The most controversial moments in English football

With the best time of year, football season, starting and going ahead, we thought we would compile a list of the most controversial moments in English League football. I guess only a handful of us will be able to remember all of them. 

1) Derby County’s Penalty Spot Fiasco

Derby County’s old ground, The Baseball Ground (BBG), was renowned for being a horror to play on. Instead of the bright, green pitches of today, 1970s football was literally played on mud.

The BBG in the seventies, then, was a literal warzone. Things reached a head when Derby County played Manchester City at home in 1977, which is a contender for the worst English pitch ever used to be used in an official game.

The ground was so muddy that following a penalty decision, a groundskeeper had to run on the field to paint a new one on:

Nowadays, as football has become more commercialised and professional, pitches are kept in a fit state thanks to line-marking businesses like BowCom. Even back then, however, to have a groundskeeper perform maintenance mid-game was unprecedented.

2) Keegan’s “Love it” Speech

Newcastle and Manchester United’s title race in 1996 was gloriously entertaining, but then-manager Kevin Keegan’s post-match speech defined the future of Premier League discourse between managers: it was full of fire, passion and a total lack of respect.

Back on April 29, 1996, Keegan’s side beat Leeds 1-0 in a tight game to go within three points of leaders Manchester United, with a game in hand and two left to play. Before the game, Ferguson implied that Newcastle was in their position as teams didn’t try against them, to which Keegan responded with the following:

“I’ve kept really quiet but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimations when he said that. We have not resorted to that. You can tell him now, we’re still fighting for this title and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something – and I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it. It really has got to me. I’ve voiced it live, not in front of the press or anywhere. I’m not even going to the press conference, but the battle is still on and Man United have not won this yet.”

There have been more confrontational post-match interviews, but this set the tone for the Premier League.

3) Alan Pardew Loses the Plot

Alan Pardew isn’t remembered fondly for his personality and for good reason. The manager has always had a reputation for being a little thuggish, which he proved in 2014 after he headbutted a midfielder for an opposing team.

Managing Newcastle at the time, Pardew, randomly, headbutted David Meyler as the midfielder took a throw-in. The manager left Newcastle that year in disgrace.

4) Paolo Di Canio Loses the Plot, Too

Sadly, disrespect of referees is synonymous with football. The rocky relationship between player and referee has never been sound, but Paolo Di Canio’s assault of referee Paul Alcock in 1998 set the tone for the league’s officiating trends. The controversial striker has always been remembered more for his antics that his decent playing career, but even by his standards this was too far.

Following a deserved red card, Di Canio reacted by pushing the referee over.

The assault on the referee was certainly minor, but the crossing of that physical barrier was a symptom of football’s erosion of respect between officials and players.

5)Eric Cantona’s Kung-Fu Kick

For a player of Eric Cantona’s quality, it is saddening that he is remembered for such a violent outburst. The now-legendary reaction has gone down in football folklore. Cantona, in January 1995, performed a moment that shocked football and is likely the most famous case of common assault in the English legal system.

Following a red card for lashing out at another player, Cantona, on his way to the tunnel, received a hurl of abuse from a fan in the crowd. Out of nowhere, Cantona reacted in what can only be described as a kung-fu kick, hitting the fan in the chest. A brawl ensued, with the player escorted down the tunnel.

The player was given jail time for his assault, serving two weeks in prison. The moment set up the Premier League as not only a place for attractive football, but as an arena of controversy.