A comprehensive list, in descending order of seriousness.
Jimmy Gauld (ex-player, most recently for Mansfield Town), David Layne, Peter Swan and Tony Kay (all Sheff Weds at the time of the offences), plus others: all banned for life and given varying prison sentences for betting on their own team to lose and match fixing between 1962 and 1964. They were convicted in 1965 and most of the bans were lifted on appeal after the FA changed their rules to allow reviews after seven years. The full list was:
- Jimmy Gauld – 4 years in prison
- Brian Phillips (Mansfield Town) and Jack Fountain (York City) – 15 months in prison
- Sammy Chapman (Mansfield Town), Ron Howells (Walsall) and Ken Thomson (Hartlepools Utd) – 6 months in prison
- David Layne, Peter Swan and Tony Kay (all Sheff Weds) – 4 months in prison
Peter Swan got back into football once his ban was lifted, re-signing for Sheffield Wednesday at the age of 36. He died in January 2021.
Dick Beattie of St Mirren also received a prison sentence, in his case 9 months. Gauld received the longest sentence as ringleader, but much of the attention focussed on the Wednesday players as that club was in the (old) First Division and both Tony Kay and Peter Swan were England internationals (Kay was also a League Champion with Everton), and expected to be in the 1966 World Cup squad.
The Sheffield Wednesday match in question, against Ipswich Town, took place in 1962, but the skulduggery was not uncovered until Gauld sold his story to the Sunday People in 1964. Ipswich were League Champions so it wasn’t unreasonable to assume they’d beat Wednesday. Gauld persuaded Layne, Swan and Kay to bet against their own club and ensure the match result was an Ipswich win. The match did end in a 2-0 Ipswich victory, though Wednesday were outplayed without having to throw the game – Kay was even named Man of the Match! By this time all this came to light, Esmond Million and Keith Williams (both Bristol Rovers) had both been banned for life along with Brian Phillips for trying to fix a match between Bristol Rovers and Bradford Park Avenue in 1963. Million and Williams allegedly took bribes to throw the match (after being approached by Phillips, on behalf of Gauld’s gambling ring), though it ended in a 2-2 draw. All three were prosecuted and fined. Million left football for good and Williams eventually emigrated to South Africa to continue his career.
Enoch West, Sandy Turnbull and Arthur Whalley (all Man Utd), and Thomas Fairfoul, Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Jackie Sheldon (all Liverpool): banned for life for match fixing and betting on the result of a game, 1915. This match between Man Utd and Liverpool indirectly was part of the chain of events that led to Arsenal being voted into the first division when football restarted after WW1. All apart from West had their bans lifted in 1919 in recognition of service to their country during World War 1 (Turnbull was killed in action but his ban was lifted posthumously – see entry further down for more on his career). All seven were encouraged to sign up for military service with the suggestion that this would get their punishments rescinded. West was the only one who didn’t sign up and instead protested his innocence, but his ban stood until 1945 when it was rescinded as part of a general post-WW2 amnesty, making it just under 30 years in total.
Olafur Gottskalksson (Torquay United): Banned indefinitely for failing to take a drugs test, 2005. Not only did he refuse to take the test, he left town and disappeared for 10 days.
Mike Phenix (Southport): 4 years for drug offences, 2018. Phenix was sacked by Southport in October 2018 after failing an out-of-competition test on 17 September, and retired from football. In May 2019 it was revealed he’d failed a drugs test due to the presence of Oxandrolone, an anabolic steroid, and Benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in his urine sample. His suspension runs until 16 September 2022. As well as being banned from playing, he is also barred from working in football in any capacity including coaching and officiating.
Nick Bunyard, manager of Frome Town: 2 years 7 months and £3,000 for betting offences, including betting against his own team, 2016. The ban was handed down in November 2016 and ran to 1 July 2019. Bunyard placed over 90 bets in a 3-year period, including 45 on matches of teams he was managing at the time, Frome Town and Paulton Rovers. Apparently 8 of these bets were against his own team.
Gerard Kinsella (Fleetwood Town): 2 years for taking performance-enhancing drugs, 2013. The former Everton junior was banned after having an injection to relieve chronic pain in a shoulder injury.
