Five infamous grudge matches

Barcelona fans made their feelings towards Luis Figo known against Real Madrid. Photo: PA

With AFC Wimbledon set to meet MK Dons for the first time amid rancour and talk of a boycott, we look at five other games with off-field significance.


It’s never advisable to move to your main rivals, however much money you earn for the club. Luis Figo decided that joining Real Madrid from Barcelona for a world record £37m fee was worth the vitriol he would receive back in Catalonia, but the Galactico got more than he bargained for on his return.

As he attempted to take corners he was continually bombarded with bottles, coins and even mobile phones, until some bright spark threw an entire pig’s head at the Portuguese winger.

The actions of the fans even caused a brief delay to proceedings, with the players being withdrawn from the pitch in a bid to calm the fans down. To everyone’s relief - not least Figo’s - the match finished 0-0.


Sol Campbell was a Tottenham legend, having come through their youth system before progressing to captaining the club. But when he decided against signing a new contract, and instead opted to join their most bitter rivals Arsenal, there was only one outcome.

In their first encounter following the transfer, Campbell was subjected to intense, bitter abuse by the fans at White Hart Lane, as 4000 balloons with the word ‘Judas’ emblazoned on them were released into the north London sky. Gustavo Poyet’s late equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw for Spurs denied Campbell a win on his return.

The Iran and USA players posed for a pre-match photo. Credit: PA


Relations between the United States and Iran had been frosty since the revolution which toppled the Shah in 1979, and when the two nations met at the 1998 World Cup it was billed as the most politically-charged match in history.

Fireworks were expected to fly, but the pre-match activities seemed particularly harmonious, as the two teams posed for a joint photo and flowers were exchanged between captains. It was a different story in the stands, as a terrorist organisation procured 7,000 tickets for the game, and extra riot police were drafted in to avoid a mass pitch invasion.

Iran’s 2-1 victory over ‘The Great Satan’ was greeted with jubilation back in Tehran, where Ayatollah Khamenei told the team: “Tonight, again, the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands.”


It was billed as a re-match between Diego Maradona, and Athletic’s Butcher of Bilbao, Andoni Goikoetxea, as the two players shared some bad blood. Goikoetxea had tried to remove Maradona’s Achilles tendon in a league encounter months earlier, with the resulting broken ankle sidelining the Argentine, and when the two met next in the Copa del Rey final, Athletic won 1-0.

The game was brutal even by Athletic’s typical standards at the time - managed by Javier Clemente, they were known for a no-holds-barred approach - and resulted in a mass brawl at full-time, with Maradona the main perpetrator, kung-fu kicking his way around the pitch.

Facing a possible ban, Maradona demanded to leave Catalonia and was soon on a plane to Naples.


The emotional scars of Germany’s post-war partition run deep to this day, so imagine the tension surrounding the World Cup fixture between East and West in 1974. The match was held in the West German port of Hamburg, and only 1,500 ‘fans’ - selected for their political loyalty by the East German Communist regime - were able to travel to watch.

Indeed, many East Germans, helplessly trapped for 10 years behind a heavily fortified border, actively wanted the West to win. They didn’t get their wish. In the second half Jurgen Sparwasser controlled a long pass down field and fired beyond Sepp Meier to give the East a win which reverberated around the world.

Meanwhile Sparwasser, the East German hero, defected to the West in 1988, a year before the Berlin Wall fell.