A debate for the ages. Who is Arsenal's hardest player in history? Or Manchester United's? Liverpool's or Leeds? And who is the hardest of them all.
Well from today we hope to answer that question, giving you, the fans the say in our World Cup of Kick Off Merchants. We will establish who is the hardest of hardmen.
Could the winner be Liverpool's Tommy Smith? Bill Shankly once said of him: "Tommy Smith wasn't born, he was quarried".
Known for his uncompromising defensive style, Smith was the hardman’s hardman, with Ron “Chopper” Harris, Norman Hunter and Jack Charlton all name checking him as one of their hardest opponents.
Norman Hunter himself is up there as one hardest.
In the tough tackling Leeds United side of the 1960s, it was Hunter that stood out as the toughest of them all.
The 60s were an era for hardman, and Chelsea had their own in Ron Harris.
Inspirational leader and uncompromising tackler, “Chopper” as he became known led his side to the FA Cup in 1970.
1954 was the last time a British player was handed a life-time ban from football for violent conduct.
Glasgow Rangers Willie Woodburn was the recipient for a string of violent exchanges. The SFA revoked their punishment three years later, but by then Woodburn was 37 and his playing career was over.
Johnny Giles was another tough man from that Leeds side under Don Revie.
Not a natural tough guy, he talked himself having to become “a lion rather than a lamb" on the pitch following early being the recipient of early career threatening challenges.
Giles midfield partner and captain at Leeds United was Billy Bremner, who himself was no stranger to kicking off.
In November 1964, Bremner featured heavily in a win at Everton that was marred by violent clashes on the pitch, the game was stopped for a short spell ten minutes before half-time as the referee felt that a spell of cooling down was needed to prevent further violence.
A discussion about hardmen can not be had without mentioning Welshman Vinnie Jones.
Jones was sent off 12 times in his career and holds the record for the quickest ever booking in a football match – just 3 seconds.
If there is one iconic image that sums up what a hardman is, it is that of Terry Butcher.
After suffering a deep cut to his forehead in a World Cup Qualifier against Sweden, Butcher received impromptu stitching, and bandaging to his head, and played on. By the end of the game his white England shirt had turned red.
One of the Premier League’s most infamous hardmen was Duncan Ferguson.
In 1994 while playing for Rangers, “Big Dunc” headbutted Raith Rovers defender John McStay. The incident led to a Ferguson serving a three-month jail term for assault.
In 2001, two burglars broke into Ferguson's home. Ferguson confronted them and was able to detain one of them, who subsequently spent three days in hospital
In 2003, Ferguson caught another burglar at his home; the burglar attacked Ferguson, who retaliated. The burglar was hospitalised and later alleged that Ferguson had assaulted him, but this was dismissed by police.
Julian Dicks was a man known for his tough tackling.
Nick-named the Terminator, Dicks was sent off 3 times during the 1992/93 season.
Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane was a rivalry that defined the Arsenal v Manchester United era of the last 90s / early 00s.
Roy Keane was your snarling, aggressive in your face hardman with his career littered with infamous incidents.
From getting sent off for swinging at Alan Shearer, and most notably, his horror tackle on Alf-Inge Håland.
Keane sought revenge for an incident including Håland whilst the Norwegian was playing for Leeds. After clattering into the knee of the Manchester City man, Keane later made light of the pre-meditated nature of the tackle in his autobiography, stating I'd waited long enough. I f***ing hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c**t. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.
On the other side was Patrick Vieira, who at 6’ 4” was an intimidating character.
A lean, mean midfield machine, Vieira was sent off 10 times in his Arsenal career.
Unlike Keane, Vieira did not need a snarling persona to support his hardman image. He was just a strong man.
You knew when you had been in a game with Vieira.
Sadly hardmen seem to be a thing of the past.
With football becoming almost non-contact, referees quick to brandish a red card and players rolling about like they have been shot, there are few benefits of “leaving one on an opponent” anymore.
So on Twitter, we have decided to host the “World Cup of Kick Off Merchants” to establish who is the hardest of hardmen.