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Thursday, November 11, 2010
First XI: Hardmen

Robin Hackett

With Joey Barton having defended Andy Carroll this week by saying England are too reliant on 'goody two-shoes' players, ESPNsoccernet selects a list of some of the game's legendary hardmen.

Frank Barson (1911-35)

Famed from the onset of his career for his hard tackling, Barson became a target for opposing fans early on. Chants of "dirty Barson!" would be heard at the start of matches and, during his time with first club Barnsley, he needed a police escort to escape supporters furious at his heavy-handed approach. After a spell at Aston Villa, he joined Manchester United in 1922. Made captain of the side, Barson had a special word of encouragement for his team-mates when they fell behind: "Now then, let's have a Barnsley rally!" A Barnsley rally, it appears, involved "lusty kicking", as the Guardian put it at the time. He was released on a free transfer and signed for Watford ahead of the 1928-29 campaign, but he was banned for the bulk of the season after apparently kicking out at an opponent. An impressive 15,000 members of the Watford Supporters' Club signed a petition to get the ban overturned, but the FA said: "The signatories to the petition cannot know the facts of the case." The FA is said to have burned the petition and the ban remained.

Ricardo Zamora (1916-38)

A true great of the game, Ricardo Zamora was a hardman and a controversial figure. He could tolerate great brutality from opposing players: he played with a broken sternum in a 1929 game against England, while the kicking he received during the 1934 World Cup game against Italy is legendary. He could also dish it out: in the 1920 Olympics, he was sent off for punching an Italian opponent.

William 'Dixie' Dean (1923-39)

One of the greatest goal-scorers the game has seen, Dean was never booked or sent off in his career but there is little doubt about his hardman status. He lost a testicle in a reserve game at the age of 17 after an horrific challenge from an Altrincham player he believed to be Davy Parks. In his mid-30s, he met Parks in a pub in Liverpool. "He sent me a pint across the bar," Dean said. "I couldn't quite place the face for a time, but then I did, and I thumped him ... they took him to hospital." It later emerged Parks had not been his assailant. The testicle incident was trifling compared to his motorcycle accident in 1926. "A chap driving a car cut in and then dropped back and then suddenly cut in again coming towards me," he said in Dixie Uncut. "I had the choice of either going into the car or going down the mountain so I went right through the windscreen of the car. I fractured my skull, broke a cheekbone and fractured my jaw in two places." He was not expected to live, let alone play again. He made a shock return to the reserves six months later, though, but was warned he would have to be substituted if he felt any pain on heading the ball. "I remember it was a very heavy day so naturally we were all worried about what was going to happen," he said. "I went up to head it. The ball flew into the net. I shook my head and I could see (coach) Harry Cooke on the line thinking something was wrong as I did, so they started to call me off, but I shouted that there was nothing wrong. In those days, you got a 1 bonus for winning a reserve game and I was a goal up towards 1, so I stayed on." In a game against Tottenham in 1938, Dean had not expected to play and had enjoyed a few pints ahead of the game. When a Spurs fan racially abused him as he left the field - "We'll get you, you black bastard," he shouted - an intoxicated Dean went over to the stand and punched him. A policeman in attendance shook Dean by the hand.

Willie Woodburn (1938-55)

The most recent player to receive a life ban in Britain, Rangers centre-half Woodburn was not quite the stereotypical bruiser he is sometimes imagined to have been, but he had a quick temper. "Oh, he was a hard player and he had a short fuse and people played on that, but there was so many of those players about in our day," Tom Finney once said. Woodburn did not receive his first dismissal until the age of 29 but, in 1948, he received a 14-day ban after a 'violent exchange' with Motherwell's Dave Mathie. In 1953, he took a swing at Clyde's Billy McPhail and received a 21-day ban. He was then sent off for retaliation in a match against Stirling Albion later that year for a headbutt, and was given a six-week ban and a severe warning. The next time Rangers met them, 19-year-old Stirling striker Alex Paterson - who had idolised Woodburn as a boy - severely provoked the defender and drew another headbutt. The SFA banned Woodburn sine die, with appeals not succeeding until it was too late to return. "This is a shameful way to go out of football," Woodburn said.

Sydney 'Skinner' Normanton (1947-55)

A hero among Barnsley fans in the post-war era, Normanton rose to prominence in later years due to his appearances in articles by Michael Parkinson, a lifelong Tykes fan. Parkinson said he was "destructive in the tackle, as unrelenting as a heat-seeking missile in pursuit of the enemy", and recalled that "mothers would tell their children to stop mucking about or they would send for Skinner".

Willie Johnston (1964-85)

Always a controversial player, by the end of his career, Scotland international Johnston had been sent off 21 times. Unexpectedly for a player on this list, Johnston was a skilful winger, and he felt he had some justification for his disciplinary record: "I would get my retaliation in first. People were kicking lumps out of us." He was given a 63-day ban for punching a Partick Thistle defender in 1970 and - after famously being found guilty of taking a banned stimulant at the 1978 World Cup - he stamped on Aberdeen player John McMaster's head while playing for Rangers in 1980. "I'm not proud of that," he said in The Guardian. "It's no excuse but I thought he was Willie Miller. Miller was a great player but he was a hard man and deserved some of his own treatment back. Unfortunately I got the wrong player."

