Probably the most amazing scenes ever witnessed at Bramall Lane unfolded exactly 15 years ago today on Saturday March 16, 2002.
Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United were left with just SIX players on the field, having had three men sent off and two more leaving the field injured, on a day of shame and violence.
And referee Eddie Wolstenholme was forced to abandon the game after 82 minutes with Gary Megson’s West Bromwich Albion leading 3-0.
It was the first time a match had ever been abandoned in England due to a lack of players.
Here is how the extraordinary events developed:
- Nine minutes: Blades keeper Simon Tracey was sent off for handling the ball outside the penalty area, denying Albion a goalscoring opportunity. Warnock sent on substitute goalkeeper Wilko de Vogt, taking off outfield player Peter Odlovu.
- 18 minutes: Scott Dobie gives Albion the lead after Andy Johnson’s pin-point cross.
- 63 minutes: A Derek McKinnes wonder strike makes it 2-0 to the visitors.
- 65 minutes: The match turns ugly. Within a minute of coming on as sub Georges Santos was sent off for a badly-timed two-footed lunge on Johnson. The two had clashed the previous season when Johnson, then with Nottingham Forest, had fractured Santos’ cheekbone and badly damaged his eye socket with a swinging elbow.
- 66 minutes: United players believing Johnson was feigning injury and after the mass brawl that followed Patrick Suffo - who had only come on as sub alongside Santos - was dismissed for headbutting Derek McKinnes. United were down to eight men with no subs left
- 77 minutes: Dobie grabs his second and West Brom’s third from three yards.
- 79 minutes: Michael Brown limps off injured.
- 82 minutes: Rob Ullathorne also goes off injured. Following FA guidelines “that a match should not continue if there are fewer than seven players left in either team,” ref Wolstenholme abandons the match.
Amid speculation about the outcome Albion boss Megson declared: “There will be no replay. If we are called back to Bramall Lane we shall kick off and then walk off the pitch.
“I have been in professional football since I was 16 and I’m 42 now. I’ve never, ever witnessed anything in football as disgraceful as that. There is no place for that in any game of football, let alone professional football.”
Megson also accused United of deliberately trying to get the game called off.
But Warnock hit back: “To say the two lads who came off for us weren’t injured is absolute nonsense.
“Michael Brown hadn’t trained for nearly six weeks and had said at half-time he had a problem, but he would give it a go.
“Rob has got a muscle spasm, that’s not a surprise considering all the running around he’s had to do when we’ve been at least a man down for so long.
“People can say what they like. If they have any doubts they can ask the physio.” “I’m not condoning what some of our players did but there are also plenty of things that I’l not happy about either, things that went on before and during the game.”
Our United repoprter James Shield said United were adamant that their opponents should shoulder some of the responsibility. At least two of their players traded punches in the second half melee and one of the visiting substitutes could clearly be seen goading home supporters as tempers flared.
Police were forced to part rival groups of fans both during and after the match.
Neither Santos nor Suffo played for United again. Both were fined the maximum of two weeks wages. Suffo was placed on the transfer list with immediate effect.
The result was allowed to stand and the FA called an inquiry into the match that has been known ever since as: “The Battle of Bramall Lane.”
Division One - March 16, 2002
Sheffield United 0 West Bromwich Albion 3
(Match abandoned after 82 minutes)
Sheffield United: Tracey; Uhlenbeek (Santos 64), Page, Curle (c), Ullathorne; Jagielka, Tonge (Suffo 64), Brown; D'Jaffo, Ndlovu (De Vogt 9), Peschisolido
Substitutes not used: Javary, Montgomery
Sent off: Tracey 9; Santos 65; Suffo 65
Booked: Brown, Curle
Manager: Neil Warnock
West Bromwich Albion: Houlkt; Balis, Sigurosson (Butler 68), Chambers (Taylor 56), Clement, Gilchrist, Moore; Johnson (Jordao 71), McInnes (c); Dobie, Dichio
Substitutes not used: Adamson (GK); Fox
Scorers: Dobie 18, 77; McInnes 63
Manager: Gary Megson
Referee: Eddie Wolstenholme (Lancashire)