Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Sporting punch-ups of the 1980s

Sport hurts. Be it emotional pain that never leaves you, such as say, losing the Champions League final after battling bravely with ten men, or missing a last minute penalty in an FA Cup semi-final replay, or physical pain, sport has the tendency to hit you where it hurts. In any 90 minutes, or twelve round fight, or test match session, the emotions of a fan can fluctuate wildly, normally ranging from hope to despair, happiness to heartbreak, stopping off at anger and resignation for a quick drink on the way. So you can only begin to wonder what it must be like for those blessed enough to be taking part in such events.

Throw people and teams together in competition, and you are bound to witness the odd occasion where things boil over a little. A time where the line between good and bad behaviour is overstepped, the boundary between competitiveness and combativeness is blurred, and things can turn slightly ugly. This week we revisit a few of these moments in the 1980s where the sporting mask slipped leading to man and fists colliding. Seconds out....

1982 German Grand Prix: Nelson Piquet v Eliseo Salazar

The problem with getting older is that you start viewing life a little more seriously than you should (people who know me may be wondering if somebody else is writing this, but please stick with me). As a young lad, this incident between Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar in the 1982 German Grand Prix was hilarity in video form, the clip that just kept on giving. Grown men were simply not supposed to behave in this manner, especially in Formula One, and to see Piquet attack Salazar was, to me at least, an extremely funny moment. It was pure road rage before many of us knew this existed. Unfortunately as with a lot of things you watched when you were younger - The Dukes of Hazard, The Fall Guy, Cannon and Ball - revisit the moment and it isn't quite as good as you remembered.

Now I watch the clip and can fully understand why World Champion Piquet was so enraged that he punched and kicked the Chilean Salazar (not Colombian as a confused Murray Walker would have us believe). Comfortably leading the race, and needing a win to revive his championship campaign, Piquet's race was ended abruptly when a quite brainless piece of driving by Salazar slammed the door shut in his face. I'm not condoning the actions of Piquet, but who, with their hand on their heart, could honestly say they would have reacted with grace and humility in this situation.

"World champ has a fit of Piquet!" stated the Daily Mirror headline (get it?). The man himself admitted to his fury at the time: "Of course I was mad. You would be too. I had the race in my pocket, then this idiot pushes me off the track." Piquet later apologised to Salazar, who probably didn't help matters by claiming that Piquet was crazy for trying to overtake him on a chicane. Either way, it made for entertainment, and put the sport firmly on the back pages, albeit not for entirely the right reasons.

I guess no one did get hurt; OK, it is still a bit funny.

1988 Littlewoods Cup: John Fashanu v Viv Anderson

How very rude. Surely if you play football at a high level, and you're going to have a ruck with an opponent, then you should really have the decency to do so in front of the paying spectator? Tunnel bust-ups are to football supporters what stag weekends are to women; you know something has gone on, but you have no idea what, and you will probably never find out the full details. What goes on tour stays on tour. Yet sometimes we do get an insight into what goes on behind closed doors (if tunnels have closed doors), and the Fashanu-Anderson incident in November 1988 would soon become very public.

In November 1988, Manchester United were not the all conquering force that we know today, so their 2-1 defeat to Wimbledon in the Littlewoods Cup was hardly a shock. United's previous visit to Plough Lane was a bruising encounter - Bryan Robson broke his nose and Jim Leighton lost a tooth - and away teams knew exactly what they were in for when they took on the Crazy Gang. However, the altercation in the tunnel after the match involving John Fashanu and Viv Anderson, took Wimbledon's physical intimidation to new levels.

Fashanu and Anderson had previous, dating back to a league match between the teams a year earlier, so the furore that would erupt in the tunnel had been brewing. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, claim and counterclaim was flung around like confetti: Fashanu was accused of punching Anderson so hard that he lifted him off his feet; Alex Ferguson, who witnessed the event, described it as "one of the most frightening incidents I have seen", and reported Fashanu to the police; Anderson refused to press police charges but ended up with three stitches below his eye; Wimbledon manager Bobby Gould lashed out at Anderson, implying that it was the Manchester United player that had started the fight; Fashanu denied that he had attacked Anderson; and every Tom, Dick and Harry - from Players' Union chief Gordon Taylor to John O'Neill (who had his career ended by a Fashanu tackle in 1987) - had his say on the thuggish tactics employed by the Dons. Not a very good advert for the beautiful game.

