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When football falls apart

Written by Sport, Sport Features

Football is a game that inspires boundless passion, but sometimes these emotions can boil over into violence. Our writers look back at some recent events that act as pertinent examples of the chaos that can arise when players and fans let their emotions dictate their actions instead of keeping a cool head.

Molotov Bomb- Josh Gregory

I haven’t had to look far in search of material for this week’s topic of crazy incidents before or during games; as in terms of bizarre and downright dangerous events, there’s few more brutal than the scenes witnessed before and during the Champions League meeting of AEK Athens and Dutch giants Ajax two weeks ago.

Violence erupted between fans at the Olympic Stadium with the away section of Ajax followers being pelted with fireworks, flares and makeshift bombs whilst the teams warmed up before kick-off.

Shocking footage and images shared across social media platforms also show an AEK fan leave the home stand and head towards the Dutch supporters, before throwing a potentially deadly petrol bomb, which exploded dangerously close to the traveling support.

Greek riot police rushed the Amsterdammers as they climbed the barriers that housed them, who were either fleeing the aerial onslaught or seeking retribution for the vicious pelting, leaving several fans battered and bloodied and a few even hospitalized after being badly beaten by the overzealous crowd control.

Police had clashed with mainly Greek fans earlier in the day and the previous evening, and in some areas of the city traffic was forced to stop as AEK supporters exchanged missiles with fans of neighbouring rivals Panathinaikos.

It is reported that the away section targeted due to the belief of AEK ultras that a group of Panathinaikos fans had entered with the travelling Dutch supporters.

UEFA, the governing body of football in Europe, have responded to the harrowing scenes witnessed in the Greek capital by charging the Greek side with seven violent conduct and safety breaches, whilst perhaps unfairly slapping Ajax with two charges for pyrotechnics and throwing objects.

AEK are no stranger to pitch-side controversy. Previously this year they were forced to abandon their Superleague match vs PAOK in the 89th minute, after the opposing side’s owner Ivan Savvidis invaded the pitch with a gun and confronted match officials following a disallowed goal.

The Hellenic Football Federation has fallen under heavy criticism from FIFA in the past for its reputation of corruption and violence and in response to the frankly absurd incident, the Greek Superleague was suspended for more than two weeks and left the Greek government promising to clean up the state of football in the country; though it seems they are failing in this endeavour.

River Plate vs Boca Juniors- Sesha Subramanian

It was supposed to be the pinnacle clash of South American and Argentine football. Two sworn enemies – Boca Juniors and River Plate – going at it over two legs in the final of the continent’s premier club competition. Instead the Copa Libertadores final turned out to be an absolute nightmare for everyone from players to fans to officials when the second leg was about to ensue at River’s home.

The crowd got out of control and the Buenos Aires police were inexplicably underprepared for such an eventuality. The raucous River fans threw flares, missiles and stones at the Boca bus as it arrived to the stadium. The driver of the bus actually fell unconscious and were it not for the Boca club vice-president’s quick hands to grab the steering wheel, the casualty count might have been so much higher. They fired tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd to try and subdue them which only served to make things so much worse.

The effects of the rioting, pepper spray and the tear gas were not only felt by the fans but also by players. Pablo Perez, a midfielder for Boca, was taken to the hospital with an injury to his eye and multiple cuts from broken glass on his right leg. Players like Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago were in no condition to play with vomiting and fatigue being problems even before the game started. Meanwhile, CONMEBOL and FIFA wanted to go ahead with the final due to financial reasons with TV broadcasting money at stake even though less than an hour to kickoff, some of the Boca players had not even changed into a training outfit let alone a match kit. However, eventually the game was postponed thanks largely to the intervention of both club presidents.

The Copa Libertadores final second leg, in the midst of some controversy, has now been shifted to Madrid with Real Madrid’s home stadium, the Santiago Bernabeu hosting the game. Among the stars said to be attending are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Kieron Dyer vs Lee Bowyer- Tom Hardwick

When violence permeates a game of football it is always unseemly, but at least when opposing players or fans fight, there is a modicum of sense behind it. For ninety minutes these are enemies, and when tensions are ramped up this high, violence can often break out. What is strange is seeing two teammates, players who should support each other through thick and thin, swinging punches at each other mid-game.

Such a fracas did occur at St James’ Park back in 2005, when Kieron Dyer and Lee Bower both received red cards for their part in a shocking fight. Newcastle were 3-0 down against Aston Villa and had already gone down to ten men, and frustrations were aggravated when Lee Bowyer decided to remonstrate with Dyer for not passing to him. Dyer retrospectively stated that he told Bowyer he wasn’t passing to him because he was shit, which was hardly the diplomatic approach.

Bowyer went at Dyer and chaos ensued, with the bemused Villa players having to help break up what was much more violent than the usual push-and-shove scuffles football fans are used to. Bowyer landed some real blows on Dyer, and the force with which Bowyer was dragged away from Dyer left his shirt looking as though it had been mauled.

Alan Shearer was visibly seething with rage at the insolence of his teammates, who were separated in the dressing room by two of the club masseurs before manager Graeme Souness offered to fight them both, an offer that was duly refused. Eventually both moved on from Newcastle, and in fact ended up playing together again at West Ham, with Dyer since stating that the pair had made up and moved on. All in all, a nice ending to what has to be one of the most shocking and absurd enactments of violence to have ever taken place on a football pitch to date.

Last modified: 7th December 2018

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