The Most Controversial Sporting Moments

Our sports writers, after the carnage at UFC 229, look at some of the most controversial moments in sport.

Tom Hardwick
22nd October 2018
Image- Flickr

Argentina 2-1 England World Cup Quarter Final 1986- Tom Hardwick

Diego Maradona. Enigmatic, talented and reviled by thousands of people from the very tip of Cornwall right up to Berwick-upon-Tweed. His goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final is rightly lauded as one of the greatest individual goals ever scored. Maradona picked up the ball in his own half, glided across the pitch whilst evading multiple England players before taking the ball past an onrushing Peter Shilton and stroking it into the goal.

However, this incredible display of footballing ability is overshadowed somewhat by his first goal in that 2-1 victory, the infamous ‘hand of God’. With the ball looping towards Peter Shilton, Maradona knew that he was at a vertical disadvantage, and decided to extend his arm and knock the ball beyond the keeper. This goal was met with incredulous protests from the England squad, but the referee seemed to have been the only man in the stadium oblivious to this obvious act of cheating, allowing the goal to stand.

Had the Argentinians prevailed on talent alone, of which they possessed a great amount, the defeat might not have left such a sour taste. It was the dishonesty and immorality of what Maradona did that means his ‘hand of God’, for English fans at least, will outweigh any brilliance that he displayed for the rest of those 90 minutes.

Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield II- Tom Hardwick

After a thrilling first encounter that ended in an unexpected victory for Holyfield, this rematch was highly anticipated. While it had the potential to be one of the fights of the year, it instead produced one of the most controversial and gruesome moments of any sport.

In the third round of the fight Holyfield and Tyson were locked in a clinch, and Tyson inexplicably decided to clamp his teeth down on Holyfield’s ear, biting off a piece of cartilage and spitting it onto the canvas. Holyfield was rightly aggrieved, but in an absurd decision the referee decided to deduct 2 points from Tyson and let the fight continue. With part of his ear dangling off Holyfield continued to fight, but Tyson seemed to have lost any sense that he might have had, trying to bite his opponent’s other ear with less success.

At this point the referee had no choice but to end the fight, at which point the ring was swarmed by security officers trying to stop Tyson resuming hostilities with Holyfield. Although the two have since made up, with Tyson inducting Holyfield into the Boxing Hall of Fame, this remains one of the most shocking and revolting moments to have occurred in any major sport.

Eric Cantona- Rebecca Johnson

Even as you read the name "Eric Cantona" the first thing that springs to mind is the kung-fu kick. Cantona's playing career for Manchester United will herald him as one of the Red Devil's legends, but he will forever be remembered for his Bruce Lee style moves on a Crystal Palace fan. Cantona has just been sent off in Manchester United's game against Crystal Palace in January 1995. A Palace fan, Matthew Simmons, was shouting abuse at Cantona as he mooched towards the tunnel. The Frenchman then reacted in the most reasonable way possible, by launching himself towards Simmons with a kung-fu kick. Cantona followed this up with a series of punches to Simmons. Unsurprisingly, Cantona was in some deep trouble for that episode. He was banned from football for eight months, stripped of the French national team captaincy and received a criminal charge of assault (which saw him serve 120 hours of community service). The story doesn't end there though, as his kung-fu kick also resulted in one of the most infamous quotes ever. In the press conference following on from his kick, Cantona's statement was as follows: "when the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." After saying this, he got up and left the conference, leaving in his midst one of the most confusing, cryptic and laughable quotes football has ever seen.

Dave Kitson’s scissors - Jack Smillie
Once upon a time you could quite literally cut the tension in the air with a blade at Stoke City. In order to understand why, let me take you back to the eventful season of 2008/09.

Following on from promotion to the Premier League, Stoke City were on the cutting-edge of greatness. The one-time favourite contender for ‘The Secret Footballer’, Dave Kitson, arrived at the Britannia Stadium in the summer of 2008 from Reading for a club record deal of £5.5 million, as one
of Tony Pulis’ first signings at his new club.

Merely a few months later and player-manager relations were sharply turning sour. Kitson felt cut off from the squad. He was left amongst the substitutes for the away match at White Hart Lane in January following a costly mistake the previous week which cost his team a point away at Chelsea.

In a move which accentuated a career almost as colourful as his hair, Kitson infamously lashed out and attacked Pulis. His weapon of choice was none other than a trusty pair of the physio’s scissors. The fracas was only blunted by loyal teammates wrestling the former Sainsbury’s shelf-stacker to the

Despite the growing disquiet, Kitson returned to Reading on loan just over a month later and Stoke still managed a respectable 12h place finish. Thankfully, no Tony Pulis’ were hurt in the creation of this story.

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