If VAR had existed back in the 1990s, these players would have accumulated more minutes serving suspensions than actual playing time.
This was a time when you could put in a sliding tackle without fear of someone in an office analysing the challenge from 12 different angles.
And it was a time when referees let the odd tackle go – the good old days, some might say.
Everyone can put in a nasty challenge, but these players could back it up when things got ugly.
32. PAT VAN DEN HAUWE
Pat Van Den Hauwe, or “Psycho Pat” as he was known, was born in Belgium but brought up in south London. He gained legendary status with Everton in the 1980s, not so much for his goals – he scored very few of those during his career – but for his tough tackles and no-nonsense approach. The combative defender also played for Spurs and Millwall.
31. KEVIN MUSCAT
Kevin Muscat was sent off 12 times in his career. Perhaps when he’s old and has had time to reflect, he’ll admit that some of his challenges weren’t always the best. When playing for Wolves, the Aussie punctured Craig Bellamy’s kneecap. He was also sued by Matty Holmes for a challenge that almost led to the midfielder having his leg amputated.
30. NOEL BLAKE
Noel Blake was about as uncompromising as they come, and nothing gave this defender more pleasure than winning a 50-50. Sometimes his willingness to put himself in harm’s way would get him injured, like the time against Watford when he split his head open but returned to the pitch covered in Vaseline as though nothing had happened.
29. JAAP STAM
The former Manchester United centre-back wasn’t just a world-class defender – he was also a very hard competitor. At 6ft 3in, not many strikers got the better of the bald-headed Dutchman in the air, and those that did would often have a bruise or two to show for it. His all-conquering style made him a fan-favourite with the Red Devils.
28. PATRICK VIEIRA
The defensive midfielder had a distinct advantage when it came to tackling – he had very long legs. However, it didn’t stop the Frenchman occasionally putting them where they didn’t belong. His infamous altercation with fellow hard man Roy Keane came in 2005, but Vieira was scrapping pretty much from the day he arrived at Arsenal in the mid 1990s.
27. PAUL KITSON
Paul Kitson wasn’t especially renowned as a hard man during his career. However, legend has it that the former Leicester, Derby and Newcastle striker had quite the temper, and you didn’t want to be near him when he lost it. Fellow hard man Neil Ruddock once told us he decked Martin Keown, who was a bit of a toughie himself.
26. PAOLO MONTERO
Paolo Montero is the son of Castillo, who played for that aggressive Uruguay side defeated by Pele’s Brazil in the semi-finals of the 1970 World Cup. Known for his will to win, Montero, who spent most of his time putting his weight about in Serie A, was a defensive rock, especially for Juventus, where he won four Serie A titles.
25. PAUL INCE
Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Ince would probably tell you how embarrassing it was to wrap his head in bandages during a crucial World Cup qualifying match with Italy in 1997. Just a scratch, ey, Paul? The “Guv’nor” was that kind of player; he’d run through bricks walls for his team-mates – and opposition players.
24. MARK HUGHES
Mark Hughes might only have been 5ft 9in, but he didn’t half put himself about. In fact, at times “Sparky” could cross the line with those studs of his. The former Manchester United and Barcelona striker scored over 150 goals in his career, but the Welshman also liked a good old-fashioned 50-50.
23. THOMAS GRAVESEN
The former Everton and Real Madrid midfielder might not be the first name that comes to mind when talking about hard players, but plenty of ex pros will tell you that the Dane was one of the toughest tacklers of his era. Gravesen once had a training ground dust-up with Robinho. Only one winner there.
22. DENNIS WISE
When Dennis Wise went in for a loose ball, it made you wince. He’d snap away at the opposition for the full 90 minutes, or however long the referee allowed him to stay on the pitch. What he lacked in technical skill, he more than made up for with fighting spirit, something that they very much appreciated at Stamford Bridge.
21. NICKY BUTT
Nicky Butt was somewhat overshadowed by the likes of David Beckham and Paul Scholes during Manchester United’s glory years in the 1990s/2000s, but the midfielder was one of those players who would roll up his sleeves and do things the ugly way if necessary. Like most tough players, though, Butt would occasionally go a step too far. He once received two red cards in five days.
20. JOHN HARTSON
The Welshman was sent off six times in the Premier League. He’d scrap for absolutely everything, but his most notorious incident came in training when he kicked West Ham team-mate Eyal Berkovic. “If my head had been a ball, it would have been in the top corner of the net,” claimed Berkovic.
19. STEVE MCMAHON
The Liverpool legend may have chipped in with a fair few goals during his time at Anfield, but it’s probably fair to say he was known more for his tackling ability and combative style. Anyone who’s prepared to elbow Vinnie Jones and face the consequences must have a bit about them.
18. KEVIN DAVIES
Kevin Davies was a fairly silky striker, and scored a few eye-catching goals during his career. He was a big collector of yellow cards, too, a fair few of which were for late challenges. The former Bolton man liked letting defenders know that he was there, which he sometimes did by using his studs and, on occasions, his elbows.
