There is no row like a domestic row and over the years players have not just shouted at each other like Schmeichel and Bruce, but regularly traded blows with their own; so commonplace has been the odd bit of fisticuffs it is now generally described as "part and parcel of the game." Great bouts include Bruce Grobbelaar vs Steve McManaman at Anfield in which the young winger, still wet behind the ears, appeared to pass some comment about the Grob ponytail and suffered a clip round the ear for his cheek. Either that, or he had just issued a complaint about his keeper's pools tipping not being to scratch. The precedent for this engagement was Martin Buchan vs Gordon Hill, in which the suave, dapper Manchester United skipper of the Docherty and Sexton eras, infuriated once too often by the chronic aversion to defence displayed by his Norman Wisdom-impressionist of a left winger, gave the chirpy Cockney a swift right-hander during a match against Coventry City.
"It was amazing," remembers Hill of the incident, "the entire ground went silent. I said to him that if he did it again I'd kick him in the bollocks and then the referee intervened and said that he'd never sent two blokes from the same side off before, but there was always a first time."
It was not Old Trafford, but United's training ground, The Cliff, however, that was the venue for the great title fight which saw Remi Moses deposit Jesper Olsen on to the turf during a game of five-a-side in 1986 with an assault of such precision and speed that the manager, Ron Atkinson, assumed they must have clashed heads (or so he told the press at the time). An odd clash of heads, though, which left Olsen with a plume of blood arcing from a gash above his eye and Moses with bruised knuckles.
Incidents like that happen every once in a while, but this season has seen a bumper barney bonanza: maybe it is the tension, maybe the pressure, but fists have flown like never before, to such a degree that every transfer is rumoured to have been sparked by a bit of a scuffle. In David Batty's case there may be something in that. The bulldog midfielder responded to Blackburn's pitiful European Cup performance by fighting for every ball against Spartak Moscow, including the one in the possession of his team-mate Graeme Le Saux at the time. A misplaced tackle, you might think, is no great cause for concern, but the two of them started to trade blows like a married couple who had caught each other in flagrante. Their keenness to scrap suggested there were other, more local motives coming to the surface and it came as a surprise to no one that Batty subsequently left the club.
Then there was Brian Laws, manager of Grimsby Town, a man who almost lost his job thanks to adopting the Alex Ferguson approach to dressing room crockery. Enraged that Ivano Bonnetti continued to pick at a piece of cold chicken during a managerial bollocking over a tame defeat, Laws threw a plate at his best player. His aim was considerably more accurate than his forwards had been during the game and the plate hit Bonnetti in the face, left him with a suppressed fracture of the cheek-bone and (a clever piece of crockery) put him on the first plane home to Italy.
But the confrontation which spoke most of nerves and jitters occurred last week. In the opening minutes of Newcastle's game against Aston Villa, Kevin Keegan suggested that John Beresford might do a bit of defending and stop playing follow my leader up the left wing behind David Ginola. It was a rebuke that many Newcastle supporters felt was long overdue; after all, they argue, if their team had full-backs capable of appearing in their own half occasionally they would have won the title by now. But Beresford, apparently happy with his contribution to the cause, lost his rag and screamed at Keegan, who was not slow in screaming back. Fingers were pointed, views exchanged, and then Keegan, being the man in control, immediately substituted his mouthy player.
True, they didn't come to blows - at least not in public. But it was nonetheless childish, unprofessional, the kind of tiff reminiscent of the Independent's own fractious football team. And as such it was precisely what many a fan looks forward to of a Saturday afternoon.Reuse content