English football had never seen anything like it and to this day the ‘Battle of Bramall Lane’ holds a unique place in the annals of the game.
The old First Division fixture between Sheffield United and West Brom in March 2002 was abandoned by referee Eddie Wolstenholme with eight minutes remaining.
United were left with only six players on the pitch after three had been sent off and two more withdrawn through injury.
Played out in a toxic atmosphere, the game also witnessed a mass brawl and a headbutt, sparked by a savage revenge tackle, and pandemonium among rival coaching staff.
Wolstenholme had no choice other than to call a halt as the rules of the game state “that a match should not continue if there are fewer than seven players in either team”.
Football League chiefs met five days later to pour over the wreckage and on March 21 awarded three points to West Brom, who had been 3-0 up.
It remains the only professional game in English football to have been abandoned because one team did not have enough players.
Two of the protagonists, Blades pair Georges Santos and Patrick Suffo, never played for the club again.
Before kick-off police had formed a wall to prevent a pitch invasion by visiting West Brom fans. It did not bode well.
Blades goalkeeper Simon Tracy was sent off nine minutes into the game for handling outside the penalty area and replacement keeper Wilko de Vogt was sent on at the expense of Peter Ndlovu.
Ten-man Blades fell behind to Scott Dobie’s diving header and Derek McInnes’ thunderbolt made it 2-0 to West Brom in the 62nd minute.
Three minutes later the game exploded when Blades substitute Santos launched himself at Baggies midfielder Andy Johnson moments after being sent on.
Santos was shown a straight red card having exacted revenge on Johnson, who had broken the Frenchman’s eye socket with a flailing elbow during a game the previous season.
In the melee that followed another Blades substitute, Suffo, headbutted Baggies defender Darren Moore and was also sent off, while Blades skipper Keith Curle escaped a red card after throwing punches at McInnes.
Dobie made it 3-0 to West Brom in the 77th minute before Blades midfielder Michael Brown limped off, and when Rob Ullathorne hobbled out of the action five minutes later the game was called off.
The Blades were fined £10,000 by the Football Association the following May for failing to control their players.
The club’s manager, Neil Warnock, was also found guilty of improper conduct towards the fourth official and fined £300.
Curle admitted improper conduct towards a match official and was fined £500 and given a two-match ban.
Suffo was fined £3,000 for violent conduct and banned for three games in addition to the three-match suspension he had served for his dismissal, and Santos was banned for two games on top of the four automatically imposed.
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