Charlie Napier (Sheffield Wednesday): 2 years and 4 months for various on-field offences, 1941. Napier was registered to Sheffield Wednesday but during the war returned home to Scotland and guested for Falkirk, where the offences took place. The FA took a dim view despite him being north of the border, and banned him indefinitely in February 1941. The ban was removed in June 1943, but he was again banned between January 1944 and August 1945. When the war ended the FA allowed him to return to Wednesday, but as it turned out, they no longer wanted him and he ended up at Stenhousemuir.
Joey Barton (Burnley at the time of the sentence, but numerous other clubs at the time of the offences): 13 months and £30,000 for breaking FA rules on gambling; specifically by betting on 1,260 football matches between 2006 and 2016, some of which he played in; 2017. The ban was originally 18 months, but was reduced on appeal, on the grounds that Barton’s career would be ended if he was unable ot play at the start of the 2018-19 season.
Billy Cook (Oldham Athletic): 12 months for refusing to leave the pitch after being sent off against Middlesbrough for persistent fouling, 1915.
James (‘Jay’) Harris (Accrington Stanley): 12 months and £5,000 for betting his own club would lose to Bury, 2009. Four other players received lesser sentences for the same offence, as Harris was the only one of the five who actually played in the match:
David Mannix (Accrington Stanley): 10 months and £4,000
Peter Cavanagh (Accrington Stanley): 8 months and £3,500
Robert Williams (Accrington Stanley): 8 months and £3,500
Andrew Mangan (Bury): 5 months and £2,000
The FA stopped short of charging anyone with match-fixing, but had “serious concerns that the outcome of the match may have been fixed”.
Jose Baxter (Sheffield Utd): 12 months for failing a drugs test for cocaine, 2016. This was a longer ban than other players have received for similar offences as the previous year he’d tested positive for ecstasy but been given a suspended sentence after claiming his drink was spiked on a night out. He tested positive for cocaine in February 2016 and was then suspended by his club for the rest of the season until his contract ran out. The hearing didn’t take place till August, so his ban covered the whole of the 2016-17 season, meaning he was unable to look for a new club until summer 2017 and missed a minimum of 18 months of football.
Abel Xavier (Middlesbrough): 12 months (originally 18) for taking performance-enhancing drugs, 2005. Xavier was the first Premier League player to be banned for this offence, having been found guilty of taking the anabolic steroid methandrostenolone (also known as dianabol).
Eric Cantona (Man Utd): 9 months and 120 hours community service for a kung fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan, 1995.
Mark Bosnich (Chelsea): 9 months after failing a drugs test for cocaine, 2003.
Paddy Kenny (Sheffield Utd): 9 months after testing positive for the stimulant ephedrine, 2009. Kenny had apparently taken an over-the-counter cough medicine containing the drug.
Billy Meredith (Man City): 9 months for attempted bribery and match fixing, 1905, then seventeen Manchester City Players: 7 months for salary irregularities, 1906. An FA investigation reporting in May 1906 found that City had been ignoring the maximum wage – then £4 a week – and overpaying many players for several years. City manager Tom Maley and Chairman Mr Forrest were suspended indefinitely, with two directors also suspended for seven months. City were fined £250 and the suspended players ordered to pay a total of £900 in fines. Among those overpaid and suspended was Sandy Turnbull – later to be banned for match fixing following a Man Utd match in 1915 – see earlier entry (Turnbull signed for Man Utd once his 1906 suspension was over). Another player was Billy Meredith, who had been paid £6 a week and who had opened the can of worms in the first place.
The story started with Man City playing away at Aston Villa in the final game of the previous season on 29 April 1905. City needed to win and hope that Newcastle didn’t in order for the Manchester club to take the title. City lost 3-2, with tempers fraying and players throwing mud and then punches at each other. At the end of the match it was reported that Sandy Turnbull – for some reason always in the thick of it – was dragged into the Villa dressing room, punched and kicked and then thrown back out. Villa fans then attacked the City team bus as it left the ground. The FA investigation into these incidents uncovered an allegation that Billy Meredith had reportedly offered a sum of money to a Villa player to allow City to win the match. Meredith denied this, saying he’d only congratulated the Villa player on their FA Cup victory the week before, but despite a lack of hard evidence he was banned from football from 4 August 1905 until the end of the following season, April 1906. Sandy Turnbull was banned for a month for his involvement in the incidents on and off the pitch, while the referee RT Johns, was suspended for failing to control the match properly. Oddly, no sanctions were taken against Villa, though their players and staff did not appear to be innocent. However, Villa were a respected founder member of the League while City had risen quickly in recent years amid suspicions of dodgy financial deals, though at this stage nothing was proven.
