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The "Hard Men of Football"

Looks like the spin doctors are already out in force for our favorite Lobo, Elizabeth Lambert. Newsweek's got an op-piece, "In Defense of Elizabeth Lambert," framing the media frenzy around her as an offshoot of sexism in sports, while using her story to argue that companies shouldn't promote women based on the notion that "they will help make organizations more ethical, transparent, and family friendly." The New York Times' recent piece on the aftermath of the beatdown Lambert administered at BYU even featured a soft-focus, almost glam photo of Lambert in a "thoughtful" pose and a mammoth pink scarf. Lambert apologizes, but implausibly shrugs off much of her conduct as part of the competitiveness and physicality of the game (e.g., claiming that the punch she threw to Carlee Payne's face was incidental--watch the clip again, there's just no way her right fist comes swinging all the way across her body into Payne's chin on accident).

But, lest we get carried away by all the hubub (and even politicization) of Lambert's story, let's remember that her's is only the latest in a long line of dirty deeds done by the "enforcers" of the game. And, no, despite what you hear in the press, Lambert's roughhousing does not go so far beyond the pale. For instance, I'm not totally sure that I'd maybe rather have my pony-tail yanked than have my curly mullet twice spit upon.

And then, of course, you have that noble tradition of torch-bearers for whom putting in a drubbing like Lambert's is just putting in another day at the office. Yes, I'm talking about the "Hard Men of Football." No true fan of the game can go for long without hearing of them. After all, they have their own book (dubiously titled "Top Boys"), their own Top 50 List, their own documentary (apparently only available in VHS).

So, for the uninitiated, here's a look at some of the game's most (in)famous enforcers:

Vinnie Jones. You might have seen him on "Snatch," "X-Men: The Last Stand," or (fittingly) "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties." You may not have known that he also played similar roles for Chelsea, Wimbledon, and Leeds United. And, really, no video could convey what this picture does half as well:

I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, a pony-tail yank's got nothing on that.

Roy Keane. If you're a Man U. fan, you probably love him forever. If you're Alf-Inge Haaland (who's career was basically ended by the tackle in the clip below), not so much...

Marco Materazzi. Famously the recipient of Zinedine Zidane's headbutt at World Cup '06. But he's had his part in conduct far worse (one of the first YouTube videos you get if you search his name is entitled: "Materazzi Monster").

Ron "Chopper" Harris. No great vids I could find of this guy, but he's one where the name says it all. Not so surprisingly, he played for Chelsea, where it seems the "Top Boys" love to flock. His Wikipedia page says he "is widely regarded as one of the toughest defenders of his era" and calls him an "uncompromising tackler." For example, of the 1970 FA Cup Final we read: "Not long into the match, [Chopper] caught Eddie Gray with a kick to the back of the knee, an action which virtually immobilised" him.

Dave Mackay. Mackay played for Tottenham and was good enough to have been labeled the Spurs' greatest ever player by English managerial legend Brian Clough. It is said that he "tackled like a granite avalanche . . . . consumed by a devilish, ruthless relish for his work." But I think this Spurs fan sums it up best: "Away to Leeds on a cold November afternoon and on a near frozen pitch. The fancy footwork and pretty passing of the Lillywhites promised little against steely northern Yorkshire grit. Forget points, all you were assured of were bruises and pain. But then, one look at Dave Mackay striding onto the pitch with sleeves rolled up, nostrils flaring looking for a home shirt to eat for lunch and suddenly anything seemed possible. A colossus!"

Diego Maradona. "What? Who? How?" you say. And then you view the next clip. 18 seconds of El Pibe de Oro just going buckwild. Looks like the "Golden Boy" is really a closet "Top Boy." I'm pretty sure the guy he clocks at 0:01 is dead. And you gotta love the flying dropkick by his teammate at 0:12. (But what is it about footballing that renders players of the sport utterly incapable of fighting with their hands?)

And there you have it, some of the most famous "Hard Men" of the game. So, Elizabeth Lambert, you're not alone. You're in company with the "Top Boys." (And, hey, you've got a nice soft photo and a great big pink scarf to boot.)

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  1. Was that an LLK (lethal left Knee) to the head? Then, Diego goes down...is about to get stomped on....but then teammate Lui Kang saves him with a flying Kung Fu Kick.

    I'll say it again...I really like that Zidane.

  2. Um, that goalie drops like a rag doll after that knee to the head. That fight is incredible.

    Great post. I'm always impressed with your vast soccer knowledge. That Newsweek Lambert article was a joke, and most of the comments indicated as much. She has been crucified by the press/internet, but that's mainly because what she did went so far above and beyond your normal elbowing and grabbing that goes on in every soccer game and sporting match. None of her actions were unintentional in incidental and part of the game.

    I wonder Mackay punched that player in the photo above. I love that the guy isn't trying to run away or defend himself as though he realizes that he has no defense at this point and his best option is to submit to the bruiser.


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