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Mourinho’s finger and other acts of sporting violence

Paul Howarth
169766389 199x300 Mourinho’s finger and other acts of sporting violence

(Getty Images)

José Mourinho’s in the news again, then. In the worst soap opera plot since Albert Tatlock (played by my Great Uncle Jack) moved into the front parlour, the Portuguese is to return to Stamford Bridge. He’ll have something to prove, as his tenure at Real Madrid has not brought universal acclaim. On the one hand, he delivered three domestic trophies in as many years. On the other his relative failure in Europe – three consecutive semis – led ex-Real president Ramón Calderón to brand him “a failure”.

Calderón also cites Mourinho’s behaviour as unbefitting of Real and its history. For me, the enduring image of his time in Spain is the notorious ‘finger in the eye’ incident, where he snuck up on Barcelona assistant coach Tito Villanova and gouged him. In the pantheon of managerial touchline spats, it was a real low. An instance of truly cowardly violence. At least Arsène Wenger had the decency to look Martin Jol in the eye as he squared up to him, although I acknowledge his choice of opponent was a rare display of rank stupidity.

We’ve all got a mate like Mourinho. The little, gobby one who takes ‘banter’ too far in the boozer, starts a fight and then leaves while someone else faces the music.

Of course, violence in sport shouldn’t be celebrated. And what better way not to celebrate it than to dredge up some truly shocking episodes and relive them, wallowing in every grisly detail, and becoming increasingly appalled.

British & Irish Lions – ’74 and “99”

Back in the days when a good old clump round the head was just part of rugby’s great pageant, one series made even the most hardened observers wince. The British & Irish Lions’ 1974 tour to South Africa.

During the tour, Willie John McBride’s team decided to combat what they saw as the Springboks’ attempts at physical intimidation.  This they did – in the words of the captain – by “getting our retaliation in first”.  At the first sign of trouble, one of the Lions would yell “99!”, at which point each team-mate would punch his most conveniently-located opponent. The theory was that referees would not take action because, if they did, they’d have to send everyone off.

In the third Test, JPR Williams found himself in space when the cry went up and so ran fully 30 yards to stick one on Moaner van Heerden, one of South Africa’s chief enforcers. Nigel Starmer-Smith, commentating, described “a giant free-for-all” and scenes “fitting more for the boxing ring.”

Makes Owen Farrell’s fly-swat at Schalk Brits look a bit tame, doesn’t it?

It worked too. The Lions won the Test series 3-0 (drawing the fourth) and finished the tour unbeaten in 22 games.

Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer

It’s been said that Lee Bowyer’s one of those people who could start a fight in an empty room. Which might’ve been a better idea than a bust-up with team-mate Kieron Dyer in front of 50,000 at St. James’s Park.

With Newcastle 3-0 down to Aston Villa in 2005, Bowyer apparently felt aggrieved that Dyer had chosen not to pass to him and stormed across to confront the former Ipswich man. The two traded blows before being separated by Villa’s Gareth Barry. Both were then sent off. Injury, we’re adding insult; humiliation is following on in a cab.

Bowyer was quickly singled out by Newcastle as the instigator of the incident. He was reportedly fined £200,000 and chairman Freddy Shepherd said the player should “go down on his hands and knees” in thanks at remaining at the club (an appropriate action, perhaps, if you believe all you read about Shepherd).

Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad

Context is all. Taken in isolation, Dennis Lillee’s confrontation with Javed Miandad in the Perth Test of 1981 looks like tiny handbags compared with some of the examples on this list. Cricket, however, is both a non-contact sport and an institution founded on gentlemanly principles. These characteristics, coupled with the rarity of physical incidents in the game and the fact it was beamed around the world, elevate their dust-up to a higher plane.

Unsurprisingly, the players differ in their versions of how the trouble flared. According to Lillee, Javed struck him from behind with his bat after completing a run. Javed, meanwhile, insisted that Lillee had kicked him as he turned to walk back to his mark.

What is not in doubt is the unsavoury, yet iconic, image of Javed wielding his bat at Lillee, with umpire Tony Crafter intervening.

The pub conversation goes something along the lines of:

“Who would win that fight?”

“Depends if Javed got to keep the bat.”

Here are a couple of blokes who decided to take the guesswork out of it…

Quinten Hann and Mark King – ‘Pot Whack’

How many times have you heard someone say, “Those two should just get in a ring and sort it out”? Well, that’s exactly what these two snooker players did.

Australian Quinten Hann had clashed with Andy Hicks in their World Championship match in 2004, calling Hicks “short and bald” and offering him out. This prompted Mark King to step in and take Hicks’s place. And so the fight was made.

Hann and King had history. The Essex man had taken the 16-year-old Hann for £500 a decade before and it still rankled. So when the two of them stepped into the ring at York Hall, there was a certain amount of feeling behind the punches.

By all accounts, it wasn’t the most technically correct bout you’ll ever see. Something akin to a pair of drunken windmills, apparently. Hann came out on top, recording a points verdict.

For the style and panache these two lacked, look no further than…

Eric Cantona and…that bloke in the Selhurst Park crowd

At a conservative guess, I’d say 10,000 footballers since the infamous kung fu kick have wished they could ‘invoke the Eric’ when in receipt of the verbal filth dished out by fans.

Shocking, yes. Inexcusable, possibly. But, above all, a pure work of art.

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  • themissus

    I’m still upset by Zidane’s departure…

  • Bollins

    Much as I deplore violence, what rugby fan doesn’t enjoy seeing “a little bit of a stramash”, in the immortal words of Bill McLaren. My all-time favourite has to be watching 6′6″ Met Police Inspector Paul Ackford go down like a sack of potatoes after being knocked out cold by a haymaker from Argentinian teenager Fred Mendez in 1990. Mendez later said he got the wrong man – it should have been Jeff Probyn, who had “stamped on my goolies”. It’s a beautiful game.

  • Mike Stroud

    Agree in theory, but a bad example. Mendez totally blindsided Ackford – cowardly stuff, similar to Mourinho creeping up on that Barca guy.

  • Bollins

    True – and had anything other than Ackford’s pride been hurt it would have been a bad show (see for example Duncan McRae’s shameful attack on Ronan O’Gara (2001?) and serial All Black raking in the 90s). As it was, it was just funny.

  • Bollins

    Now you’ve got me started. Why do some (of course not all) “host” players seem to find it necessary to behave like complete eejits when the Lions come round? What was that “biting” nonsense? Shoving your fist in someone’s face and then making an obviously nonsense allegation that you’ve been bitten. Not impressed…

  • Sam Diamond

    Interesting article in the Standard today about how rugby likes to slag off the silly poncey world of celebrity football – yet it’s littered with examples of its own indiscretions – bloodgate and the stories above being prime examples!

  • paul_howarth

    Yes, interesting how the media can view the same act of violence – like a punch to the face – in very different terms depending on whether it occurs in football or rugby union. Football = rough, working class, grubby, dishonourable. Rugby = sophisticated, middle/upper class, noble, honourable.


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