Here are my top 10 controversies of the 1990s. It was the decade where player power came to the fore, violence took to the pitch and in some cases, even off it, and the media began to shine a light more on the drinking culture so prevalent in the game. Let’s take a look at the incidents that made the cut.
1. Jean-Marc Bosman – The Belgian journeyman footballer that changed the beautiful game forever in 1995. Bosman won his 1995 court case at the European Court of Justice over the issue of freedom of movement for professional footballers, arguing that footballers, just like any other profession, should be protected by the law. He argued that football clubs prevented freedom of labour and therefore a restraint of trade. The Bosman Ruling as it became known was a landmark case and is still in practice to this day.
2. Eric Cantona’s Kung-Fu Kick – Was this the kick that handed Blackburn the title in 1995? Talisman Eric Cantona’s hefty right boot to the face of Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons in a January Premier League fixture at Selhurst Park still lives long in the memory, and for all the wrong reasons. Cantona was handed a worldwide ban of 8 months for his actions.
3. Duncan Ferguson’s head butt – Fiery Scot Big Dunc’s head butt on Raith Rovers centre half John McStay, which unbelievably went unnoticed and unpunished on the pitch, resulted in a 3-month prison sentence off it for assault. Ferguson was infuriated with the Scottish FA’s lack of support over the incident and as it was his fourth such conviction for this particualr crime, he quite rightfully went to prison for it. Ferguson later retired from international football citing irresponsible differences with the SFA over the incident.
4. Andres Escobar’s own goal – Escobar was held responsible for seeing a hugely promising Columbia side exit USA 94’ at the first hurdle after his own goal helped the US to a 2-1 victory over Columbia. Back home in Columbia, Escobar was shot and murdered barely two weeks after the game, with the reasoning behind the shooting theorised that several drug lords lost a lot of money betting on the national side and wantedto enact revenge on the unwitting centre back.
5. Maradona’s goal celebration at USA 94 – The dark side of the world’s greatest ever player. Its became clear that after Maradona’s goal celebration in Argentina’s World Cup fixture against Greece that not all was well with the little genius. Maradona later failed a drug test for the banned substance ephedrine and was sent home packing. He later claimed that FIFA reneged on a deal that he could take the drug to aid him with his weight loss during the tournament and that FIFA had argued that a World Cup without Maradona would be a substantially less profitable asset – this claim however, has never been proven.
6. Paolo Di Canio’s referee push – The men in black often take a fair amount of stick, but things threaten to get a little bit more out of hand whenever confirmed facist Paolo Di Canio gets involved. In September 1998 in a game against Asrsenal at Hillsborough, Di Canio took particular umbrage against a specific decision and decided that the best approach was to push refeere Paul Alcock to the ground. Alcock’s quite frankly embarrassing attempts to keep his balance may have made the incident seem more comical than it actually was. He received an 11-match ban and a £10,000 fine for his troubles.
7. David Beckham’s red card against Argentina at World Cup 98’ – We English are a civilised breed aren’t we? Morally superior some might say – except when it involves a 23 year-old footballer getting sent off, that‘s something that really gets our goat. Beckham’s petulant kick-out at supposed Argie hard man Diego Simeone saw Beckham handed a red card in the crucial second-round match at World Cup 98′ with the match tensely poised. He went onto receive death threats as England were eliminated in a penalty shootout the very same game. The furore back home, whereupon the media immediately blamed him for our exit, piqued with an effigy of Beckham being burned outside a London pub. Who need enemies when you’ve got supporters like these?
8. The dentist’s chair – Back when a booze culture enveloped the top flight of British football, the most high-profile of these incidents came during Euro 96’ when Teddy Sheringham, Paul Gascoigne and the likes of Steve McMananaman and Jamie Redknapp were pictured during the tournament carrying out a variety of drinking games. They took a battering in the press for their lack of professionalism and it culminated in one of footballs most famous celebrations in recent times, with Gascoigne lay strewn across the grass after a fantastic solo effort against the old enemy, Scotland – with Sheringham squirting a bottle of water into his mouth.
9. Robbie Fowler’s white line celebration -Robbie Fowler was a footballer that often courted controversy throughout his career, none more so than with this celebration. After equalising in the Merseyside derby in 1999 against rivals Everton, Fowler got down on all fours and simulated sniffing cocaine, using the touchline as his prop, as a response to taunts from the Everton fans over supposed drug abuse. Fowler received a four-match ban and a £60,000 fine for bringing the game into disrepute.
10. Pierre Van Hooijdonk going on strike – The most famous instance of a player ever going on strike in Britain. Van Hooijdonk became unhappy with the new board at Forrest at the start of the 98/99 season at a perceived broken promise to strengthen the side. Van Hooijdonk demanded a transfer, but the club knowing his talent and key role in the side refused his request. The player then went on strike for 6 months. After realising that the club weren’t going to sell him, the relegation threatened Forrest took him back and Van Hooijdonk lasted until the end of the 1998/9 season, where Forrest ended bottom of the league. Van Hooijdonk’s goals were missed badly and the player attracted the ire of not only the fans and the media but of his own team mates as well for his childish actions.
So, are there any controversies that you think deserve a place in this list? Have I controversially missed out a controversy? (Eh? Eh? Anyone?) If you think I have, just post them below.