Meredith was most aggrieved by his ban and initially protested his innocence. But with Man City now unable to pay him for the best part of a year, he took to open criticism of his club and claimed that he had in fact offered a bribe on the instructions of his manager! The FA opened a new investigation into all of City’s financial affairs, leading to the total of 21 suspensions.
Once the players were free to return to football, both Meredith and Turnbull signed for Man Utd. Turnbull reportedly received a £350 signing on fee, while Meredith got £500 and his outstanding £100 fine paid off, though it’s unclear who paid these sums – he was due a benefit game worth at least £600 from City and the FA had said he was entitled to hold them to that. It’s possible a City benefactor paid, rather than the club having to; some might say the position 100 years later was not entirely dissimilar… These incidents and the life of Sandy Turnbull are detailed here.
Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd): 8 months for “forgetting” (he said) to turn up for a drugs test, 2003.
Adrian Mutu (Chelsea): 7 months and £20,000 for failing a drugs test for cocaine, 2004. Subsequently sacked by Chelsea, who won compensation of over €17m for breach of contract. This has not been paid, and last time I checked was still subject to legal appeals by Mutu.
Shaun Newton (West Ham Utd): 7 months for cocaine use, 2006. It wasn’t his only offence: in 2008 Newton, by then at Leicester, had his contract terminated by mutual consent shortly before being found guilty of nine counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Newton had “lost” speeding tickets sent to fellow footballers Teddy Sheringham and Bobby Zamora in an attempt to help them evade punishment. He was given a 28-week prison sentence suspended for two years, fined £1,939, banned from driving for one year and ordered to do 180 hours community service. In July 2017, he was found guilty of a burglary committed while under the influence of alcohol and cocaine and sentenced to a further 100 hours community service.
Frank Barson (Watford): 6 months for allegedly kicking an opponent, 1928. The offence was denied by both him and the opposing team, but the ban stood in spite of this and a 5,000 signature petition presented to the FA. I have been sent this letter by someone on twitter calling themselves Jimmy Catton (@cattoncollect), which is apparently from the referee of this match to the FA, reporting the incident. You can read about the real Jimmy Catton here.
Vinnie Jones (Wimbledon): 6 months, suspended for 3 years, and £20,000 for releasing a video glamourising violence and dirty tricks, 1992.
Joss Labadie (Dagenham & Redbridge): 6 months for biting the finger of Stevenage defender Ronnie Henry, 2015. This was Labadie’s second such offence – see below.
Danny Cadamarteri (Bradford City): 6 months for taking performance-enhancing drugs, 2006. “The Squid”, as Rodney Marsh referred to the one-time Everton teenage star, was found to have taken ephedrine.
Kolo Toure (Man City): 6 months for failing a drugs test, which he claimed was caused by taking his wife’s diet pills, 2011.
Charlie Mitten (Man Utd): 6 months and 6 months’ wages (about £350) for playing in an unauthorised league while registered to another club, 1951. Mitten toured Colombia with Man Utd in 1950 and was offered a contract with Independiente Santa Fe in Bogotá. His signing-on fee was reputedly £5,000 plus a weekly wage of at least £40, when the maximum wage in England was £12 a week. He was given the nickname “The Bogotá Bandit” and stayed in Colombia for a year. Colombia had left Fifa but then rejoined, and as Mitten’s official registration was still with Man Utd he was forced to return home. Utd manager Matt Busby had encouraged him to go, saying he’d regret it if he didn’t, but seemed to have changed his mind a year later and ostracised Mitten. The FA were also unhappy and imposed a ban, at the end of which he was sold to Fulham. Neil Franklin and George Mountford, both of Stoke City, also went to Independiente Santa Fe, though Franklin didn’t settle and returned to England in August 1950 after only 2 months. The FA banned him indefinitely, but the ban was rescinded by February 1951 when he was sold to Stoke City. Mountford stayed in Colombia for a year with Mitten and was also banned on his return, but only until September 1951 when he was allowed to resume playing for Stoke.