The FA hearing eventually found Fashanu guilty of striking Anderson, although it was concluded that he had done so after "improper and insulting comments" by the United right-back. For their troubles, Fashanu received a three match ban and a £2000 fine, with Anderson banned for a match and fined £750, although many in the press viewed this as a big let-off. In all probability, Fashanu had been lucky that the alleged moment had not been caught on tape, as a recent ITN clip showing Arsenal's Paul Davis punching Glenn Cockerill - breaking Cockerill's jaw in the process - led to a nine-match ban for Davis, and in the aftermath of the Fashanu/Anderson case many comparisons were drawn. Overall, not a happy couple of months for English football.

Yet after all this, Fashanu still landed the Gladiators gig in the early 1990s. Awooga!

1985 British Middleweight title eliminator: Mark Kaylor v Errol Christie

Pre-fight brawls are often the inevitable consequence of the tension, hype and aggression that can build in the lead-up to an important boxing bout. In this regard the Mark Kaylor-Errol Christie brawl during a press conference at the Stakis Regency Casino in London was not entirely unexpected, although at the timing was far from ideal. Just as the Haye-Chisora brawl seemed an accurate reflection of society at the time - a bit tacky and pointless - the Kaylor-Christie fight was dripping in the racial tension that existed in England during 1985. The Broadwater Farm riots and the deaths of Cynthia Jarrett and PC Keith Blakelock were still front page news by the time Kaylor (white and fighting out of East London) and Christie (black and residing in Coventry) met for a pre-fight press conference, and with racial relations stretched to breaking point, the mayhem that followed did little to help.

Two separate incidents fanned the flames for what was already a charged fight. The two men brawled in the car park outside the London casino, and just to emphasise their apparent dislike of one another, they started up again in the restaurant, with Christie accusing Kaylor of a racial slur (Kaylor has always denied this). The fight needed no hype, so it was not as if this was a staged event, indeed Kaylor's manager Terry Lawless emphasised as much: "I've seen a lot of play-acting before fights, but I've never seen anything as real as this." The resulting trouble almost led to the fight being postponed, with the Daily Mirror reporting that the police were fearful of racial trouble at the event, and that they had written to the British Boxing Board to ask them to cancel the bout.

Luckily for Kaylor and Christie - who were to pocket a total of £82,000 for the eliminator - the panic was averted, as promoter Mike Barrett banged their heads together, and the pair shook hands in order to calm any police concerns over the contest. The real fight, which rather aptly took place on Bonfire Night, turned out to be a cracker, won by Kaylor by way of an eighth round knockout, although Christie had floored the East Londoner twice during the contest. For their misdemeanours, Kaylor was fined £15,000 and Christie £5000 (Kaylor's previous bad form inside the ring, and the fact that he admitted throwing the first punch, going against him). Neither though would go on to fulfill their potential, and are now forever linked with their meeting in 1985, and even more so for the infamous appetiser before the main course.

1987 Five Nations: The Battle of Cardiff

English rugby union was an angry young man in 1987. Between 1983-1986, the national team won only four Five Nations matches, and the frustration grew at the start of the 1987 tournament; defeats to both Ireland and France did little to improve the mood, so the last thing they probably needed was a trip to to Cardiff, a city they had not won in since 1963. Backed into a corner, England decided to come out punching. Quite literally as it turned out.

The trouble began as early as the third line-out, or the "den of iniquity" as commentator Bill McLaren called it, with Welsh lock Steve Sutton getting involved in an argument with his English counterpart Steve Bainbridge. Cue pushing and shoving and general handbags. "Let's hope it settles down", McLaren pleaded, sensing that something was about to kick off. What followed however was not pretty; as the line-out disintegrated, the soap-like ball bouncing amongst a cocktail of bodies, all the tension and nervous energy was released, as players began to throw punches. "This needs to be sorted out" stated a disgusted McLaren, quite rightly describing the scenes as "totally unnecessary". Not an ideal event to be screening pre-watershed.

Wales' number eight Phil Davies came out of the melee the worst, his cheekbone broken in three places. Davies could probably have done with the help of a policeman at the time, though all he got was the fist of one in his face. Wade Dooley's punch was bad enough, but when you consider that he was a member of Lancashire's Constabulary, then the whole sorry tale gets messier and messier. Naturally the press and general public were appalled at such a display. Bad, brutal and boring were some of the kinder comments directed towards the England team, the players described as "back-alley thugs". Not a great time to be an English rugby fan, on so many levels.

The guilty players would pay the price for their involvement in the unsavoury episode. Skipper Richard Hill was dropped, stripped of the captaincy, and it would be three years before he played another Five Nations match; Dooley was unsurprisingly dropped for the forthcoming Calcutta Cup clash; and front row players Gareth Chilcott and Graham Dawe were also axed, in a decisive move by the RFU. A win against Scotland in England's final championship match restored a little pride to the English supporters, but it was simply papering over the cracks. Anyone unfortunately old enough to remember England's abysmal showing in the 1987 World Cup knew that things could only get better, as defeat against Wales in the quarter final left England dangerously close to rock bottom. At least no Welsh bones were broken in the process of this humiliation though.

