Blood, brawls and bust-up’s – The life of the modern footballer

On the banks of the River Trent, Nottingham Forest are conducting their routine training session in preparation for a Premiership fixture at the weekend.

The year is 1995 and talismanic striker Stan Collymore has just received a ball into feet with his back to goal in an ‘attackers v defenders’ match. Collymore controls the ball beautifully, but before he has time to turn Norwegian midfielder Alfe Inge-Haaland is up his backside trying to win the ball back, in a ‘competitive’ manner shall we say.

Haaland, whose career was famously ended by a ferocious tackle by another former Forest midfielder in Roy Keane, has attempted to retrieve the ball back of ‘Stan the Man’ from behind and has raked his studs down the forward’s heel in the process.

“Easy Alf” was Stan’s reply.

Haaland opted against taking the advice of Collymore as another forceful challenge from the Norwegian comes in.

“Alf, have a f**king word with yourself will you!”

The message was somewhat lost in translation as moments later the same thing happened again. As Stan publicised in his column in the Mirror, the reply this time was to punch his team mate straight in the face and leave Haaland on the wet, sodden, Nottinghamshire turf, looking up at the big frontman with a sore head and a fat lip.

Manager at the time Frank Clark ordered Collymore off the training pitch to cool down and skipper Stuart Pearce revealed that the other Forest players sang the Rocky theme tune as Stan headed for the showers.

Whenever an alleged training ground bust-up occurs, players and officials are very quick to dismiss them as ‘skirmishes’ or nothing more than ‘handbags’.

A prime example of this is Cardiff manager Dave Jones refuting claims of trouble in the camp after goalkeeper David Marshall and defender Anthony Gerrard almost came to blows in their recent Championship fixture against, coincidently, Forest. Bad enough in front of the 22,185 inside the City Ground, even worse when you consider the game was screened live on National television.

Jones was quick to dismiss the incident as nothing though, despite Marshall clearly throttling Gerrard round the neck, and the cousin of Liverpool’s Steve, putting his forehead to the face of the Scottish keeper.

“It was just passion over-spilling” said Jones “It was crazy and I’ve told them I don’t want to see it but when the adrenaline is flowing these things happen, but I have told them to forget it and get on with the game.”

“Like I said to them, shut up and get on with it. Then they can have a fight in the changing rooms where we can all watch!”

At least he can joke about it.

The scuffle, albeit on a much smaller scale, mirrored the infamous ‘Toongate’ episode, where during a game versus Aston Villa, Newcastle were reduced to nine men when Kieran Dyer and Lee Bowyer were sent off for having a full blown punch up in the middle of the pitch whilst the game was going on. The image of Bowyer having a ripped shirt whilst held back by Gareth Barry, was a scene more at home in Newcastle city centre late on at night, not on the St James Park turf. Or was it?

Newcastle have had their fair share of bust-ups, the most recent being notorious bad boy Andy Carroll breaking teammate Steven Taylor’s jaw after a fracas over texts the latter was receiving from an old girlfriend of Carroll’s.

Carroll is also alleged to have been scrapping with former teammate Charles N’Zogbia. Surprisingly though it is the little Frenchman, now at Wigan, who came out on top in this instance.

Six years on from picking himself up from that wet, sodden, Nottinghamshire turf on the banks of the Trent, Alf Inge Haaland is again in the headlines. This time it is another former Forest midfielder who has left the Norwegian on the floor in agony. Roy Keane, wearing the red of Manchester United, is perched over Haaland’s limp body screaming obscenities into his ear.

Keane revealed in his autobiography that he did deliberately look to injure Haaland, after a previous game in which the midfielder, then of Leeds, caused cruciate ligament damage to the Irishman, after Keane put in a hard tackle that ended up ending his season. Keane ended up being stretchered off the Elland Road pitch whilst Haaland leaned over his limp body suggesting the Manchester United captain had tried to injure him and ended up hurting himself, and was imitating to the referee that Keane was over-reacting to avoid punishment. Haaland and David Wetherall leaned over the Irishman and told him to stop faking his injuries. Keane was obviously in pain as that tackle would rule him out for the majority of the 1997/98 season.

The next time the two were to be on the pitch together would prove to be the beginning of the end the former Leeds midfielder as he retired shortly after Keane’s horrific tackle, as he set out to deliberately injure the Norwegian and did so in a typical, passion filled Manchester derby, which resulted in a red card for Keane, and an early retirement for Haaland.

“I never even looked to see David Ellery produce the card, I just turned and headed straight for the tunnel.

“I’d waited long enough and I f****** hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c*** and don’t ever stand over me, sneering about fake injuries.” Keane added.

“Even in the dressing room afterwards, I had no remorse. My attitude was f*** him, what goes around comes around. He got his just rewards. He f***** me over and my attitude is ‘eye for an eye’.”

Violence has always been a part of ‘maleness’ culture, and doesn’t look as if it is going to go away any time soon. But it can be argued that letting your anger out could be healthy, as if to move on and start again knowing where you stand with you ‘rival’. Yet Alfie Haaland may disagree somewhat, as memories flood back to him of being laid out on that wet, sodden Nottinghamshire turf.

Written By Jonathon Ogle