Kevin Lewis (Man Utd): 5 months, after being sent off in a Central League (reserve) game, December 1971. He was banned until the end of the season, with the length of punishment being due to previous bans of three weeks in 1969 and then four weeks and a £25 fine in January 1971. He was in the Man Utd first team squad for 1970-71, but never made a first team appearance.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool at the time of the offence, Barcelona for most of the penalty): 4 months suspension from ‘all football-related activity’, including team training and entering stadiums, plus 9 international matches and a fine of CHF100,000 (£65,680), all implemented by Fifa for biting Italy’s Georgio Chiellini in the 2014 World Cup; he would have missed nine 2014-15 Premier League games, three Champions League group stage matches and a League Cup fixture had he stayed at Liverpool.
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool): 4 months for breaching betting regulations, 2020. Sturridge told his brother to bet that he would be transferred on loan to Sevilla, though the player claims texts he sent were misconstrued. Originally he was banned for 6 weeks (of which 4 were suspended) in July 2019, but the FA appealed against this and a worldwide 4-month ban was put in place from March 2020, by which time Sturridge was playing for Turkish club Trabzonspor.
Jake Livermore (Hull City): 4 months for taking cocaine, 2015. Livermore tested positive after a match against Crystal Palace in April 2015, and Hull announced they’d suspended him in mid-May while awaiting full FA investigation. The Daily Telegraph reported that the incident “appalled both manager Steve Bruce and owner Assem Allam”. However, they changed their minds when it emerged Livermore had apparently turned to drugs to ease grief from the death of his baby daughter. A ban of at least 6 months would have been expected, but the FA also decided the circumstances didn’t warrant it and after investigation the suspension was lifted in early September and no formal ban was put in place.
James Gotheridge (Newton Heath): 3 months for abusing the referee in a match against Walsall Town Swifts, 1889. See the newspaper cutting from the Sunderland Daily Echo dated November 12, 1889 – they have the player’s name as ‘Gutteridge’, but considering they didn’t know his first name it seems a fair bet that his Wikipedia page has it correct. I’ve ignored the other bans listed, as detail is also sketchy and at the time these were all amateur teams outside the Football League. (Newton Heath eventually became Manchester Utd, Newcastle West End joined with Newcastle East End to form Newcastle United, and Birtley disappeared from league football shortly after the date of this report.)
Jimmy Meggs (Royal Arsenal and City Ramblers): 12 weeks for threatening behaviour and using “filthy and foul-mouthed expressions”, 1890. Meggs was an Arsenal player, but as an amateur could also play for other clubs – apparently a common practice at the time. During a match between Marlow and City Ramblers on 13 September 1890, Meggs disputed the decisions of the referee, Mr F Plumridge, threatened one of the umpires with personal violence and finally “used filthy and foul-mouthed expressions with regard to the captain of the home team.” Mr Plumridge wrote to the secretary of the City Ramblers (who just happened to be Meggs’ brother) asking for an apology for his behaviour. Nothing was received so Plumridge passed the matter on to the FA. On 7 October 1890, the FA Divisional Committee met and banned Meggs from playing until 31 December 1890.
Joey Barton (Man City): 12 matches (6 suspended), 4 month suspended prison sentence, 200 hours of community service and £25,000 for ABH on team mate Ousmane Dabo in training, 2007.
Joey Barton (QPR): 12 matches for elbowing Carlos Tevez, kneeing Sergio Aguero and trying to head-butt Vincent Kompany in the space of a minute, v Man City, 2012.
Paulo Di Canio (Sheff Weds): 11 games and £10,000 for pushing over referee Paul Alcock in a league match against Arsenal, 1998.
Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur): 10 weeks and £70,000 for breaching betting rules. The offences took place in July 2019, around the time of his transfer from Spurs to Atletico Madrid. The ban was not announced until late December 2020 and runs to 28 February 2021. He was charged with seven breaches, of which four were upheld and three dismissed. He misses at least 14 scheduled matches during the 10 week period.
Billy Bremner (Leeds) and Kevin Keegan (Liverpool): both banned from the start of the season until the end of September, approximately 8 weeks (resulting in 11 domestic matches) for fighting and dissent in the Charity Shield, 1974.
Joss Labadie (Torquay Utd): 10 matches and £2,000 for biting Ollie Banks of Chesterfield, 2014. Labadie was also alleged to have bitten a second player, Armand Gnanduillet, in the same game.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool): 10 games for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, plus an undisclosed fine from his club, 2013. Suarez previously served a seven match ban for biting while an Ajax player in November 2010.
