Friday, November 28, 2008

'Footy's Top Ten' Hardest Men - Part Two!

Part One of my guide to 'Footy's Top Ten Hardest Men' featured Duncan Ferguson, Claudio Gentile, Billy Whitehurst & Dave Mackay.

Now in Part Two, I shall nominate three more candidates who in my opinion are suitably worthy of inclusion in this inventory.

Next up, Frank Barson (Barnsley, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Watford). Famed for his brutality even in the 1920's, when footballers were less squeamish about physical contact than they are today, Barson was perhaps the first great hard man & was probably the most controversial footballer of his day.

An imperious specimen of masculinity notorious for his own inventive take on the physical side of football, he certainly looked the part: Barrel-chested, thighs like tree trunks, fists permanently half-clenched, a broken, twisted nose and his hair tightly greased back.

Barson could play though - he once scored a header from 30 yards for Manchester United against his former club Aston Villa, but inevitably he was remembered for an unprecedented degree of disciplinary trouble.

Once banned for seven months for a sickening challenge in a match against Fulham, Barson was frequently escorted out of grounds by the police to protect him from mobs of angry opposition fans.
After one especially zesty display for Barnsley, he had to be smuggled out of Goodison Park to avoid a group of home fans who wanted to discuss with him his on-field behaviour!

Some stories suggest he brought a gun into the manager's office to accelerate discussions over a pay rise, & he unashamedly spoke of his friendship with the Fowler brothers, who were later hanged for murder.

He marked his last professional appearance at the age of 39, by being sent-off against Accrington Stanley on Boxing Day 1930.

Barson won his first and only international cap for for England against Wales. England lost 2-1 and Barson was never recalled to the side. His reputation for dirty play probably was an important factor in this decision.

Barson died in September 1968 aged 77.

In Norman Hunter, (Leeds, Bristol City & Barnsley) the Leeds United side of the early 1970's probably possessed the dirtiest player of that era.

No mean feat in one of the most cynical sides in English football history, that also contained the likes of Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles, Jack Charlton & Allan Clarke.

Initially an inside forward, Hunter was moulded by Leeds into a central defender who made the No.6 shirt his own in 14 years with the club he joined at the age of 15.

His fellow professionals made him their Player of the Year in 1974 - the award's inaugural presentation.

It was against Derby, at the old Baseball Ground in the 1975-76 season, that Hunter secured his place in football's annals of infamy, with an epic punch-up with Francis Lee that resulted in both players being sent off.
Lee infuriated Hunter by winning a penalty via his well honed trick of taking a dive. When Hunter put a right hook on Lee he couldn't have been prepared for the City man's response, a whirring, blurring, wind milling assault that floored Hunter.

In 1973 Leeds lost to AC Milan in the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. This match is one of a series of matches involving Italian Clubs that are regarded as being 'fixed', by Dezso Solti, a Hungarian refugee, who, according to the testimony of a number of officials, was responsible for bribing referees. Hunter was sent-off in this match for retaliation.

In his years of playing, Hunter acquired a reputation as a dirty player, apparently happy to use methods not within the laws of the game to curtail the effect of opposition strikers. As such, he was often referred to by supporters, journalists and sports commentators as Norman 'Bites Yer Legs' Hunter, a nickname which stuck with him throughout the duration of his career.

Leeds' trainer Les Cocker was once told by Hunter that he had gone home with a broken leg. 'Whose leg is it?' Les asked him.

Andoni Goikoetxea (Athletic Madrid & Athletic Bilbao). 'The Butcher of Bilbao' was plainly at least one prawn short of a paella, and delighted in reducing star names to flotsam & jetsam.

Opposing forwards lived in fear of receiving the ball with their back to goal.

Pride of place in the living room of El Sod (right) is a glass case, containing one football boot. The boot he had used to break Diego Maradona's left ankle & destroy his ankle ligaments with in 1983.
That 'psycho tackle' put the Argentine star out of football for a substantial length of time. 'Crack! It was like the chop of an axe from behind,' Maradona recalled. 'My leg went numb, I knew everything was ruined.'

Goikoetxea was given a 16-match ban for the incident.
When Maradona recovered he sparked a fight between the teams in retribution.

Following his ban, Goikoetxea then crocked another Barcelona ace, the German Bernd Schuster, leaving him with a nasty knee injury.

Goikoetxea played 39 times for Spain, making his debut against Holland in February 1983. He represented Spain at both the 1984 European Football Championships & the 1986 FIFA World Cup.

Part Three of 'Footy's Top Ten Hardest Men' will follow soon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'Footy's Top Ten' Hardest Men - Part One!

