The good old-fashioned brawl. On the one hand a crude animalistic display utterly bereft of sporting professionalism and regard for the rules, on the other a poetic explosion of passion, commitment and Roy Keane. Unless of course you follow ice hockey, where a snot and bullets brawl is part and parcel of the game.
Whether you’re a morally upstanding stickler for the laws of your game or a mindless Sunday-morning thug, there is no denying that a proper on-field brawl provides boundless entertainment like no other. The brawls listed below are graded A – E, with A representing the finest fighting spectacle sport has to offer.
Washington Capitals vs Philadelphia Flyers Line Brawl, 1st November 2013
The sheer scale of the violence on ice means this all-out war ‘on ice’ makes the grade. The personal vendettas being simultaneously settled across the rink is at once hilarious yet also disturbingly enchanting. ‘Just about everybody tangled up right here’ the commentator calmly states. Nowhere is this more pertinent than when the two hulking goalkeepers lock horns in comically titanic style. The old-school romanticism of ice hockey never fails to impress, however, as the refs duly let them get on with it and the players involved call it a day as soon as one hits the ice for fear of serious health concerns. How admirable.
‘The Battle of Old Trafford’ – Round 1 (Man Utd vs Arsenal, 30th October 1990)
The first great test for Arsenal in their title-winning campaign of 1990-91 saw them pitted against title rivals Manchester United at old Trafford. After Anders Limpar fortuitously put the Gunners 1-0 up from a corner, Nigel Winterburn lunged wincingly into a tackle with Brian McClair who subsequently started booting 7 bells out of the Arsenal full-back. Cue bedlam as players from both sides converge rabidly on the scene of the crime, initially shoving, screaming and feverishly throat-grabbing. Yet it was over nearly as quick as it had begun, with many players suddenly assuming the role of peace maker. The footballing powers were not so easily fooled though, as several players were docked wages with Arsenal being deducted 2 points and United 1. The events of the day were also the precursor for sparks in round 2 of the battle on 21st September 2003.
New York Yankees vs Baltimore Orioles, 19th May 1998
A bit of a slow one to begin with, tempers flared when Orioles pitcher Armando Benitez rifled a frustrated throw against the back of Tino Martinez. This outbreak contains all the hallmarks of a classic brawl: flying fists, 2-arm restraints, awkward rugby-esque tackles, incessant pushing and extensive eye-balling. Baseball as a sport lacks the anger-venting qualities of rugby or American football, so this mass bench clearance-cum-fight club advert illustrates just how easily emotions can boil over. At least the crowd loved it.
LA Lakers vs Houston Rockets, 9th December 1977
In terms of sporting brawls, this scuffle hardly ranks among the true greats. That said, one incident during the mid-court bust-up gains recognition for its sheer nastiness and sobering near-fatality. Lakers’ Kermit Washington saw Rudy Tomjonavich quickly approaching the scene of the bog-standard altercation and reacted by unleashing a viciously accurate swing which brought the court to a standstill because of its severity. Washington’s reputation was forever marred by his rush of blood as Tomjonavich was nearly killed by the savage blow and required extensive facial reconstruction surgery which effectively ended his basketball career. (Punch at 1.54).
Sheffield Wednesday vs Arsenal, September 1998
Almost everyone knows about Paulo Di Canio’s infamous push on referee Paul Alcock. Tempers flared after a dodgy tackle on Patrick Viera who unsurprisingly reacted by swinging a right-hander with venomous intent. Again, players from both sides swarmed in with Di Canio stealing the limelight by kicking and face-palming Martin Keown as various other physical and verbal challenges were launched. Poor old Alcock tried to let the situation simmer down but reacted too soon, his ill-timing at sending off Di Canio provoking the Wednesday forward’s wonderfully infantile anger. From the stupid to the downright ridiculous, Di Canio’s playground shove fells Alcock in pathetic slow-motion and then Nigel Winterburn covers himself in glory by goading the Italian, only to cower at the slightest hint of a punch. Timeless.