Tottenham were allowed to ‘self-destruct’ against Chelsea in Battle of the Bridge as referee Mark Clattenburg admitted to ignoring clear red cards and said ‘it was pure theatre’


Tottenham host Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday in one of the top flight’s most fiery derbies.

Fans of both teams may claim they have bigger adversaries elsewhere in the shape of Arsenal or others, but there’s rarely a clash in the top flight that sees so much bad blood – and the 2016 ‘Battle of the Bridge’ still stands out.

Stamford Bridge: Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham - 2, May 2016

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Just one of the many fights that occurred back on that crazy night

There were 13 yellow cards in total but no reds

Getty Images – Getty

There were 13 yellow cards in total but no reds

It was here when the rivalry boiled over, with Spurs in search of a first Premier League title and facing Chelsea to keep their trophy aspirations alive, but things didn’t exactly go to plan.

Trailing league leaders Leicester by seven points with three games to go, anything less than a win for Spurs would see the Foxes clinch the title, and it should have been easy.

Jose Mourinho had been sacked as Chelsea boss for the second time, with the club lingering in mid-table under Guus Hiddink and on course for their worst league finish since 1996.

There was nothing left for Chelsea to play for, but that’s the sort of logic that only applies to a normal match.

Guus Hiddink was back at the Bridge for a second caretaker spell

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Guus Hiddink was back at the Bridge for a second caretaker spell

Ahead of the game, the scale of what was to come had already been confirmed, with Chelsea’s foreign players showing the rivalry was far more universal than just a local derby.

“The fans, the club, the players, we don’t want Tottenham to win the Premier League,” said Eden Hazard.

“Hopefully not, I don’t want Spurs to win it,” Cesc Fabregas confirmed.

Former Arsenal midfielder Fabregas may have been the first trigger, kicking out at Mousa Dembele with just minutes gone before the Belgian raised his hands at John Obi Mikel.

12. John Obi Mikel (centre midfield)

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It didn’t take long for Mikel and Dembele to fall out

Niggling tackles then began popping up all over the place, with Kyle Walker picking up the game’s first booking for a pointless kick at Pedro, but not everyone was so distracted.

Harry Kane and Heung-min Son capitalised on the ongoing drama, keeping their cool to give Spurs a 2-0 half time lead, while everyone else seemed more preoccupied with kicking each other.

Diego Costa was the human embodiment of what would soon unfold when he began rutting with Jan Vertonghen, and then the first real spark came.

Clearly not content with being two goals to the good and having already hacked down Chelsea’s Willian, Danny Rose decided he wanted another bite at the Brazilian, who this time reacted.

Chelsea’s ill-tempered game with Tottenham in 2016 is known as ‘The Battle of the Bridge’

Getty Images – Getty

Chelsea’s ill-tempered game with Tottenham in 2016 is known as ‘The Battle of the Bridge’

Mauricio Pochettino leaped onto the pitch to break the pair up, setting off the game’s first melee.

An untethered Demeble somehow avoided red for an eye-gauge on Costa, but only Willan and Rose picked up yellow cards to end the half, giving Pochettino 15 minutes to calm everyone down.

Erik Lamela must have heard something else in the dressing room from his fellow Argentine though, leaping in high on Fabregas’ ankles before stepping on his hand while the Spaniard recovered.

That was enough for Spurs to fully lose the plot, conceding first from Gary Cahill before a stunning postage stamp Hazard curler handed Leicester the title.

Premier League derby games

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Eric Dier unfathomably avoided a red card on the night

This tackle on Fabregas was deemed unworthy of a second yellow

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This tackle on Fabregas was deemed unworthy of a second yellow

Eric Dier, already on a booking, looked intent on ending Fabregas’ Euro 2016 campaign with a horrendous lunge that somehow went unpunished, and a previously calm Kane even joined in on the action once he realised all was lost.

Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle for full time, but he might as well have been ringing the bell for round two, as another brawl broke out on the touchline, with master agitator Costa again the centrepiece. 

Spurs took the league record for most yellow cards given to a single team in one match with nine, resulting in FA punishment, but it was mystifying how there hadn’t been at least one red, until a year later.

Spurs players were in shock as they forfeited the league title

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Spurs players were in shock as they forfeited the league title

Clattenburg departed England for a job as Head of Refereeing in Saudi Arabia, and later opened up in startling fashion over what happened during ‘The Battle of the Bridge’.

“I allowed [Spurs] to self-destruct so all the media, all the people in the world went, ‘Tottenham lost the title’,” Clattenburg said in 2017.

“If I sent three players off from Tottenham, what are the headlines? ‘Clattenburg cost Tottenham the title’. It was pure theatre that Tottenham self-destructed against Chelsea and Leicester won the title.

Mark Clattenburg: ‘My gameplan was to let Tottenham self-destruct and lose Premier League title in 2016’

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Clattenburg waited until he was on a different continent before making some startling admissions

“I helped the game. I certainly benefited the game by my style of refereeing.

“Some referees would have played by the book. Tottenham would have been down to seven or eight players and probably lost and they would’ve been looking for an excuse.

“But I didn’t give them an excuse, because my gameplan was: Let them lose the title.”

Clattenburg’s tactics arguably risked serious injury ahead of Euro 2016 the following month, but they undoubtedly secured one of the league’s cult games, for all the wrong reasons.

Meeting again this weekend, only six players remain from that fateful night in West London.

But as history shows, this rivalry is about way more than personnel, and another battle could ignite on Sunday as the fiercest Premier League season in years takes another twist.

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