EPL: Top 10 hard men

Roy Keane (one of the 10 hard men) of United swings out at Alan Shearer of Newcastle during the match between Newcastle United and Manchester United in the FA Barclaycard Premiership at St James Park, Newcastle.

Sunderland’s Lee Cattermole was sent off for the eighth time in his career last weekend for a typically agricultural challenge during the Black Cats’ 1-0 defeat at Hull.

But how does the diminutive midfield terrier stack up against some of the toughest men to have ever played the game?

10 DUNCAN FERGUSON

It didn’t matter wheth-er you were a strapping centre-half or a drug-addled thief, if you crossed swords with “Duncan Disorderly” you almost always came off second best.

A vicious on-field assault of Raith Rovers’ John McStay culminated in 44 days in Scotland’s toughest prison back in 1994, and off the pitch he twice restrained burglars who dared to enter his house.

One of them spent three days in hospital after challenging Ferguson, and the other was stupid enough to attack the former Everton striker with a vodka bottle. Unluckily for him he missed, Big Dunc ducked and duly knocked his spark out before calling the police.

9 TERRY HURLOCK

Hurlock looked like a five-foot-eight troll, but you wouldn’t say that to his face if you wanted to keep your features intact.

His former Millwall teammate Tony Cascarino remembers the lads giving Hurlock some friendly banter in the pub before a match against Wimbledon, suggesting that “The Warlock” would be no match in the physical department for the Dons’ Vinnie Jones. Big mistake.

Hurlock got up, walked to the pub entrance and ripped the door clean off its hinges in anger.

Another of Hurlock’s former Millwall teammates, Neil Ruddock – who went on to play for Liverpool and Spurs – was once asked, “What’s your favourite animal?” Quick as a flash he replied, “Terry Hurlock”.

8 ROY KEANE

The former Manchester United legend doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and he also possesses the memory of an elephant – just ask Alf Inge Halaand.

In September 1997, Keane (right) suffered a season-ending knee injury while trying to trip Halaand, who then stood over the Irishman accusing him of faking.

Keane stewed for three years, then, in the Manchester Derby, he exacted revenge, almost breaking Halaand in two with the ugliest of challenges. Even as a teenager, Keane happily stood up to his elders.

After a night out with the Irish squad in Boston, US, in 1991, Keane was half- an-hour late boarding the bus the following morning. Manager Jack Charlton was apoplectic, telling Keane: “19-years old, your first trip, do you have any idea how long we’ve been waiting?”

Keane replied, without the merest hint of fear: “I didn’t ask you to wait, did I?”

7 ROMEO BENETTI

In the early 1970s, Italian football was a spiteful bearpit. The attitude was to avoid defeat at any cost, and Serie A’s poster boy in that department was Romeo Benetti.

His Christian name makes him sound like a lover, but he was very much a fighter. A midfielder with tremendous energy and scant regard for his opponents’ well-being, Romeo took his defensive duties very seriously.

In his heyday, Benetti was a byword for brutality. It was once said: “Whether he was standing up, crouching down or lying flat on his face, if you got close enough to him, Benetti would find a way to clatter you.”

6 BRIAN KILCLINE

In an interview with a football magazine in the 1990s, Kilcline listed his hobbies as baking, gardening, sailing and golf.

Butchery and bare-knuckle boxing would surely have been more suitable for the ferocious centre-half known affectionately (not) as “Killer”.

Former Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan reckons that Kilcline was his best signing during his first spell at St James’ Park, because his win-at-all-costs mentality dragged his teammates kicking and screaming up the Second Division table and ultimately into the Premier League.

Kilcline once beat former England striker John “Fash The Bash” Fashanu in an arm-wrestle, which suggests that he’s stronger than a pure ethanol cocktail.

5 BILLY WHITEHURST

Billy Whitehurst is harder than a concrete post. Seemingly impervious to pain, the big, journeyman striker was like a lower league Terminator. In short, he loved a scrap.

He played on with injuries that would floor many current professionals for months, and rumour has it that, while playing for Oxford United, he supplemented his wages through bare-knuckle boxing matches against local travellers.

A truly scary individual who, during his time at Hull City, once offered to fight the entire Crystal Palace side in the players’ lounge. They didn’t take him up on it.

4 GRAEME SOUNESS

Souness was one of the most gifted midfielders Britain has ever produced. In his prime, the fiery Scot owned whatever pitch he played on.

However, he was also capable of unleashing tackles of such venom that they verged on assault. He marked his Rangers debut with a two-footed lunge on George McCluskey that resulted in a 34th-minute dismissal and a 22-man brawl.

Two years later, in 1988, a foul on Steaua Bucharest’s Gheorghe Rotariu was described by Romanian legend Gheorghe Popescu as: “Horrific, one of the worst tackles I have ever seen. Souness nearly killed him.”

As manager of Galatasaray, Souness nearly sparked a full-on riot after planting the club’s flag in the centre-circle of arch-rival’s Fenerbahce’s stadium.

3 CHIC CHARNLEY

Record holder of the most red cards in British football history, Charnley was a man who lived by his own rules.

Legend has it that in 1990 Charnley and his Partick Thistle teammates were training at Ruchill Park in Glasgow when a gang of youths started giving them abuse. After a few choice words from Charnley the youths ran off, only for two of them to return yielding a Samurai sword apiece.

Unperturbed, the fearless Scotsman chased off the blade-wielding Glaswegians armed with nothing more sinister than a traffic cone.

2 MICK HARFORD

If you ask anyone who played professional football in the 80s and 90s who their toughest-ever opponent was, Harford’s name invariably comes up.

At six-feet-four, Harford was built like a block of HDB flats. Nobody messed with Big Mick – not even Wimbledon’s much-feared Crazy Gang.

When Harford joined the then Premier League club in 1994, Joe Kinnear’s squad – who were no respecters of reputation – paid him the ultimate compliment.

Traditionally, any new Womble would have their clothes cut up and burnt by the rest of the players by way of an initiation.

However, not one of the Gang, which included Vinnie Jones, dared to tamper with Harford’s gear. They may have been crazy, but they weren’t stupid.

1 ANDONI GOICOECHEA

Anyone who has the moniker “The Butcher Of Bilbao” bestowed upon them is an individual you wouldn’t want to meet unless they were chained to something very solid.

In 1983, Goicoechea almost ended the career of Diego Maradona after an X-rated challenge threatened to separate the great Argentinian’s left foot from the rest of his body.

Some players might feel bad about almost robbing the world of arguably the greatest talent of all time, but not Andoni.

The boot used to destroy Maradona’s ankle sits in a glass cabinet on a mantelpiece at his home.

DO YOU AGREE THAT THESE ARE THE TOP 10 HARD MEN? E-MAIL YOUR VIEWS TO NPSPORTS@SPH.COM.SG


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