In a new series from Last Word on Football, we take a look back at some of football’s biggest controversies. Throughout the long history of football, the game has seen many great players, teams and games. However, the game has also seen its fair amount of controversies. Ill-tempered games, bizarre goals and strange decisions amongst many others have all hit the headlines down the years.
In part one we look back at The Battle of Bramall Lane.
Football’s Biggest Controversies
The Battle of Bramall Lane
This remains the only match in English football history to be abandoned due to a lack of players remaining on the field of play. Sheffield United faced West Bromwich Albion in March of the 2001/02 Championship season and it was a game that no one could have predicted.
United came into the game without the possibility of either promotion or relegation whereas Albion were battling for a place in the Premier League. Apart from an incident between a United player, Georges Santos, and Albion’s Andy Johnson from the encounter earlier in the season, little suggested that this would be anything but a normal game of football with a little intensity thrown in.
Red Card Number One
The first flashpoint of the game came just nine minutes in. Blades goalkeeper Simon Tracey handled outside of the box and was shown a straight red card. West Brom took a first-half lead and doubled it in the 63rd minute. It was at this point when the game erupted in controversy.
Red Card Two and Three
Going 2-0 down at home prompted United manager Neil Warnock to make a double substitution. On came Santos and Patrick Suffo. Within moments Santos, who instantly looked for Andy Johnson, found him and sent the midfielder into the air with a two-footed challenge. It resulted in a straight red card; however, a melee between both sets of players had already begun. In the mix, a headbutt from fellow substitute Suffo to Albion’s second goalscorer, Derek McInnes, resulted in a third red card for the Blades.
West Brom then took a three-goal lead before more controversy. United midfielder Michael Brown went off injured when lucky to be on the pitch following a bad tackle on an Albion player. Soon after, another Blades player, Robert Ullathorne, decided he could no longer continue. Down to six men, the referee had no choice under the rules to bring a halt to the game with just eight minutes remaining.
With everyone wondering what would happen next, with a replay a possible outcome, the Football League decided to award the game 3-0 to West Brom. United were also fined £10,000. Santos, who caused the melee, was given a six-game ban, with Warnock refusing to select the player again.
Suffo, who was sent off for headbutting, was also given a six-game ban, fined £3,000 and, like Santos, was not selected by Warnock again.
The Battle of Bramall Lane: What Was Said
West Brom manager Gary Megson gave his take on proceedings soon after the game was abandoned. He said: “They were being told by certain people to go down, come off. Michael Brown wasn’t injured. Everybody’s heard it, everyone knows what was going on on that line.
“I’ve been in professional football since 16 and I’m 42 now. I’ve never ever witnessed anything as disgraceful as that. There is no place for that in any game of football, let alone professional football.”
United manager Neil Warnock simply said: “I wouldn’t imagine Gary will be having a drink with me tonight”.