The English Premiership is renowned for being one of the hardest and most keenly contested leagues in the world. Crunching tackles are common place and many a player would never dream of jumping out of a tackle. But the Premiership’s hardest players have some way to go to compete with one female footballer who is taking competitiveness to a whole new level. 20 year old American defender Elizabeth Lambert certainly gets stuck in when she plays as this video shows:
Lambert has been banned by her college team for her antics in that match, where she was kicking, punching and yanking opponents to the ground by their hair. Lambert is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying “I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation,” you can say that again. Whilst hard men in the Premier League may not go as far as the American defender during a game, some genuine tough players have played in England in the past. Here is a look at the top ten hardest players to ever play in the Premiership:
10: Jaap Stam – The 6 ft 3 in Manchester United and Netherlands central defender was certainly a formidable opponent to come up against. Stam was a straight character who was said to have a serious approach to football, and he went into every tackle as if it were his last. Centre forwards rarely had the better of battles with the Dutchman as his build and physique was up there with anyone. In his PSV days it is rumoured that a fight on the field immediately ended as soon as Stam came towards the confrontation. He definitely wasn’t a man to be messed with.
9: Colin Hendry – An old fashioned central defender, Hendry was as hard as granite and had an uncompromising approach to the art of defending. His tough nature meant that if the ball was in the air he would go and head it and nothing would get in his way. He once described a swinging elbow as shrugging off another player and was banned for six international matches as a result. The defender led Blackburn to the FA Premier League title back in 1995 and had courage in abundance, which he will need plenty of when he stars in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here later this year.
8: Neil Ruddock – ‘Razor’ Ruddock was involved in plenty of bust ups during his football career, most famously clashing with Frenchmen Eric Cantona and Patrick Vieira. He seemed to enjoy dishing punishment out to his opponents and brought plenty of steel to the Liverpool defence for a number of years. His reputation as a hard man goes before him and to this day when he still appears in testimonials and charity matches he doesn’t exactly back out of tackles, as celebrity Tim Lovejoy will testify after geting his comeuppance after taking the mickey out of him.
7: Julian Dicks – The West Ham defender would have been more suited to playing football before his time, as he was a traditional hard man. The tough tackler had the nickname ‘The Terminator’ and many of his challenges were enough to make your eyes water. The shaven-headed defender sure had the look of a hard man and his no nonsense approach endeared him to the Hammers’ fans. It seems since retiring he hasn’t lost any of his aggression either, as Dicks has admitted that he has smashed his golf clubs in anger after losing his rag after a fluffed shot.
6: Marco Materazzi – The Italian defender is known as ‘The Matrix’ due to his unpredictable personality and wasn’t adverse to a crunching tackle every now and again. Materazzi seemed to have a switch that when he got angry he took it out on his opponents and illustrated that during his time in the Premiership with Everton. He knew how to wind up opponents as well as the infamous incident with French legend Zidane proves. He was head butted by Zidane after allegedly insulting the Frenchman’s family and got a taste of what he himself dished out during his career.
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5: Patrick Vieira – The Arsenal midfielder wasn’t your typical hard man in terms of thuggish behaviour, but he certainly knew how to commit fouls. The Frenchman wasn’t a psychopath like so many of the traditional hard footballers, but he brought some steel to Wenger’s youthful and skilful team. During his time in the Premiership he picked up ten red cards which is some effort, and had disciplinary problems throughout his time in England. If he returns to the Premier League with Arsenal as has been rumoured, England football fans will get another taste this hard man.
4: Vinnie Jones – A member of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang, Jones wasn’t afraid to get stuck in on the football pitch. He was well known in English football for his aggressive style and intimidating demeanour and certainly wasn’t a player to mess with. Infamously remembered for grabbing Gascoigne’s privates, Jones was an important part of Wimbledon’s 1988 FA Cup final victory when he went head-to-head with fellow Liverpool hard man Steve McMahon. Since retiring, Jones now plays hard men on the big screen, featuring as a British gangster in many a movie.
3: Duncan Ferguson – The Everton and Newcastle striker often threw his weight around on the pitch and used his height and weight to his advantage. He was regularly on the wrong side of referees for his dominating style of play in which the odd elbow was never far away. Off the pitch Ferguson has had four convictions for assault and most famously was unimpressed when he found two burglars in his house. Ferguson confronted the pair and one of them subsequently spent time in hospital, showing that he wasn’t a person you’d want to get on the wrong side of.
2: Stuart Pearce – Pearce typifies what it means to play with passion and was always a player who was 100% committed. Nicknamed ‘Psycho’, Pearce was a tough defender who had a distinguished football career, playing for Nottingham Forest amongst others. He was so hard that he even tried to run off a broken leg and on another occasion just got on with the game when Boli head butted him in Malmo. His hard but fair attitude was respected across the country, and he showed what football meant to him by screaming after scoring a penalty for England against Spain at Euro 96.
1: Roy Keane – The Manchester United midfielder was so hard that it was thought that even Sir Alex Ferguson was frightened of him. The uncompromising midfielder was at the heart of United’s Premiership success for a number of years and led the side to many domestic and European trophies. In his most infamous incident on the pitch, he effectively ended the career of Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Haaland with a horrendous revenge tackle where he showed his studs. His determined, aggressive and competitive style of play makes him the ultimate Premiership hard man.
Is there anyone not on this list who you think deserves to be there? How do these hard men compare to the all-time hardest footballers, such as Tommy Smith and Dave Mackay? And can anyone currently playing in the FA Premier League claim to be as hard as those who have gone before them?