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As bonfire night is upon us let’s look at some of the biggest fireworks in football that resulted in an explosion of cards

The Battle of Nuremberg

Portugal vs Netherlands

[2006 FIFA World Cup, 25 June 2006]

Portugal vs Netherlands

The Battle of Nuremberg [as it came to be known] encapsulated a football match between Portugal and the Netherlands that manifested itself into something that resembled a brawl-for-all. The match would be settled in Portugal’s favour via Maniche’s 23rd minute winner, though the encounter will always be remembered for Russian referee Valentin Ivanov’s issuing of four red cards and 16 yellow cards, a record for a FIFA-administered international tournament. Costinha was the first to receive his marching orders on the stroke of half time following two bookings, before Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz was sent off after receiving his second caution moments after the restart. Deco and Giovanni van Bronckhorst would also fall foul of Ivanov on the night, with one the tournament’s most iconic images later ensuing when both Barcelona players were pictured having a discussion in a manner not befitting of the hatred that both teams had dished out to each other.  

The Battle of Old Trafford

Manchester United vs Arsenal

[21 September 2003]

Manchester United vs Arsenal

Before there was the Battle of Nuremberg, Manchester played host to the Battle of Old Trafford between fierce rivals Arsenal and Manchester United. Between them both sides had claimed the previous eight league crowns before their encounter in September 2003, and along with a newly flush Chelsea they would once again be at the forefront of the 2003-04 league campaign. The match between these perennial adversaries failed to catch fire until a contentious moment in the second half resulted in the visitors being reduced to 10 men. Patrick Vieira had already been carded before appearing to react to a high challenge from United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy, though not making any contact with the Dutchman. However, referee Steve Bennett deemed Vieira’s reaction as dangerous play, thus sending him off. With the Frenchman’s teammates incensed and convinced of an injustice, their misery would later be compounded after conceding a last minute penalty, but injustice would later turn to vindication when Van Nistelrooy could only hit the bar with his effort. The sound of the final whistle then resulted in Martin Keown, Lauren, Ray Parlour, Ashley Cole and Kolo Touré all confronting Van Nistelrooy, with all five men unanimous in their belief as to who was the perpetrator for the unrest. By the end of the match referee Bennett had brandished eight yellow cards and one red, though the aftermath saw six Arsenal players, two Manchester United players and Arsenal Football Club charged with improper conduct by the Football Association. It wouldn’t end all bad for the Gunners, as they would finish the league campaign without a single defeat en route to the title.     

The war at the Bridge

Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur

[2 May 2016]

Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur

Matches between Chelsea and Tottenham have always adopted a competitive nature, but their clash at Stamford Bridge in May 2016 promised to live up to all expectations. Spurs knew that anything less than a win would see Leicester City crowned as unlikely league champions, while outgoing champions Chelsea were more than aware of the role they could play in extinguishing the title hopes of one of their major rivals. While Spurs had yet to claim victory at Chelsea since February 10, 1990, the first half saw historical records make way for present form as the visitors took a 2-0 lead into the interval thanks to goals from Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. A Danny Rose challenge on Willian on the stroke of half time produced the first flashpoint of the game, as a scuffle emerged between both sides. During the pandemonium Mousa Dembélé appeared to gouge the eye of Diego Costa, though it went unpunished by the officials. Gary Cahill halved the deficit for the hosts early in the second half before Eden Hazard turned party-pooper with an 83rd minute equaliser. It was from this moment that proceedings descended into chaos once more, with Spurs' disappointment clearly evident. The final whistle would give way to further confrontations by the tunnel, as Tottenham took exception to Chelsea’s celebrations. The lively encounter saw Mark Clattenburg dish out a grand total of 12 yellow cards, with Tottenham becoming the first team in Premier League history to receive nine yellow cards in a single match. Both teams were later charged and fined a total of £600,000 by the Football Association for failing to control their players, while Dembélé received a six-match suspension for his act of violent conduct.

Modern warfare in Argentina

Claypole vs Victoriano Arenas

[March 2011]

The fifth-tier match between Argentine sides Claypole and Victoriano Arenas made the headlines in 2011 after referee Damian Rubino brandished an astonishing 36 red cards! Two players had been sent off during the half time break for reported bad behaviour before further disorder broke out in the second period. A mass brawl later ensued that allegedly included managers, coaches and fans. Once Rubino had filed his match report he saw fit to issue every player a red card while also handing out a further 14 to substitutes and coaching staff, setting a world record in the process. Reports at the time suggested that the local Football Association were looking at altering Rubino’s red cards in the hope of not setting a ‘dangerous precedence.' Make of that what you will!

No love lost in Catalunya  

Espanyol vs Barcelona

[13 December 2003]

The Derbi barceloní between Espanyol and Barcelona is a game that has always possessed the potential to get heated, and their meeting in December 2003 was one of those occasions that best demonstrated this tendency. The Blaugrana would prevail 3-1 at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys thanks to goals from Ronaldinho and Patrick Kluivert [2], though the match gained more prominence for its accumulation of 12 yellow cards and six reds. Ivan de la Pena was dismissed just before the interval, while Rafael Márquez and Ricardo Quaresma received their marching orders within six minutes of the restart. Antonio Soldevilla was then shown a second yellow in the 61st minute, with both teams now reduced to nine men. The ill feeling showed no sign of abating any time soon, and Philip Cocu was the next to head for an early bath. He would later be joined by Alberto Lopo, ending a tumultuous evening.