Sunday, March 8, 2009

Football's Hard Men: A Who's Who of the Hardest Men in Soccer

The beautiful game...Over the years football has had its fair share of memorable characters. Great players, great managers, legends...One can remember moments that seem to stick in the recesses of the mind.

Diego Maradona dribbling from the half way line against England. Marco Tardelli wheeling away with tears in his eyes after he scored in the World Cup final. Pele and Moore swapping jerseys. There are many moments in the sport we love.

But one thing that is as remembered as a great goal is a great tackle, and sometimes a bad tackle.

Here is a celebration of some of the hardest, dirtiest, and toughest players ever to play the game.

First up is Terry Butcher as pictured above...

Nobby Stiles (Manchester United and England)

Little Nobby was one of the greatest man markers ever to play in England. A consummate professional who was as loved by his own team as he was feared by opponents.

The ultimate team player who was utilised to his full ability by both Alf Ramsay and Matt Busby. It's fair to say that neither of their great teams would have operated without the hardest Norbert in the world.

Joe Jordan (Leeds United and Scotland) 

One of the most feared strikers in his day. The toothless Joe Jordan struck fear into the hearts of defenders all over the world. In a career that also took in Manchester United and AC Milan, this hard man had the skills to back up his ferocious reputation.

He is one of only two Scottish players to have scored in three World Cups, Kenny Dalglish being the other.

Bert Trautmann (Manchester City and Germany)

The German war hero was captured by British forces during the war and was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Lancashire. When the war ended, he decided to stay in England and it was not long before Manchester City took notice of the German's impressive goalkeeping skills.

Rated as one of the best 'keepers ever to play in Britain, Trautmann is probably most famous for playing on with a broken neck in the 1956 FA Cup final.

The above photo shows his team mates helping him to the famous Wembley steps where he collected his winners medal, in a man of the match performance.

Ron "Chopper" Harris (Chelsea and England)

For almost 20 years Ron Harris made the Chelsea back line one of the most feared in English football. This tough tackling captain was the youngest ever captain to lead his team out in an FA Cup Final in 1967 at 22 years of age.

Famous for his scything late tackles, Ron led Chelsea into the Battle of Wembley in 1970, where they faced an uncompromising Leeds United.

Still loved at Chelsea for his exploits the Chopper also holds the record for the most amount of matches at the club, an impressive 655 games. Not bad for someone who played through the '60s and '70s.

Tommy Smith (Liverpool)

The player known as "Anfield Iron" was so hard that Bill Shankly once said, "Tommy Smith wasn't born; he was quarried."

One of the prime reasons for Liverpool's dominance in the '70s was Tommy Smith. In an era where fire was fought with fire Smith epitomises the image of a hard man. He was as tough as they came.

Norman "Bite Yer Legs" Hunter (Leeds United and England)

Norman "Bite Yer Legs" Hunter was of the "Thou shalt not past" school of football. Don Revie built a team in the early '70's that still give players nightmares today.

Hunter wasn't even the toughest or dirtiest player at Leeds during this period, so it really tells you something if that was his nickname.

Antonio Rattin (Boca Juniors and Argentina)

The Argentinian captain is most famous on this side of the water for being sent off for his constant interfering with the referee during their war of attrition with England in the 1966 World Cup.

A player once described as being "as violent with his tongue as he is with his boots," Rattin is a tough tackling South American with the flair to compliment his studs.

H is recognised as having started the long running feud between England and Argentina for refusing to leave the pitch in '66. Eventually two Police men had to lead him off...

Graeme Souness (Liverpool and Scotland)
The greatest British midfielder of his generation had everything. He could pass; he could shoot; he could read the game; and he could tackle...oh how he could tackle.

Occasionally something would snap inside Souness and the player who was orchestrating the game beautifully would see red and become a butcher.

Famed for some of the most x-rated tackles of the '80s, Souness had a propensity for violence that matched his skill for dictating matches. Cross him at your peril.

Even as a manager he was famed for over the top challenges on his own players if he thought they were getting too big for their boots. Not to be messed with...

Claudio Gentile (Juventus and Italy)

Ever wonder how Brazil didn't win the World Cup in Spain in 1982? Ever wonder how a team that featured players like Zico, Falcao, Eder, Socrates, and Junior never made it to the final?

Think Claudio Gentile.

The toughest player ever to come out of Libya. The hard tackling master of man-to-man marking looked after Zico in '82. And I mean looked after him. Zico still bears the scars of his meeting the man who personifies Cattanaccio like no other.

For a player who was famed for being ruthless on the pitch, Gentile was never sent off during his 17-year career for club and country.

Paolo Montero (Juventus and Uruguay) 

During the '90s when Serie A was at the height of its zenith, it attracted the best players in the world. It also attracted some of the most cynical players ever to set foot on a pitch.

Paolo Montero is one such player. The most feared defender on the planet during his 13-year reign in Italy, the Uruguayan was described by teammates and opponents as being "fearsome, immovable, and essential."
To this day he holds the record for the most amount of red cards ever to be picked up by one player, an incredible 15 times.

His record even inspired Juve fans to declare "Montero, picchia per noi"

Kenny Burns (Nottingham Forest and Scotland)

Everyone knows that Nottingham Forest pulled off the impossible under Brian Clough, winning the European Cup in 1979 and 1980.