1981 Pakistan tour of Australia: Dennis Lillee v Javed Miandad

Cricket lovely cricket. Surely in a blog on 1980s scraps, there can be no place for this usually peaceful sport? Sledging has always been part of the game, and sometimes anger at poor decisions or a bad shot has led to the odd stump or two being demolished once the red mist had descended. But a row between two international cricketers? Say it ain't so.

In an eventful test match in Perth, Pakistan were left with the unrealistic target of 543 to win in the final innings. Soon reduced to 27/2, Mansoor Akhtar and Pakistan captain Javed Miandad set about the task of rebuilding the innings, when Miandad flicked a Dennis Lillee delivery through square leg and trotted through for a comfortable single. Nothing abnormal about that of course, yet when Lillee and Miandad collided with each other (or Lillee moved into Miandad's path depending on your point of view), the fuse had been well and truly lit. What followed would be described as "one of the most undignified incidents in Test history" by the Wisden Almanack, and led to a row that threatened to destroy cricketing relations between the two nations.

Lillee and Miandad each tried to blame each other; Lillee said he was struck by Miandad's bat and provoked by the Pakistani captain, whereas Miandad alleged that Lillee had kicked him, in an episode that sounds like it could have taken place in a school playground. The two men soon faced up to each other, Miandad waving his bat above his head in an aggressive stance, and Lillee not backwards in coming forwards. Umpire Tony Crafter and Australian skipper Greg Chappell fortunately kept the warring factions apart, but the damage had been done.

It didn't end there. Both umpires wrote a letter to Pakistan manager Ijaz Butt, complaining about the actions of Miandad; Lillee apologised to Butt and Miandad for his reaction, although this approach was rejected; once the match had concluded, the Australian team also wrote a letter relating to the behaviour of Miandad; Butt then suggested that Pakistan might return home if no action was taken against Lillee, with the Australian hinting that he might retire if he was banned for any length of time. After much deliberation, the mess was eventually sorted out when the Australian Cricket Board fined Lillee A$120 and banned him for two matches. As his suspension covered two one day internationals, Lillee chose not go through with his early retirement, and the rest of the tour passed by without any further aggro.

Not a pretty sight on a cricket field though. Some might say, it just wasn't cricket.

4 comments:

  1. The Grand Prix one is splendid... when he kicks out it reminds me of 11-year old fighting at secondary school.

    Here's a thing with Wimbledon... *everyone* hated them at the time, they were a disgrace to football, their tactics were ugly, they had no proper fan base. Supporters of every other club would have gleefully seen them wiped of the face of football in 1988... for such a giant killing feat, their 1988 FA Cup win was one of the least popular in history.

    Yet when Winkleman took over, and took them to MK, there was uproar! 'Destroying the traditions of a historic club, trampling on the feelings of Wimbledon fans, stealing the club's history'. Fans were encouraged to 'boycott The Franchise'.

    All seemed a bit hypocritical to me. Wimbledon were the anti-football, and here was Pete Winkleman wiping them out for ever. Why should we care? It didn't prove to be 'the thin end of the wedge' as so many warned. People are used to MK Dons now. I certainly don't have a problem with them.

    Memories of the 'Crazy Gang', though, are not ones I will want to cherish when I look back on the football of the 80s.

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    1. Everyone hated them? Hardly. Perhaps the fans of more "refined" clubs who'd occasionally be roughed up and humiliated. sure, but for the man in the street that's exactly what they'd tune in for! You didn't have to be a Wimbledon fan to enjoy seeing some silky-skilled primadonna get kneed in the knackers.

      Your take on the MK scandal is more telling, though. Any football fan who didn't understand what was happening here deserves a Clockwork Orange style eyeballs-propped open lesson until they understand that STEALING A FOOTBALL CLUB is a) an obscenity and b) could happen to anyone else.

      Luckily, Wimbledon suffered the ignominy, after which the rules were changed, so your precious club were safe.

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  2. "Alex Ferguson, who witnessed the event, described it as "one of the most frightening incidents I have seen"

    Well, yes, but remember he said similar about van Persie getting a ball kicked at his head...times change

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  3. You should check out Buck Shelford's king hit on the Welsh lock in the 1987 RWC semi-final in 1987. He did blindside him, but the Welshman had been laying into Gary Whetton who was trying to protect himself. Buck said enough and put him out with one hit. Best bit, once the welsh player came around he had was sent off.

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