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'Everyone was like... wow!' - Ex-Arsenal star recalls moment Fabregas hit Fergie with pizza

12:00 EAT 23/03/2020
Manchester United Arsenal 2004 'Pizzagate'
Justin Hoyte talks to Goal about the infamous 'Battle of the Buffet', which followed the Gunners' controversial defeat at Manchester United in 2004

It is an incident that has gone down in folklore.

Just moments after Arsenal’s record-setting 49-game unbeaten run in the Premier League had come to an end - in such controversial circumstances at Manchester United in 2004 - both sets of players were making their way back to the Old Trafford changing rooms.

With a sense of injustice raging among the visitors after a series of decisions had gone against them, frustrations boiled over in the tunnel, with players going at it hammer and tongs and Arsene Wenger even getting involved in an argument with Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Sir Alex Ferguson then joined the melee and seconds later, United’s legendary former manager was smacked in the face by a flying pizza. The ‘Battle of the Buffet’ had been born.

Rumours started to circulate straight after the game as to what had happened - fuelled by Ferguson having to do his post-match media interviews in a tracksuit rather than a pizza-splattered suit.

What had gone on soon became common knowledge, although the identity of the player who had actually lobbed the pizza remained hidden.

Some pointed the finger at Ashley Cole, but Arsenal’s Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas - who was just 17 at the time - was always the prime suspect.

“They say it was Fabregas who threw the pizza at me but, to this day, I have no idea who the culprit was,” Ferguson wrote in 2013.

Four years later Fabregas finally held his hands up, ending one of football’s great mysteries once and for all - spilling the beans on the TV game show A League of Their Own.

And now former Arsenal defender Justin Hoyte has spoken about what it was like to be in that Old Trafford changing room and witness one of football’s strangest flash points first hand.

“It kicked off,” Hoyte - who is now playing his football with Miami Beach Club de Futbol in the United States - told Goal. “We always had the rivalry with United, those games were always so intense.

“I saw the pizza, but I didn’t see it hit him [Ferguson]. I just remember looking at everyone’s reactions after it happened because no-one could believe it.

“Everyone was just like, ‘wow someone has just thrown a pizza’.

“Obviously no-one expected that to happen because no-one has thrown pizza before at anyone.

“But all the emotions were just coming out. Everyone was going back and forwards with each other and then security was in there.”

Hoyte, who wasn’t involved in the matchday squad that afternoon but had travelled up to Manchester with the team, added: “Everyone blamed Ashley Cole at the time, but it wasn’t even him.

“We all knew [it was Fabregas] but no-one said anything really because there wasn’t much to say.

“It was just more that everyone was disappointed about losing rather than the pizza being thrown.

“We were just disappointed we’d lost, but everyone was laughing about it afterwards.”

Having finally admitted to being the culprit in 2017, Fabregas went into greater detail about the incident while speaking to beIN Sports in 2019.

“Because I didn’t play I was one of the first players to go into the tunnel and I just saw a pizza because I was hungry,” he said.

“I started hearing shouts and I went out and saw Rio Ferdinand, all the big boys, Thierry, and Sol Campbell getting into a fight.

“I didn’t know what to do as I was so small and skinny so I just did it [threw it] because there was nothing I could do because the tunnel was full of big guys having an argument.

“I found out later it touched Mr Ferguson and I apologised already publicly and I’ll do it again. It wasn’t intentional, it was a moment that just happens.”