David Prutton (Southampton): 10 games and £6,000 for pushing referee Alan Wiley after being sent off against Arsenal, 2005.
Calvin Andrew (Rochdale): 9 matches for elbowing Peter Clarke of Oldham Athletic, 2016. Andrew launched himself at Clarke, but the assault was missed by the officials at the time. The FA handed out a 12-match ban after Andrew admitted the offence and footage had been reviewed, but it was reduced to 9 on appeal.
Peter Dobing (Stoke): 9 weeks (described as a ‘record ban’ in the newspapers) and £150 for three bookings in the first half of the season, while under suspended sentence for previous bookings, 1971. Dobing broke his leg in the match in which his third booking came, and was injured for the whole period of his suspension, which was described by his manager Tony Waddington as “quite lenient”.
Brian O’Neil and Dennis Hollywood (both Southampton): both apparently banned for 9 weeks in 1971, but I have no further details. It does seem as though there was something of a clampdown by the FA at the time, with quite a few bans of this sort of length.
Steve Walsh (Leicester City): 9 matches for breaking the jaw of David Geddis of Shrewsbury Town, 1987. Walsh later went on the hold the joint league record for red cards, with 13.
Paul Davis (Arsenal): 9 games and £3,000 for breaking the jaw of Glenn Cockerill of Southampton with a punch off the ball, 1988. Probably a bit more out of character for Davis than for Steve Walsh the year before!
Frank Sinclair (West Brom): 9 games for a push and a clash of heads with referee Paul Alcock (see also Paolo di Canio, above) after Alcock awarded a penalty to opponents Exeter City, 1992.
Garry O’Connor (Birmingham City): 2 months for cocaine use, 2009. O’Connor later had further problems with drugs and by the age of 32 had reportedly blown all his career earnings of £4m and was living in a council house. The 2009 ban was revealed by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme in 2011, which also claimed there were 21 positive tests for cocaine in English football between 2003 and 2010, though most names had been kept secret. An FA spokesman was quoted as saying: “The FA do not report the name of the player [who tests positive for a social drug out of competition] as this offence is not a Wada Code offence and privacy allows the player to undergo any necessary rehabilitation.” A cynic might argue they were more concerned with protecting the brand.
Hughie Gallacher (Chelsea): 2 months for using “filthy” language at a referee, 1931.
Bob Turnbull (Chelsea): 2 months for “an incident in a match at South Shields”, 1926. (These last two entries from The Chelsea FC Miscellany by Rick Glanvill. These were the longest bans for Chelsea until Mutu’s 7-month ban for drugs).
D.Jones (Dartford): 2 months for kicking a linesman in Dartford’s away match against Crawley Town, 1969.
Peter Osgood (Chelsea): 8 weeks and £150 for being booked six times in the space of a year, 1971. Bookings were a little harder to come by in those days, but Osgood made the effort. He’d been booked eight times in two years, but never sent off.
Ben Thatcher (Man City): 8 games for elbowing Portsmouth’s Pedro Mendes, knocking him out, 2006.
Mark Dennis (QPR): 53 days for violent conduct that led to the eleventh sending-off of his career, 1987. Dennis elbowed Ossie Ardiles in the face. He racked up his 12th sending off the following year before QPR got fed up with him and offloaded him to Crystal Palace.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool): 8 games and £40,000 for racially abusing Patrice Evra, 2011.
For those who say, “Why an 18-month ban for Joey Barton for betting offences, when Suarez only got 8 games for racism and John Terry got 4?”, I say let’s see how long the ban for racism would be if the guilty party did it 1,260 times over a ten year period. (The minimum ban for racism was raised from 4 weeks to 6 after Terry’s light sentence in 2012. In Fifa and Uefa-controlled matches the minimum sanction is ten games.)
Kiko Casilla (Leeds): 8 games, £60,000 and a course on racial sensibilities for abusing Charlton’s Jonathan Leko, 2020. The incident took place in September 2019, with Casilla alleged to have used “the racially offensive n-word” to use the words of The Times’ report. Casilla denied the charge, but five months of investigation and a two-day hearing led to the FA panel deciding on a guilty verdict ‘on the balance of probability’. Leeds naturally claimed the evidence wasn’t strong enough and a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ test should have been applied.
Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion): 8 weeks for failing a drugs test, 2016. He claimed his drink was spiked in a nightclub. The ban was not revealed until after the player had been transferred to Stoke the following January, with West Brom saying at the time he was out due to fitness issues rather than MDMA issues. Similar to Dispatches in 2011 (see earlier entry for Garry O’Connor) a Daily Mail report at the time claimed that since 2012 another 12 players beside Berahino had failed tests for recreational drugs and been banned for varying lengths of time without this being revealed to the public. There were three failed tests in 2015-16, six in 2014-15, three in 2013-14 and one in 2012-13. You may notice that adds up to 13, because Sheffield United midfielder Jose Baxter (see separate entry) accounted for two of those. Wolves ‘keeper Aaron McCarey was named by his club as one of the others in May 2015, but the rest remain nameless. The FA were sticking to their dubious line that privacy helps players with rehabilitation.
Sporting Intelligence, run by the excellent Nick Harris, has a list of long drugs bans handed out by the FA between 2005 and 2010, but in most cases, as mentioned above, the player’s name has been kept secret.
John Fitzpatrick (Man Utd), Don Welbourne (Scunthorpe) and Graham Rathbone (Grimsby): all banned for eight weeks in the first half of the 1969-70 season for picking up three bookings each, though Fitzpatrick was the only one who wasn’t sent off. Derek Dougan of Wolves faced similar sanction, but had two weeks of his sentence suspended.
Duncan Ferguson (Everton): 7 matches, three for a red card for violent conduct (punching Wigan’s Paul Scharner) and a further four for pushing Pascal Chimbonda in the face after his sending off, 2006.
Chris Kamara (Swindon Town): 6 weeks for elbowing Shrewsbury Town’s Jim Melrose, breaking Melrose’s cheekbone, 1988. Kamara became the first player in England ever to be convicted in court for on-field violence. He was fined £1,200 for causing grievous bodily harm and also ordered to pay £250 compensation. His claims of being provoked by racially abusive comments were not accepted.
Ronnie Rees (Notts Forest): 6 weeks in 1970, apparently, but I can’t find confirmation or any detail of the offence.
Patrick Vieira (Arsenal): 6 matches and £45,000 (a record amount at the time) for spitting at Neil Ruddock followed by an altercation with a policeman in the tunnel after being sent off, 1999.
Jonny Evans (Man Utd) and Papiss Cisse (Newcastle): banned for 6 and 7 matches respectively for spitting at each other, 2015. Evans spat first but denied the charge; Cisse admitted it and apologised but got a longer ban as he was banned earlier in the same season for violent conduct (elbowing Everton’s Seamus Coleman). Evans claimed afterwards that he habitually spat without realising, and was consequently not even aware of it at the time, hence his denial of the charge despite obvious video evidence.
Samu Saiz (Leeds Utd): 6 matches for spitting on Newport County midfielder Robbie Willmott, Jan 2018. Saiz had previously been accused and cleared of spitting at Port Vale manager Michael Brown in August 2017.
Arthur Masuaku (West Ham Utd): 6 matches for spitting at Wigan’s Nick Powell, Jan 2018.
David Batty (Newcastle): 6 matches for pushing referee David Elleray after being sent off in a match against Blackburn, 1998.
Ian Ure (Arsenal) and Denis Law (Man Utd): 6 weeks plus loss of wages for the same period for fighting (which resulted in 6 league matches for Ure and 7 for Law, plus both being unavailable for a Scotland international v Wales and Law out for two European Cup games), 1967. At the time this was the heaviest ban for any on-field offences for 20 years and also the longest ban the FA had ever given to an Arsenal player. Law in 1967 was Britain’s highest paid player.
Mousa Dembele (Spurs): 6 matches for trying to gouge Diego Costa’s left eye in the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’, the match that lost Tottenham their title chance in April 2016. Nine Spurs players were booked, but the ref missed Dembele’s action, though its seriousness was slightly undermined by Costa immediately holding his right eye afterwards. Dembele accepted the charge without contest, but his club’s argument that three matches was enough was not accepted. Spurs are not believed to have imposed a fine.
Roy Keane (Man Utd): 5 weeks and £150,000 for comments about his pre-meditated attack on Alfie Inge Haaland in his autobiography, 2002 (added to the 3 match ban for the tackle itself, served in 2001).
Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle Utd): 5 matches and £100,000 for racially insulting an opponent, Romain Saiss of Wolves, 2016. Saiss apparently urged the referee to send off Shelvey’s teammate Vurnon Anita during their match in September, following which three Wolves players variously reported Shelvey saying: “You Arab c***”, “Arab prick”, “Morrocan prick” and “smelly Arab c***”. Shelvey, who denied the charge, was also ordered to go on an education course.
Billy Bonds (West Ham): 5 weeks and £100 (which was a lot in those days!) for spitting at a Hull opponent in retaliation for a foul, 1970. It was actually only 2 weeks for the spitting, but it also activated a 3-match suspended sentence imposed six months previously as it was the third time Bonds had been booked since.
Alan Ball (Everton): 5 weeks and £100 for three bookings collected in 3 separate matches in 1969-70 season; he missed four league games and an England international, and was reported to have lost around £1,000 in wages and bonuses.
Victor Wanyama (Southampton): 5 matches for a third red card of the season, a straight red for a tackle on West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, 2016. His manager Ronald Koeman said he was not being fined by his club for this third offence, though he was for the second sending off (for two yellow cards against Norwich).
Tyrone Mings (Bournemouth): 5 matches for stamping on the head of Man Utd’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2017. Mings denied the glancing blow was deliberate and was backed by his club. The FA banned him anyway, and Ibrahimovic had already exacted his own revenge shortly after the incident by elbowing Mings. The Swede received the standard three-match ban for this.
Bertram “Bert”Smith (Spurs): a month for ‘filthy language’ to the referee, 1922. This was in a match at White Hart Lane where Arsenal seemed determined to win by injuring Spurs players. Arsenal went 2-0 up in the second half, after reducing Spurs to ten men – and nine for a while – through injuries, but a disputed goal was awarded to Spurs near the end of the match. Arsenal goalkeeper Stephen Dunn reportedly then shook the referee and behaved ‘like a man demented’. Punches were thrown, including by Arsenal’s Alex Graham on Smith. Incredibly Smith was the only player to receive a ban, while Graham was merely censured for retaliating instead of reporting the incident to the referee! It seems from this verdict and others in the early 20th century that ‘filthy language’ was generally considered worse than physical assault on either the officials or the other team.
George Best (Man Utd): one month for kicking the ball out of the referee’s hands after a League Cup semi-final defeat to Man City in December, 1969. Best missed 5 games and was so fired up on his return that he broke Man Utd’s scoring record with six in one match, in the FA Cup against Northampton Town. Utd were undefeated in his absence, and he said he didn’t want people saying it was his fault if they lost on his return.
Ernest Hart (Leeds Utd): 28 days for insulting the referee during the West Riding Cup Final between Leeds and Huddersfield Town, 1933. The ban was to cover the last week of the 1932-33 season, and the first 3 weeks of the following season, but it also meant that he was dropped from the England squad for two tour matches to Switzerland and Italy in May, after the season had ended, so effectively it was a 135 day ban rather than 28 days.
Ashley Grimes (Man Utd): 4 matches and a fine of £750 for allegedly pushing referee Dennis Hedges, 1982. Grimes was apparently trying to attract the ref’s attention to a penalty claim in a match against West Ham when Mr Hedges turned round at the wrong moment and was struck in the head. Grimes was sent off, which gave a 2-match ban, and the FA added two more after a hearing. Many players have had 4-match bans, but I include this one for comparison with present-day fines, as the £750 penalty was a new record, the previous record being the £500 imposed on both Neil McNab (Bolton at the time, I think) and Vince Hillaire (Crystal Palace) two years earlier, both also for alleged ref-bashing. As it turned out Grimes missed six matches before managing to force his way back into the United team. (I thank @unitedstats99 for this info and also pointing me to info on Enoch West.)
Andros Townsend (Spurs): 4 months and £18,000 fine for gambling offences – betting on football, but not matches he was involved in – June 2013. However, 3 months was suspended to July 2016 and the other month was backdated to the end of the season, 23 May, meaning he actually missed no games! He was forced to withdraw from the England U21 squad for the European Championships and have treatment for his gambling problem.
I have stuck to professional or at least semi-professional football with this list. I’m sure there are still some long suspensions from the earlier days of football that I haven’t got listed here. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter at: @P_h_i_1
(Last updated: 14 February 2021)