17. ERIC CANTONA
Eric Cantona is not known as a tough guy because of the infamous kung fu kick at Selhurst Park in 1995; well, maybe a bit. The Frenchman, a scorer of outrageous goals and unquestionably one of the most skilful players ever to have graced the Premier League, loved a scrap. It wasn’t just defenders and goalkeepers who feared the volatile number seven.
16. DAVID BATTY
As well falling out with Graeme Le Saux during Blackburn’s Champions League match at Spartak Moscow in 1995, David Batty made quite a few enemies during his time patrolling the midfield for Rovers. It’s hard to imagine that anyone gave the former Leeds and Newcastle man any stick for missing England’s decisive spot kick in the 1998 World Cup.
15. COLIN HENDRY
The mean Scot was once banned for six international matches for swinging an elbow, which he called “shrugging off a player”. He was that kind of player was Hendry – very physical. The centre-back’s tackling ability and strength in the air helped Blackburn Rovers to win the Premier League title in 1995.
14. PASQUALE BRUNO
Pasquale Bruno wasn’t known as “O Animale” for his love of cats. The former Hearts defender would often set the tone for the game with a crunching tackle, which made the Italian something of a cult hero during his two years with the Scottish club. Quite simply, the rough and ready centre-back was as hard as nails.
13. TRIFON IVANOV
Former hard-man defender Trifon Ivanov, who sadly passed away in 2016, was instrumental in helping Bulgaria reach the 1994 World Cup semi-finals. For most of his career, he played with long hair and a wild beard, while his cold stare would be enough to keep a lot of strikers quiet for 90 minutes.
12. BILLY WHITEHURST
It’s easier to name the clubs that Billy Whitehurst didn’t play for. Whoever he represented, he was never anything less than 100% committed in the challenge. Martin Keown once described the ex-bricklayer as “a lunatic”, while Vinnie Jones referred to him as “Big Bad Billy”. According to Jones, the journeyman forward could have been a bare-knuckle champion.
11. STUART PEARCE
The former England left-back did most things at 100mph, which included running up at pace to take a free-kick and tackling. He was pretty adept at both, but it was his reputation for a strong tackle that earned him the nickname “Psycho”. Spare a thought for the right-wingers of the 1990s.
10. JOHN FASHANU
Don’t be fooled by the friendly manner in which the former Wimbledon front-man presented Gladiator on a Saturday night. In his football days, Saturdays were spent bashing up centre-backs. When part of the “Crazy Gang”, “Fash” served alongside some of the game’s hardest players, including Vinnie Jones and Dennis Wise. He could be every bit as nasty, too.
9. NEIL RUDDOCK
“Razor” would put his head anywhere, even if it did mean getting concussion. He was a player born for cold nights away at Stoke. In fairness to the former Liverpool man, who once broke both of Andy Cole’s legs, there was more to his game than crunching tackles, and he weighed in with his fair share of goals.
8. ROY KEANE
If you wanted to score against the great Manchester United teams of the 1990s, you had to try and play your way through Roy Keane. Those who tried would often find themselves upended. “Keano” relished the physical side of the game and if that sometimes meant getting carded for his efforts, so be it.
7. JULIAN DICKS
The West Ham defender looked hard – and he was hard. “The Terminator” joined The Hammers in 1988 and quickly went about leaving his studs on the shins of right-wingers up and down the country. A bit like fellow left-back and tough man Stuart Pearce, his shots always had a bit of power behind them, too.
6. VINNIE JONES
Vinnie Jones has made a Hollywood career out of his hard man image – but was he really tough? We’d say so, yes. Watching the former Wimbledon midfielder go about his business wasn’t always pretty, and a few of the ‘challenges’ he made were downright dangerous. By the way, Vinnie, there’s nothing hard about grabbing someone by the you know what.
5. GERRY TAGGART
Gerry Taggart didn’t care much for reputations – he’d go after anyone. Once, when playing for Leicester, he got into an altercation with fellow hard man Dennis Wise. The Northern Irishman, who also played for Barnsley, Bolton and Stoke, grabbed the Millwall player by the throat. On YouTube, this coming together is described as “inappropriate for some users”.
4. DUNCAN FERGUSON
“Big Dunc” was not a player you wanted to get in a scrap with, not unless you wanted a bloody nose. The Scottish striker once earned himself a prison sentence for headbutting an opponent; he even attacked a couple of people who entered his house without an invite. His other nickname was “Duncan Disorderly”. You get the picture.
3. JIMMY CASE
‘Hard Case’. That’s the name of the former Liverpool man’s autobiography. He was a bruiser, both on Merseyside and down on the south coast, where he represented Brighton and Southampton. The midfielder never took any prisoners. You might even say that tough-tackling Case was the hardest player of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
2. MICK HARFORD
Mick Harford led the line during Luton’s top-flight day, before plying his trade for both Chelsea and Wimbledon. His speciality was a tackle that would ‘let a player know he was there’. That’s one way of putting it. Others may have described his tackling as over physical, perhaps even thuggish. Simply put, he was a tough nut.
1. TERRY HURLOCK
Terry Hurlock didn’t need to even make a tackle to intimidate opposition players – often just a snarl or a stare from the long-haired enforcer was enough. He was known as “Terry Warlock”, but he wasn’t all late tackles and sneaky elbows. Terence could play a bit, too, and he won three England B caps.