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Top 10: Most shameful Premier League moments

Despite its branding as the greatest league in the world, and Sky’s constant perpetuation of that moniker, the Premier League has also provided us with some not so fantastic moments, and here’s a run-down of the ten most-notable. The only qualifying criteria is that the incident itself had to happen within the context of an actual match, hence anything relating to nightclubs, taking advantage of young women, and burning fistfulls of £50 notes does not count.

Martin Keown taunting Ruud van Nistelrooy

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Without going all ‘think of the children’ on you, isn’t this a vile image?

Manchester United against Arsenal in September 2003, and Ruud van Nistelrooy has just missed an injury-time penalty which would have won the game for the home team. The final whistle went shortly after, with the crossbar still shaking, and the nation cringed at the sight of human gargoyle Martin Keown taunting the Dutchman and jumping into him. Is it easy to dismiss this as just ‘banter’? Maybe, but it was also the league’s most painfully childish moment and it set a terrible example.

Jens Lehmann, Didier Drogba, and their cheat-off

Maybe this is also a ‘funny’ moment, and the kind of incident which invariably gets suffixed with ‘lol’, but it’s actually deeply embarrassing.

Didier Drogba throws himself to the floor in the penalty box, Jens Lehman pushes him in retaliation, Drogba collapses again, gets up, chest-bumps Lehmann, Lehmann crumbles to the ground.

If ever a moment encapsulated the frustration we all feel in response to the creeping influence that simulation has become on the game, then it’s this one - and actually, it’s also the way that footballer-haters see the game. One overpaid cheat trying to gain an advantage by out-cheating another over-paid cheat.

Andy Gray loved the sound of his own voice, but his commentary and tone is absolutely perfect for this moment.

Manchester United and their referee-baiting

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The picture which launched almost single-handedly provoked the ‘respect’ campaign.

When opposing fans lament the advantage Manchester United appear to have at Old Trafford, they have this image burnt on their retinas - mainly because it’s a literal acting-out of the invisible pressure that most of us perceive referees to be under when United are at home.

It’s not the dissent which makes this jarring, but rather the tangible physical menace of the moment - Andy D’Urso is actually having to back away from Roy Keane, Jaap Stam et al, which is a shameful image, and one which depicted that United team at their bullying worst.

Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer fight mid-game

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David Batty and Graeme Le Saux did something very similar to this in the late 90s, but that was in a Champions League game, so we’ll have to settle for Messrs Dyer and Bowyer swinging at each other during Newcastle against Villa in April 2005.

Given the personalities involved, the world probably yearned for a simultaneous knock-out, but instead we got handbags, ripped shirts, and two red cards.

When we claim that modern footballers are just overgrown, over-ego’d children, this validates us - a petty squabble, presumably over something very trivial, escalating into a playground ruck in the blink of an eye.

Roy Keane takes revenge on Alf-Inge Haaland

Roy Keane’s retrospective narration of this incident in his book earned him a heft ban, and rightly so. The former Manchester United captain has always justified his tackle on then-Leeds midfielder Haaland as a retaliation for the Norwegian’s reaction to Keane rupturing his cruciate ligament at Elland Road in 1997 - a cruciate ligament which would have stayed un-ruptured had he not been trying to foul a Leeds defender at the time.

Keane’s ‘vengeance’ would come four years later, with a horrible, premeditated - and studs-showing - tackle at Old Trafford.

We’ve seen worse tackles, but rarely has there been a better example of one professional actively looking to hurt another, and then gleefully admitting to it.

Eric Cantona at Selhurst Park

Obviously worth including, but probably not for the reason you think.

Yes, a player attacking a fan is clearly an ugly and shameful incident, but Eric Cantona’s Selhurst Park moment also represented the apex of the negative relationship which existed and continues to exist between the crowd and the pitch.

A fan leaves his seat to abuse a player, the player retaliates, the fan moans to the media about it afterwards. Nobody won, because everybody just looked bad.

Mark Bosnich and his Nazi salute at White Hart Lane

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This has almost been forgotten, and it’s very rarely mentioned - maybe because Mark Bosnich allowed his career to be swallowed by cocaine and supermodels, and that became the lasting association with him.

Does this really need justification? A visiting player turns to the crowd of an historically Jewish club and gives a Nazi salute. It speaks for itself.

Bosnich would later phone-in to 606 to plead ignorance and claim that he never intended to offend anyone, but footballers don’t issue apologies without being told to by their club or their agent, and it was still a very weak excuse at best.

Paolo Di Canio pushes Paul Alcock

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Something which has been written about so often that it doesn’t really warrant further description.

Paolo Di Canio was rightly punished for this, and he retreated to Italy in a sulk over his treatment - potentially, it seemed at the time, for good.

This was the first time the Premier League had seen an actual act of ‘violence’ towards a referee, but there’s still a sense that Di Canio was forgiven too easily for it - his reaction was too readily mitigated by way of his ‘passionate Italian personality’ whereas an English player would likely have lived with the consequences for the rest of his career.

John Terry racially abuses Anton Ferdinand

He’s not a racist, he just likes saying racist things, apparently.

John Terry isn’t the most disliked player in the league for no reason, and this was the pinnacle of his rap sheet. The allegation of racial abuse put him on the Crown Prosecution Service’s radar, and the incident was dragged through court in a way that shamed the ‘banter’ culture in the game, and left Terry grasping at inflection, tone, and intention as a means of defending himself.

He was found ‘not guilty’, but not a single person outside Stamford Bridge really believes in his innocence.

Ben Thatcher assaults Pedro Mendes

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A staggering act of cowardice that will hopefully never be surpassed.

We’re used to bad tackles, and we’ve all seen plenty of recklessness on the football pitches, but this stands above all other examples within the Premier League’s history - had this happened in a contact sport, it would still have been shocking.

Don’t let anybody tell you that this was an isolated loss of control, because Ben Thatcher had form in this department - as Nicky Summerbee’s face will attest to - and his running elbow on a defenceless Pedro Mendes was as clear an attempt to endanger an opponent as you will ever see. Look at the replays, looks at the expression on Thatcher’s face…his contract should have been cancelled and he should have been forcefully retired.

He was absolutely ‘that kind of player’.

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