When you spend several million on a fancy centre-forward, you really don’t want someone to break them. This is why some teams deem it necessary to find themselves a hard case, someone who can protect your expensive striker while at the same time putting the fear of god into the other team’s forwards. And if someone needs to be taught a lesson, well that’s just part of the job. This week, we look at some of the hardest players in football. And if you are wondering why we are being so formal with the names, it’s because we respect these players immensely and really don’t want to upset them.
Mr. Ronald Harris
If you happened to go to school during the 1970s or 80s and your surname was “Harris”, there was a good chance that “Chopper” was your nickname. It did not matter whether you were good at football, or even interested in it. It was just the law of the playground (see also: Styles, Nobby). Ron “Chopper” Harris was one of a rare breed of football hardman – he was actually useful for more than just inflicting pain, becoming Chelsea captain in 1967 and leading his team to FA Cup glory in 1970 and the UEFA cup in 1971. He holds the record for league, FA Cup and total appearances for Chelsea, and once compared himself to John Terry: “Although the difference is that when he tackles someone, the guy gets up afterwards.”
Mr. Vincent Jones
The iconic photo of Vinnie Jones with a fistful of Paul’s Gascoines is just the beginning of Jones’s history with abusing the tackle. His highlight reel features a number of similar situations: a forward is making good progress down the field and getting past a couple of defenders. Enter Vinnie, stage left and studs first, flying in at an angle to clatter his target in the knees and leave them a tangled heap of limbs on the floor. Jones has since moved into acting although his first effort in front of a camera, presenting the 1992 video Soccer’s Hard Men, earned him a six-month ban. His first day of shooting on Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels was delayed since he was in police custody after beating up his neighbour. He seems to have mellowed since then.
Mr. Roy Keane
Roy Keane was one of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game. He captained Manchester United to their incredible treble victory during their 1998 season. But Roy Keane was a very angry man. He could fly off the handle at the slightest provocation but also liked to nurse a grudge. His famous knee-high attack on Alf-Inge Håland in 2001 got him in trouble twice, once on the pitch, and then again one year later when he revealed in his autobiography that the foul was premeditated. Alex Ferguson once stated that he had hoped that Keane would one day become manager of the club. But he will need to reign in his temper if that is ever to happen, and on the evidence of this from earlier in the year, it’s not happening any time soon.
Señor Gerardo Bedoya
With no less than 46 red cards to his name, Gerardo “The Beast” Bedoya is officially the dirtiest player in the game. You might have thought that retiring from playing football would calm Bedoya down a bit, but no such luck. His 46th red card came just 27 minutes into his coaching career when a decision did not go his way and he screamed into the face of the referee for 10 minutes straight. Probably his worst behaviour came in 2012. Bedoya was playing for Santa Fe in a derby against his former club, Millonarios. First, Bedoya elbowed Yhonny Ramirez in the face. Then, staring down at his writhing victim with the impassive features of a true sociopath, Bedoya then kicked Ramirez in the head. When asked about his behaviour after the match, Bedoya shrugged and said: “I’m not normally like this.” Yes you are, Gerardo, that was Red card no. 41.
Mister Kevin Muscat
Kevin Muscat is the honey badger of football. He won’t just take on other players. If things don’t go his way, he’ll kick the ball at the ref. If he gets too close to the opposing manager, he’ll push him off his chair and get him sent into the stands. We’re pretty sure we’ve seen him fighting with the corner flag a few times, too. With a 20-year career that has seen him play at Wolves, Millwall, Palace and Rangers (bookended by several seasons in Australia’s AFC Champions League), Muscat was awarded 123 Yellow and 12 Red cards, and was named football’s dirtiest every player by Spanish website El Gol Digital. Birmingham’s Mark Grainger once described Muscat as “the most hated man in football”. Such was his reputation that during his time at Rangers, he was never selected for an ‘old firm’ derby, for fear of plunging the entire country of Scotland into civil war.
Mister Duncan Ferguson
Duncan “Disorderly” Ferguson is one of the few hard men on our list to commit a foul so heinous that it was actually criminal. Ferguson was playing for Rangers against Raith Rovers, when Jock McStay found himself in the big man’s crosshairs. The ensuing headbutt was not penalised during the game but he did earn himself three months in jail on account of this being his third assault conviction. In a career that saw him play for Dundee, Rangers, Everton and Newcastle, the six foot four inch Ferguson has thrown elbows, kidney punches and Paul Ince during his career. On two occasions, burglars have attempted to break into Ferguson’s house, and both times, he caught one of them, leading them to a short stay in hospital before going to jail. The moral? Don’t mess with Big Dunc.
Señor Andoni Goikoetxea
Goikoetxea is not the most prolific of the hard cases on our list, but he certainly lays claim to one of the biggest scalps. In September 1983, while playing for Athletic Bilbao, Goikoetxea came in from behind on Diego Maradona, then playing for Barcelona. Maradona’s ankle was broken, leading Goikoetxea to be dubbed “the Butcher of Bilbao”. By 1984, Maradona had recovered, and the two teams met again in the Copa De Rey. What followed was a display of utter savagery, as Maradona was hacked down over and over again, with the ref doing nothing to aid the mercurial Argentinian genuis. By the time the final whistle blew, both teams were involved in an all-out brawl, with kicks flying in left, right and centre. Rumour has it that Goikoetxea still keeps the boot that broke Maradona’s ankle in a glass case on his mantlepiece. Classy.
Señor Paolo Montero
Look, you need to see things from a Uruguayan central defender’s perspective. You have a job to do, and that’s to stop the opposition’s forwards from getting past you and scoring goals. Now sure, you can try to play the ball, but really, that doesn’t achieve a whole lot. They’re just going to try to do it again and again, for as long as the match runs. But if you cut their legs out from under them and make it so they can’t walk, let alone run, then you’re going to have an easier time of it. Also, if the ball looks like it’s going to go past you, why not give it a subtle tap with your hand? It makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s certainly the conclusion that Paolo Montero arrived at, holder of the record for the most Red cards ever awarded in Serie A (16, in a career that saw him leave the pitch in disgrace 21 times).
Monsieur Cyril Rool
There are a lot of hard men in football, but very few of them have been turned into a t-shirt slogan: Sex, drugs and Cyril Rool. The French midfielder was one of the greatest trolls in the game, famously goading Ray Parlour into kicking him in the head in 1998 and getting himself sent off. But he could dish it out as well: his career features a staggering 187 Yellow cards and 25 red. He never made it to the big stage, playing for some of the lesser French teams like Lens and Nice. But in terms of intimidation and violence, he is more than worthy of a spot on our list.
Ms. Elizabeth Lambert
You might not expect a woman to make this list of the top 10 hardest players, in which case: shame on you, it’s 2018. But we feel sure that you’ll change your mind when you see Elizabeth Lambert in action. Because this highlight reel is not a compilation of isolated incidents taken from a whole career like everyone else on this list. No, all these fouls happened during the course of a single match. Lambert’s team, the New Mexico Lobos, were playing BYU in 2009. Lambert lost the plot, but what followed should be blamed as much on the referee’s inattention as anything else. She received only a Yellow card during the game, but the ensuing video went viral and she received a two-game suspension, millions of views and no doubt a whole load of nasty online comments. She does not appear to have committed any further infractions during her career, but she doesn’t really need to: she’s already a legend.