In these days of namby-pamby, overpaid professionals it's sometimes good to take a look back at when men were men on the football pitch!
Those were the days when every team had its hard man.

It is fair to say that the modern game has taken away the stereotypical hard men, largely down to the camera scrutiny the players now experience on a pitch. You no longer witness, the subtle kicks, pinches or whacks that was part and parcel of the game then. These were the make-up of the real hard men who went about their business quietly and effectively.

My recollections are conjured up using a combination of books & news articles I have read over the years, archived television footage, as well of course as witnessing some of the players in question at first hand, with my very own eyes as a paying spectator.

My first introduction to a genuine tough man was Billy Whitehurst (Sheffield Utd, Hull City, Newcatle & Oxford Utd), a strong man with both a big physique and a reputation to match. I remember in one match Billy kicking out the front teeth of the then Coventry City skipper, Brian Kilcline, a big tough opponent in his own right.

Nobody would deny that he was seriously hard. He once apparently offered out the entire Crystal Palace side in the players' lounge at Hull. When he was at Oxford, he was rumoured to be supplementing his weekly pay, and winding down by means of bare-knuckle fighting with the local gypsies. Neil Ruddock said that, when Billy whispered sweet promises in his ear mid-match, 'I used to start shaking.'

Vinnie Jones, a colleague at Sheffield United, recalls in his autobiography how Billy (right) nipped an escalating rumble with a phalanx of Sheffield Wednesday fans in the bud by knocking out stone cold the opposition ringleader with 'one of the best right-handers I have ever seen - inside or outside a ring'. During that spell at Sheffield United, he was sent out to roam the green with the explicit instructions from his manager, Dave Bassett: 'Go and cause some bollocks, Billy.' He so rarely disappointed.

Italian's have always had a reputation for being 'hot-headed' & 'synical' & in Claudio Gentile (Juventus, Fiorentina & Piacenza) you had the ultimate symbol of Italian cynicism. There was nothing remotely 'gentile' about Claudio!
He was one of the Italian defenders to make up an infamous 'defensive trio' alongside Bergomi & Tardelli in Spain in 1982, where together they led Italy to World Cup glory.

Gentile came to international acclaim in the 2nd phase match against the title-holders Argentina, when he man-marked Diego Maradona out of the game by kicking & flooring him constantly throughout the game. In response to his performance against Maradona, Gentile famously quipped, 'Football is not for ballerinas!'

One of Gentile's most favored tactics was to stand behind the striker who had the ball while kicking between his opponent's legs to play the ball, leaving the opposing player's legs beaten and bruised - a tactic adopted by top-flight defenders ever since. Gentile was also a master of the hard tackle to get the ball, not the player, and was rewarded for his skill by a career that lacked even a single sending-off.

In Dave Mackay you had the hardest footballer in an era when the game really could be termed a man's game. Mackay came back from a twice-broken left leg to dominate in midfield for Tottenham during the 60's before a late and glorious swansong at Derby.

Mackay could show anger, but never, pain. Not because, he thought it showed weakness to the opposition, but because the part of his brain that registered pain or fear had apparently stopped working. After he suffered a grotesque leg-break at Old Trafford in 1963, which would keep him out for almost two years, he barely grimaced, and as he was stretchered off he sat up leaning on his elbow, looking almost bored. Truly, types come no stronger, or silent.

Mackay was definitely one of the good guys: a genuinely outstanding left-half and a truly honorable man, who used his clout to put the hurt on opponents but never ever to seriously injure them.
Nonetheless he was intimidating enough to send the opposition, psychologically, for an early bath.

Engaging with him aggressively was not to be advised.
Billy Bremner discovered this when he kicked Mackay's bad leg. The picture of Mackay, teeth gritted so hard that it seems like they're about to splinter everywhere, grabbing a terrified Bremner by the shirt is one of football's most iconic hard-man photos (right).

Dave Mackay was the indestructible hero.

Where to start with Duncan Ferguson,(Dundee Utd, Rangers, Everton - twice & Newcastle). His career was often punctuated by controversy both on and off the pitch, and by injury. The ex-con has been branded everything from hard man to hooligan, but to Everton fans, he was a hero.

'Big Dunc' was brandished the yellow card a total of 37 times in his 269 Premier League games & shares the dubious record for the most Premier League red cards, collecting a whopping eight along with Patrick Vieira. He was once sent off for punching Paul Scharner in the stomach and a subsequent fracas with Pascal Chimbonda resulted in a total match ban of seven games.

He was capped for Scotland seven times, but made himself unavailable for selection by his national team due to a dispute with the Scottish Football Association.
He has scored the most goals of any Scottish player in the FA Premier League.