Few know that it was on the back of the meanest defence of its day, both in terms of conceding goals and fouls.

Clough needed someone to add a bit of bite to his skillful side and he went out and bought Burns from Birmingham, and then converted the centre forward into a centre half.

This stroke of genius allowed certain aspects of Burns character to come to the fore, most notably his ferocious tackling. Just ask Kevin Keegan, in the European Cup Final against Hamburg, Burns kicked the European footballer of the Year up and down the pitch for almost 90 minutes.

Prompting the phrase that whenever Forest were playing the local hospital needed a "Burns Unit."

Peter Storey (Arsenal and England)

Storey spent the great majority of his career at Arsenal. Signing for the Gunners in 1962, he spent an incredible 15 years in North London. During that time he terrorised teams with some of the most despicable challenges ever seen in Britain.

The tough tackling midfielder was as destructive a force as he was a creative one. And it comes as no surprise to hear him being mentioned as one of the most feared players of the '70s.

Dave MacKay (Tottenham Hotspur and Scotland)

Described by Brian Clough as being Tottenham's greatest ever player MacKay had it all. He was one of the toughest combatants of the 60's and 70's in England.

Famed for his slide tackle, MacKay put many a player into the stands. He came back from two career ending injuries. His first game back after his second spell on the sidelines was against the evil empire of Leeds United.
As you can see in the photo, MacKay did not take too kindly to fellow hardman Billy Bremner lashing out at the leg that had kept him out for almoat a year.

George Best also described him as being the toughest player he ever faced, one of the few players who had everything.

Billy Bremner (Leeds United and Scotland)

If there is any player that symbolises football in England in the '70s it is Billy Bremner.

5'6" of pure muscle, scheming, and evil in one 10-stone body. Bremner possessed an incredible engine. He had endless stamina and when he had the ball, he played the game with beautiful simplicity.

When he did not have the ball he was a demon incarnate. Famed for his late tackles, Billy was the captain of the most feared team ever assembled in football.

Don Revie needed to get Leeds out of Division Two and he hit upon a formula that destructed as much as it worked.

Leeds of the time were one of the most skillful passing teams ever seen in England, unfortunately they also had an ugly side to their game. Gain possession and they would do anything to get it back, and I mean anything.

John Giles (Leeds United and Ireland)

One of the most complete footballers ever to play his trade in England. Giles was a big part of the Manchester United dynasty under Matt Busby before he handed in a transfer request and took a drop in the divisions to find himself at Leeds United in Division Two.

He was probably the key signing and provided the foundations upon which Don Revie built his team. He was a player of incomparable passing ability and had a great engine. He could shoot, head, and tackle.

Giles was fearsome in the tackle and was well renowned for his ability to "police" the game and could well look after himself.

Many tried to take the Leeds and Ireland midfielder out...they all failed...

Roy Keane (Manchester United and Ireland)

Where do you start?

Keane was the most consistent player of the Premiership era. A player with an incredible engine, he covered every inch of the pitch like a guard dog.

His passing ability is often overlooked. Keane had an impressive stat of being the best passer of a ball in the game during his tenure at United.

His 12 years at Old Trafford were an incredible period for the club and Alex Ferguson utilised Keane to his fullest ability and made United one of the most complete midfields ever seen in World Football. They complemented each other perfectly: Keane, Scholes, Giggs, and Beckham.

An incredible competitor, Keane left his marks on many many players as Alf Inge Haaland and Marc Overmars can confirm. He also won many a battle before a ball was even kicked, as Patrick Viera can also confirm.

Marco Tardelli (Juventus and Italy) 

Everyone remembers his winning goal against Germany in 1982; Tardelli's celebration has gone down as one of the focal moments of the sport.

But few remember what Tardelli was actually like as a player.

In a team that featured Claudio Gentile, Tardelli was the enforcer in midfield. He was a fantastic player who also had an evil side to side. His ruthless tackling has left many a player with a reminder.

Willie Woodburn (Rangers and Scotland)

Willie Woodburn was the last player to receive a life ban by the Scottish FA. He was a Rangers stalwart between 1938 and 1955.

He played during a period that was famous for its violence on the pitch and Woodburn was sent off an incredible five times in five seasons. Baring in mind that it had to be a serious assault to get sent off in those days, Woodburn's last assault was a headbutt and repeated punches on a player who had tackled him...

Andoni Goikoetxea (Atletic Bilbao and Spain)

The Butcher of Bilbao, is famous for his ferocious tackles but none more so that his career ending tackle on Diego Maradona in 1983. Bilbao fans still celebrate this day as if they won a trophy. (24/09/1983)

Sliding in from behind the Butcher made absolutely no attempt whatsoever to play the ball and clattered Maradona's ankle, leaving the mercurial Argentinian to be stretchered off.

The Butcher to this day has the boot that tackled Maradona on his mantel piece at home...

Stuart Pearce (Nottingham Forest and England)

Psycho was probably the last great "hard" English player. A consummate defender, Pearce was without doubt the best in his position at the time.

He is as famous for his lung bursting runs, and free kicks as he is for his tough tackling. Never one to be called "dirty" Pearce personified toughness in the English game.

twitter / WillieGannon