Chelsea v Tottenham: The Battle of the Bridge remembered
By Andrew Dickson
Last Updated: 29/03/18 1:32pm
It was the game which made Leicester champions and saw Tottenham lose their discipline to one of their biggest rivals. Ahead of this Sunday's meeting between Chelsea and Spurs, live on Sky Sports, we look back at the Battle of the Bridge in May 2016…
While he said it in a very matter-of-fact way as if to suggest we should all have thought it inevitable, even John Terry must have been tickled by his unconvincing attempt to play down what had just happened as one of those things.
"It was a London derby we hadn't lost in 26 years," he began, referring to his team's long unbeaten home record in the fixture. "It was always going to boil over. A couple of times it got out of hand but players are fighting for points and titles. It's emotions - that's football."
That's football indeed. Except this wasn't. Certainly, the 2-2 draw which Terry's Chelsea and Tottenham shared had been enough to hand Leicester City the English title for the first time in their history as the result confirmed them as Premier League champions with two games still to play. Yet once the game had finished, people weren't talking much about football.
Instead, it was Mousa Dembele's alleged eye gouge on Diego Costa and the mass brawl after the final whistle which saw Chelsea's 69-year-old interim manager Guus Hiddink knocked to the ground. They were discussing Tottenham's Premier League record nine yellow cards and the likely FA sanctions which would follow for both clubs after a string of flashpoints.
Second-placed Spurs had travelled across London needing a win to keep their fading hopes of a first league success since 1961 alive. At half-time they looked like getting it, having gone in front through Harry Kane then added to their lead with a goal from Heung-Min Son. As the second half progressed, however, Gary Cahill pulled one back before Eden Hazard levelled seven minutes from the end. By then, Mauricio Pochettino's players were at risk of taking fighting for the title a little too literally.
Much of the bad blood stemmed from the incident involving Dembele and Costa in the final seconds of the first half. It was a key turning point in the match, the moment at which Tottenham went from being in control of the game to slowly giving up their title aspirations. Tempers had already flared when Danny Rose upended Willian and Pochettino came on to the park to separate the pair. It was during the fracas which followed that Dembele was seen on camera pushing his finger into Costa's eye.
While referee Mark Clattenburg did not seem to see the incident and his assistant Simon Beck did not act on what happened despite appearing to have a view of it, the footage captured by Sky Sports was damning. In the aftermath of a game dubbed the Battle of the Bridge, Dembele was given a six-match suspension which spilled into the following season.
Speaking three weeks later, there was contrition from the Belgian. "It was a very emotional game and you react to things," he said. "Now I have to learn from this. My intention was not to do something bad to him. It is not in my character to be so emotional. I'm disappointed about the six-game ban but I know they want to give a message. I will move on. Hopefully we can keep the passion but do it better. We can be proud of ourselves and take the positives into next season."
Dembele's punishment was the tip of the iceberg. His clash with Costa was the prelude to more ugly scenes at the end of the game and as Leicester's squad began to party in Jamie Vardy's kitchen, players and staff from both sides at Stamford Bridge were squaring up on the touchline.
Cesc Fabregas - whose hand had been stood on during play a few minutes earlier by Erik Lamela - confronted Rose. Amid much pushing and shoving, Hiddink lost his footing and tumbled heavily before continuing down the tunnel as security staff moved in to restore order, with Michel Vorm and Costa coming together before Jan Vertonghen also became involved in an intensifying row.
The Dutchman was good-humoured later - saying: "Even at my age, I had no problem falling down!" - but the Football Association took a dimmer view. Both clubs were charged with three breaches of failing to control their players and fines followed too. Tottenham - already billed £25,000 for hitting the threshold of six cautions in a game which automatically triggers that cost - were made to pay a further £225,000, with Chelsea fined a greater amount of £375,000 due to having more previous misdemeanours.
In a statement, the FA said: "Prior to this fixture, Chelsea had breached FA Rule E20 on four separate occasions and Tottenham Hotspur twice since November 2014. Following the Independent Regulatory Commission hearing, both clubs were also warned as to their future conduct."
For former referee Dermot Gallagher, the match stands as the most difficult to officiate in during the Premier League era. "I think that's the toughest game I've seen in 24 years for a referee," he said. "That was a tough, tough test. The referee realised the stakes, realised the emotions and everything. I think he's tried to referee the occasion.
"To end up with 12 yellow cards in a match is really extraordinary. He's tried to stand back and let the players play the game and he's at the behest of the players then but the players didn't buy into what he wanted to do. That's why he came in really, really tough at the end."
Two years on, and Tottenham remain without a win at Stamford Bridge since 1990 having surrendered the lead again in last season's fixture. Will they finally end that run this weekend? Will Sunday's encounter be another fiery affair? Find out live on Sky Sports Premier League from 3.30pm.
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