendly for Norway in between the two games.
Furthermore, Håland was forced out (h/t Telegraph) of the game by a long-standing injury to his left knee, not the right one that Keane tackled. Nevertheless, Keane never once showed remorse for his tackle, nor did he acknowledge how destructive it could have been in different circumstances.
3. Diego Maradona vs. Athletic Bilbao
Diego Maradona went into this Cup Final with Athletic Bilbao hungry for revenge, as Andoni Goikoetxea had severely injured him earlier in the season in a regular league match.
Unfortunately, Maradona failed to do so in the manner he probably would've preferred; his Barcelona side lost 1-0 to Bilbao by full time.
Frustrated with his inability to secure revenge indirectly, Maradona adopted a more direct approach. When the final whistle blew, Maradona launched kung fu kicks into several of Bilbao's players, and was joined by several of his teammates.
The first second of the video may be the most ruthless from Maradona!
2. Italy vs. Chile
The Battle of Santiago, as it came to be known, was introduced as such on BBC Television when aired to the British public:
Good evening. The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.
The match had it all; red cards, punches, kicks, brawls, police; you name it, this game had it. It remains the pinnacle of physicality in football. Afterwards, Ken Aston, referee of the game and the very creator of the yellow card and red card system, said:
"I wasn't reffing a football match, I was acting as an umpire in military maneuvers."
Indeed he was.
Pepe vs. Francisco Casquero & Getafe
Some will say that the Battle of Santiago and even Diego Maradona's brawl were, overall, more violent than Pepe's mauling of Francisco Casquero, especially since more people were involved.
But to this day, I still have not seen an incident of violence so out of control and insane as the one above. That's what puts this above the rest for me.
Pepe's behavior was already terrible enough when he took two forceful kicks at Casquero in anger after he went down in the box. That was easily enough for a red card and a lengthy ban from the pitch. But what happened after was just mental.
Under the guise of attempting to talk to Casquero, Pepe pulled Casquero's hair, pressed his knee up on Casquero's body, and squeezed Casquero's arm. He then attempted to step on Casquero's arm with one foot, before falling back on his leg with the other.
Basically, he wanted to inflict as much pain on Casquero as possible, regardless of the consequences.
To top it all off, when he was forced off Casquero and somewhat held back by Fernando Gago, Pepe took two punches at the two Getafe players protecting their teammate, before walking over to attempt to step on Casquero yet again.
Absolutely maniacal, monstrous behavior, the likes of which we'll hopefully never seen again in football.