Estudiantes squad (1960s)

It would be an injustice to select just one player from the three-time Copa Libertadores-winning Estudiantes squad of the 1960s. After Celtic's Intercontinental Cup game against Racing Club in Argentina had ended in six red cards, a Manchester United director said ahead of his side's first-leg meeting with Estudiantes in the competition in 1968: "We don't want a war as there was last year in Argentina. We want to play football." The Estudiantes manager, Osvaldo Zubeldia, refused to rule out physical play but said "it is not national war". After the game, a 1-0 victory for the Argentineans, United boss Matt Busby seemed to feel the experience, waist-high tackles and all, had been closer to war than they might have hoped: "If you held the ball, you were in danger of your life." Carlos Pachame stuck his studs into Bobby Charlton's shin and, as team-mate Paddy Crerard put it, "the blood was spurting through Bobby's sock like a fountain". Carlos Bilardo also opened Nobby Stiles' eyebrow with a headbutt. Busby added later: "The Argentineans should be banned from all competitive football. FIFA should really step in." Estudiantes were not banned, although there was much fallout from the games against United, and in the 1969 Intercontinental Cup, they took on AC Milan. This time around, severe sanctions were imposed after the second leg in Argentina, with the country's President, Juan Carlos Ongania, demanding action over the "shameful conduct" of the players. The Argentine Football Association issued a life ban to goalkeeper Alberto Poletti, who punched Gianni Rivera, kicked Nestor Combin in the face as he was lying on the ground and brawled with fans. Two other players were sent off in the game: Ramon Aguirre Suarez was hit with a 30-game ban at local level and a five-year international ban, while Eduardo Manero was suspended for 30 local games and given a three-year international ban. The trio were arrested and charged with assault, each spending time in prison for their actions during the game.

Billy Whitehurst (1977-95)

At 6ft 1in and weighing in at 14 stone, former bricklayer Whitehurst was considered English football's quintessential hardman during the '80s. Genuinely feared by opposing defenders, he also intimidated his own team-mates. His Newcastle team-mate Paul Gascoigne told the Evening Chronicle in 1994 that, after he had nutmegged Whitehurst twice in training, "he belted me". Gazza said in a recent interview that, even without the nutmegs, Whitehurst "used to kick us to bits in training", and he was fond of using his elbows on matchdays. More significant, though, are the reports of his off-field activities. As well as brushes with the law, it's said he supplemented his income during his time at Oxford by engaging in bareknuckle boxing bouts with local gypsies. The Guardian quotes a typical Whitehurst anecdote: "I'd had an argument with this bloke who'd come at me with a big spanner. I'd got it off him and done him over the head and then his kneecap and f**ked off."

Mark Dennis (1978-1990)

Booked 64 times and sent off 12 in the course of his career, the notion that Dennis would be expelled from the players' union was mooted in 1986. The union considered the matter again the following year after his 11th red card, when Dennis elbowed Ossie Ardiles in the face. He received an eight-game ban and QPR chairman David Bulstrode had written a letter to the FA vowing to terminate his contract if he saw any more blots on his record. After that affair, while recovering from knife wounds received in a scuffle outside a nightclub, Dennis headed off on holiday without permission from QPR. He was fined for his actions. In 1988, after Bulstrode had died, Dennis was sent off for spitting at an opponent during a reserve game against Fulham. He denied the charge, and escaped with a three-match ban and a 1,000 fine after he sent a former Chief Superintendent and two club directors to fight his case at the disciplinary hearing. "We did put a lot of work into the case," new chairman Richard Thompson said. He was sold to Crystal Palace the following year.

James 'Chic' Charnley (1981-2003)

A Glaswegian who spent the majority of his career in Scotland, Charnley was dismissed 17 times during his career. At the age of 31, Charnley was involved in a now-legendary incident with some locals who berated him while he was training in a Glasgow park. "They came out with, 'You're f**king useless, Charnley', so I basically told them to come back in an hour after training and we would have a wee discussion," he said in The Scottish Sun. "I didn't think I'd see them again but then the two characters came up the hill and said they were ready for their discussion. When I turned round, one of them had a Samurai sword and the other one had a dagger. They also had a dog with them. "Myself, Gordon Rae and Gerry Collins confronted them - and the dog was the first one to scarper. As I raced towards the moron with the sword, I picked up a traffic cone while Gerry and Gordon made a beeline for the guy with the knife. "The bloke with the sword saw what was happening to his pal and started running away after the dog. I chased after him with the traffic cone but he stopped abruptly and swung the sabre at me. "I instinctively put my hand out and felt the blade slash through my palm. I was raging and dropped the cone. I whacked him with a right hander and he went down in a heap. Funnily enough, we never saw those guys at training ever again." Charnley also once took it upon himself to go through a group of supporters at a ground, one by one, after they had abused him. "Did you call me a fat bastard?" he asked them. "I actually don't think I would have fitted in with today's football," he said last year.

Duncan Ferguson (1990-2006)

Renowned for his aggressive streak, Everton legend Duncan Ferguson picked up nine red cards in career. He was not carded when he headbutted Raith Rovers player John McStay in 1994 while playing for Rangers as the referee missed the incident, but did he spend 44 days in prison for assault. That was one of four assault convictions - the other three were, at least, off the pitch - and he was also investigated on assault allegations in 2003, when he confronted a burglar at his home in Merseyside. A court heard Ferguson shattered his jaw and broke three of his teeth, with the offender pleading: "Let me go - I'm sorry for stealing your stuff." The man spent two days in hospital, but the court decided Ferguson had used reasonable force. Two years earlier, he had also escaped without charge in a similar incident. Two men broke into his home, with one of the duo having to spend three days in hospital as a result.


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