The Hard Men of Football

On this week’s main report we continue our look at the various positions on the pitch by focusing on the tough guys – the hard men. You can listen to the report by clicking on the link below, while vocabulary support (in bold) appears at the foot of the report. If you have questions or comments, email us at:

The hard men of football

Not really an official position on the team but there was a time when nearly every team included a ‘hard man’ in their starting XI; someone who would be there to protect the star player on their own team but also to intimidate the opposition. Football has changed in the past 30 years with the rules of the game offering more protection to star players so the hard man is a dying breed. Here is a short selection of some of the hardest. Let us know who you think should also appear in our hard man list.

Claudio Gentile

He was a World Cup winner in 1982, played over 70 times for the Italian national side and won six Serie A titles with Juventus but Claudio Gentile was best remembered as one of the hardest footballers ever to have played the game. He was the master of man-to-man-marking and famously marked (or kicked) Diego Maradona out of the game in their 1982 World Cup match after which he was quoted as saying that “Football is not for ballerinas!” Quite.

Norman Hunter

Anyone with a nickname of ‘Bites Yer Legs’ – a nickname that came from his tough tackling – has to be something special when it comes to hard men and Norman Hunter was just that. He played for Leeds United when they were the most feared side in England – both for their winning ways and the way they played the game. Hunter epitomised the Leeds of the time: hard, fearless and not afraid to take the law into his own hands when necessary. He won two League titles with Leeds and represented England on more than 25 occasions but will always be remembered as one of the hardest men of the very hard 1970s in English football.

Graeme Souness

Graeme Souness was one of the most complete midfielders ever to play in English football and was well able to ‘take care of himself‘ in the middle of the park. He won three European Cups, five English League titles and four League Cups during his seven years at Liverpool, as well as numerous titles in Scotland with Rangers, but will always be remembered for being able to ‘boss the midfield‘ with his tough tackling and hard man ways.

Roy Keane

Like many in this list, Irishman Roy Keane was able to play – he won seven League titles and a Champions League with Manchester United – but again like those in this list he will be remembered for his hard man approach. Fearless in the tackle, Keane would both protect his defence and organise the attack making him one of the most important signings that Sir Alex Ferguson ever made.

Vocabulary support

the starting XI: The 11 players who start the game; the first choice

a dying breed: No longer important / relevant

to intimidate: To try and make someone feel worried or afraid

tough tackling: A hard defender

epitomised: Was a very good example of something; represented

to take the law into his own hands: To administer justice by himself

the most complete midfielders: An all-round player

take care of himself: Was able to look after himself; was not intimidated

boss the midfield: To be in charge of midfield

Fearless: Unafraid

Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here

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    • Thanks for the question. I think it is a question of connotation – a hard man is a tough player while a dirty player is one that sets out to hurt the opposition. I think most players would prefer to be called hard than dirty.

2012-13Episode 157