Ferguson also frequently found himself in trouble with the law, leading to four convictions for assault, two arising from taxi–rank scuffles. However, his most memorable on–field confrontation was with Raith Rovers defender John McStay in 1994 while playing for Rangers. Ferguson headbutted his opponent and this led to a three-month spell in prison.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Physio Room - Injury Update

Click on the 'Link' below to see which Premier League footballers are currently feeling a tad under the weather, & instead of playing this weekend they will be at home emptying their well hidden penny coin jars & bagging it all up in readiness to take to the bank on Monday morning, before training.

Also on their 'to do' list will be other such gems as de-scaling the kettle, iron & shower head, gathering together all last year's unopened Xmas gifts to sell at Sunday morning's local car boot sale, before peeling the sprouts in preparation for the Sunday roast, which will be served after they get back from the car boot sale!

On Saturday night instead of staying in with the Missus & watching 'Strictly Come Dancing' they can be found interviewing bouncers down at their uncle's drag strip club, which they so kindly bought for him & put in his name as a 'thank you' for all his years of toiling down the mines.

We name and shame them...........!


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bars: They ply you with liquor, they take your money & then they kick you out!

Excessive consumption of alcohol will ultimately get you drunk.........a pretty simplistic, visionary assessment made by my goodself, I am sure you will all agree.

As the Government bring up the habitual 'binge drinking' monthly debate, an alcohol concern organization are probably at the same time raising concerns regarding the price of booze in supermarkets, whilst a Doctor somewhere releases his latest dissertation on 'drinking in moderation' & a local council witters on that 'happy hours' in certain establishments are irresponsible.

I cannot possibly be the only person who feels bar owners & their employees, whether they be managerial sorts, bar staff or doorman alike have a responsibility themselves to look after their clientele & it's about time they acknowledged that fact sooner rather than later. They should stop believing they are above & beyond the law when it comes to the consumption of alcohol by any individual in a..........well 'licenced' drinking establishment actually!

How is it then that as long as you can reach into your pocket, grasp hold of some legal tender & order a drink in a semi-coherent manner you are then allowed to continue to do so over & over again - until you reach the point where you have your collar felt as you find yourself being escorted out of the licensed premises by some meat-head, wearing a black suit, a crisp white shirt and depending on the repute of the establishment, possibly even a dickie bow too.

Now I am not going to try & justify the drinking of alcohol to excess to anyone, either from a medical or a moral perspective, but what intrigues me is how one is so easily permitted to consume enough alcohol to sink a battleship in the first place!

Once I have had several jars of my favourite tipple I no longer care what damage I am doing to my liver & I have no desire whatsoever to stop drinking because I have gone past the so-called point of no return.
The worse for wear I maybe, but that does not stop the bartender from continuing to re-fill my glass.
The management have absolutely no intention of stopping me from drinking even more, provided I keep emptying my own & lining their pockets with hard cash.

And here come the pièce de résistance........inevitably one will come a cropper at some stage of proceedings, whether it's spilling yours or someone else's drink, accidentally bumping into a fellow patron, using inappropriate language or simply hitting the canvas like a pummelled boxer.

Once down the nearest exit beckons as a suited testosterone fuelled doorman plus radio & biceps the size of the average thigh dispatches you unceremoniously into the gutter, possibly minus a shoe & definitely with ones dignity in tatters!

Recently I was enjoying drinks in a local bar with some pals after spending the afternoon at a South London football stadium when one of us was 'thrown out' quite literally, for being 'intoxicated' ( but without any prior warning, not even a quiet word in the ear).

Bars should spend a bit more time man-managing, not man-handling its punters in an effort to prevent people getting ridiculously drunk in the first place!

Also they should take responsibility when their venue has stood back & watched their own punters get into a drunken stupor in the first place.

There is also an element of risk or even danger about leaving someone intoxicated & alone outside a drinking venue.

They may in addition to the typical behavioural anomalies associated with being drunk, such as being unstable on their feet be in a potentially vulnerable situation.

If for example they are left out in the dark of the night, are unfamiliar with the area, are inappropriately dressed for the weather or have a medical condition unbeknown to others - any of these predicaments could potentially lead to serious consequences. And what about if they are female clientele?

It’s about time watering holes had a long hard think about ways of controlling the amount of alcohol they allow to be consumed by drinkers, kept their eyes out for customers heading down the slippery slope before they finally fall off their bike & consider what could happen should they feel it necessary to remove someone from their premises & the implications that it might cause!

Prevention & detection are better than correction!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Babe Of The Month - Beer, Footy & Birds......the personification of life!

Model Sarah Brandner, the girlfriend of Bayern Munich and German International footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger.