The game had been a drab encounter and stood at 0-0 until the 81st minute, when ex-United legend Dennis Law broke United hearts. Francis Lee crossed the ball and Law, with his back to goal, cheekily back heeled the ball, leaving Alex Stepney the United goalkeeper no chance. Law did not celebrate the goal, in fact, he turned away, forlorn and sheepish, knowing he had condemned his beloved United to relegation. So distraught was Law he walked off the pitch and was immediately substituted. When the realisation of what had happened dawned on the United fans, they decided to invade the pitch, trying to stave off the inevitable by forcing an abandonment. The referee was left with no choice as United fans were not going to leave the pitch, however it made no difference as the result eventually stood. Interestingly, United would have been relegated that day whatever the outcome of the game, as Birmingham had beaten Norwich. Law retired after the World Cup stating he had never felt so depressed.
Brighton v York City 1995/96
For a number of years fans of Brighton & Hove Albion had seen their club hit by financial crisis after financial crisis whilst being run by a board who had already been discovered trying to remove profit from the club. By 1996, the board had taken the decision to sell the clubs main asset, the Goldstone Ground, leaving Albion with no viable alternative from where to play football from on the horizon. Despite high profile protests, football authorities were seemingly willing to turn a blind eye to these troubles. On the final day of the season and with no announcement imminent of where Brighton would play their home games the following season, the fans decided the only course of action, to gain maximum publicity and highlight the club’s plight, would be to invade the pitch and cause the game to abandoned.
At a pre-arranged time of 3.16, fans from all sides of the ground poured onto the pitch in what was a peaceful protest and they refused to leave, giving the officials no choice but to abandon the game. The national publicity from the abandonment galvanised the FA into action, intervening with the board of directors and forcing a leaseback arrangement of the Goldstone to the club, enabling them to have the time needed to find somewhere else to play their home games the season after. The game itself was replayed the following week and York City, who needed a point to stave of relegation themselves, winning 3-1.
Sheffield United vs West Bromwich Albion 2001/2
The game that became known as the Battle of Bramhall Lane was between promotion chasing West Bromwich Albion and the home side Sheffield United. The game was full of incident from an early stage as as in the 10th minute United goalkeeper Simon Tracey, clearly handled the ball outside the penalty area and having committed a profession foul, was duly sent off. With a substitute keeper on the bench, United manager Neil Warnock, sacrificed one of his forwards to make the change. With a man advantage it did not take Albion long to open the scoring, breaking the deadlock 8 minutes later and they doubled their lead in the 63rd minute. Now trailing 2-0 Warnock immediately made his final substitutions bringing on George Santos & Patrick Suffo. Neither were to remain on the pitch for long though and Santos was first to go, sent off for a horrible two footed tackle on Andy Johnson, who had broken Santos’cheekbone the previous season whilst playing for Notts Forest . The game was now descending into a farce and both teams clashed as Santos left the pitch with the result, Suffo being sent off for head butting Derek McInnes during the brawl.
With United were now down to 8 men, Albion made their advantage count and on 77 minutes Dobie added his second of the game putting them 3-0 up. Two minutes later United’s Michael Brown limped off leaving them playing with the minimum 7 players. Controversy struck in the 81st minute as Warnock was seen instructing Robert Ullathorne to go down and receive medical attention and when he was eventually led off the field, the referee had no alternative but to abandon the game. FIFA rules state a team shall have a minimum of 7 players on the field of play.
Albion manager Megson was furious after the game and said “There will be no replay. If we are called back to Bramall Lane we shall kick-off and then walk off the pitch. I’ve been in professional football since 16 and I’m 42 now. I’ve never ever witnessed anything as disgraceful as that. There is no place for that in any game of football, let alone professional football. “ In the aftermath, the FA investigated the afternoon’s events and recommended the match result should stand, which it did. United were fined £10,000 for their behaviour, Warnock escaped punishment as the referee made no reference to him in his match reports and Santos & Suffo were transfer listed immediately.
Estonia vs Scotland 1996.
This abandonment is one of the strangest ones of all time. The day before the fixture, Scotland manager, Craig Brown expressed concern over the standard of the temporary floodlighting the Estonian football authorities had bought in. Having seen the floodlights on full, the FIFA delegate concurred and with Scotland now officially complaining, FIFA agreed to bring forward the kick-off time from 6.45pm to 3.00pm. Despite protests from the Estonian FA, a FIFA emergency committee agreed to the new kick off time and informed both countries national associations of their decision. Given the high revenue the Estonian FA were due to receive from the BBC to screen the game at its original kick-off time, it was no surprise they were unhappy at the decision to move it.
At 2.30pm, some 30 minutes before kick-off there was no sign of the Estonian team. Scotland were undergoing their normal pre-match warm up with Brown convinced they would turn up, however the Estonian’s, under instruction from their FA to stick to the original kick-off time, were having their lunch. Scotland took to the pitch a few minutes before the rescheduled kick-off time and the officials, despite the absence of the Estonian team, completed their pre-match formalities. Having shaken hands with the referee, Scotland kicked-off and Billy Dodds passed the ball to John Collins and the referee blew up, abandoning the game. The tartan army remained in good form, singing “There’s only one team in Tallinn” as the Scottish team left the field. After a FIFA review of the farce, the outcome was, the game was forced to be replayed on neutral territory and a few months later, the teams played out a 0-0 draw in Monaco.
West Ham v Crystal Palace 1997
Wimbledon v Arsenal 1997
These two matches were both abandoned due to floodlight failure but at the time no-one suspected they were linked. West Ham were 2-0 down against Crystal Palace , but when Frank Lampard equalised on 65 minutes the floodlights failed and despite frantic efforts the power could not be restored and the game was eventually abandoned. The second half of the Wimbledon v Arsenal game was only 13 seconds old with the score at 0-0 when the Selhurst Park floodlights failed. A short delay followed before the lights came back to life only to fail permanently 12 minutes later with the score still at 0-0. Again the game was abandoned.
Two years later police were alerted to the fact that a Charlton steward had been bribed to let three men into the Valley with the purpose of sabotaging the floodlights. The police were waiting when they arrived and duly bagged their suspects, complete with equipment ready to trip the floodlights remotely. Still there was nothing to link this crime to the two previous games until their hotel rooms were searched. It was at this point Police found the names of both West Ham & Wimbledon staff and discovered this was part of a much bigger organised crime.
The crime was simple. The men were all part of a Malaysian betting ring who placed massive bets on the outcome of English premier league games. In the Asian markets, unlike in England , bets on games are paid out on the result after the half time break, so all the gang had to do was to sabotage the floodlights and disable them once the desired result was achieved and the payout was secured. It was worth the efforts given the massive rewards which could be achieved and was not done often to ensure that no suspicion arose from the failure.
Following the discovery Asian betting markets were tightened to ensure nothing like this could happen again.
Remember next goal wins.