Over the years in many interviews, I have had to discuss a game that I officiated between Manchester United and Arsenal.

On 20 October 1990, in front of 47,000 spectators in a Football League Division, One game at Old Trafford Arsenal came out the winners 1-0.

However, the game is remembered for a significant brawl between both teams which resulted in both clubs appearing before The Football Association disciplinary panel where The FA took the unprecedented step of deducting league points from the two clubs.

The only goal of the match came moments before half-time, scored by Arsenal midfielder Anders Limpar, In the second half, Limpar was involved in a contest for the ball with Manchester United defender Denis Irwin; Limpar’s teammate Nigel Winterburn made a tackle on Irwin that precipitated a melee between both sets of players. All but one of the twenty-two players on the field were involved; it lasted no more than 20 seconds and I decided to only yellow-carded Limpar and Winterburn for their actions.

I knew that in previous mass confrontations that The FA were keen to stop this type of incident and that they would take action by reviewing video footage and placing sanctions on the teams.

Manchester United and Arsenal took immediate action by fining a number of their players; Arsenal also punished their manager, George Graham. A month after the game, the FA fined both clubs £50,000 for bringing the game into disrepute. Arsenal were docked two points, one more than Manchester United as they were involved in a similar brawl against Norwich City in 1989. This did not impact on Arsenal’s title challenge, however, as they went on to become league champions with just one defeat.

It remains the only instance in English league football history in which any team has been docked points due to player misconduct. The match is considered to have instigated the rivalry between the two clubs, who competed with each other for silverware regularly through the 1990s and 2000s. 

When I became boss of the PGMOL several years later I wrote the protocol for dealing with MASS CONFRONTATION and that same procedure remains the advice offered to referees around the world.

Keith Hackett