Football’s bad boy world – A history

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“Oh Joey, you’ve been sent off again. Have a rest and take three weeks off, fully paid”. “Temper, Temper Nemanja, off you go and leave Ashley Barnes to be the victim”. The big world of football throughout the years has seen many things change. One thing however, remains the same, the bad boys of the game. We see players fall down more dramatically than Kanye West’s reputation after an awards ceremony, showing no sign of masculinity in a tackle. Yet occasionally we see moments of pure madness from players, just ask Worcester City’s Shab Khan who chose to ‘body slam’ Stockport County’s Charlie Russell after a vicious challenge in a non-league game this past weekend. This post looks at some of the biggest and baddest players to ever step foot onto the green grass of the beautiful game.

Joey Barton seems to be the face of the modern day bad boy but some would argue that he doesn’t compare to others who preceded him. Roy Keane was a great captain and a fierce leader at Manchester United, a no nonsense centre midfielder even towards his own team, Phil Neville will know something about that from back in 2003. Even as a manager, Keane was a fearful character in the dressing room and amongst the press (word of advice, always leave your phone on silent in his presence, as a journalist found out whilst he was manager at Ipswich). Whilst Keane will be known for his horrific challenge on Alf-Inge Haaland in a Manchester derby (because let’s face it, what’s a derby day for in Keane’s eyes), his heated rivalry with Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira was more than just an argument in the tunnels of Highbury. It was simply their competitive nature, making United vs. Arsenal in the early 2000’s a must watch fixture.

Leeds, Leeds, Leeds. Chanted from the terraces at Elland Road in the 1970’s and still today. But Don Revie’s boys were tagged as one of the dirtiest teams in the first division. In a time where men were men, sometimes they were noted as taking it a little too far. Captain Billy Bremner led the most feared and dangerous side in the country, a title that the fans adopted with chants of “Dirty, Dirty Leeds”. However, Leeds were a difficult side both on and off the pitch. Brian Clough found that out after he succeeded Leeds United’s father figure in Revie when he took the England job at the end of the 1973-74 season. Clough was forced out unceremoniously by the team who convinced the board to let him go. One thing was always a constant despite the names and the dirty tactics on the pitch, Leeds maintained a team spirit still driven in today of marching on together.

Wimbledon were known as one of the underdogs of English football. Against all odds ‘The Crazy Gang’ beat Division 1 champions Liverpool at Wembley to win their only major trophy in their history. With a team full of fresh faced players, one bad boy stood out, and Paul Gascoigne’s wedding jewels know better than anyone about Vinnie Jones. In two separate spells with the Wombles, Jones developed his ‘hard man’ image which gained criticism from Tottenham legend David Ginola who thought Jones shouldn’t have a career through such means. The footballer turned actor earned himself 12 red cards over his career as well as the fastest ever yellow card in a football match, fouling Sheffield United’s Dane Whitehouse after 3 seconds whilst playing for Chelsea. Jones played alongside another ‘hard man’ in Eric Cantona while both were at Leeds, who himself earned notoriety after kung-fu kicking a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park, earning himself a 9 month ban from the game, which was followed by ‘that seagulls’ speech. I still don’t think he knows why he did it…

The footballing bad boy usually has three traits, hard tackling, rude to other players and officials and maybe above all, a bit of a lad off the pitch. Well weirdly that might have made Reading legend Robin Friday one of the most popular players to ever play for the Royals. Friday was able to score goals and take a kicking at the same time, but he would be quite happy to give you a kicking back. Friday was a loose cannon, going to the extent of injuring his own team mates in training. Off the pitch, he gave then Reading manager Charlie Hurley a headache when after games he wouldn’t warm down, but instead enjoy a night of heavy drinking. It didn’t take away from his quality as a player. He was often looking for controversy with opposing players, one infamous moment saw Friday show a V sign hand gesture to Luton Town goalkeeper Milija Aleksic whilst playing for Cardiff. Friday would never fulfil his potential as a player because of his lifestyle, and it caught up with him when he died of a suspected heroin overdose in December 1990.

So, when you see Joey Barton, Luis Suarez or Mario Balotelli in the news for all the wrong reasons, you might now wonder what the fuss is all about. I mean, the age of the footballing bad boy does show us where the game has come from and maybe shows that not all football players are ‘softies’ (although I wouldn’t complain at anyone who makes a fuss when bitten by Suarez). Whilst I don’t condone violence in the beautiful game, I do ask players to get a bit more stuck in and man up. I sometimes think referees are seen as the teachers at school separating a childish play fight. I can say for sure, in the days of Bremner, Cantona, Friday and Jones, you wouldn’t have heard the term ‘Simulation’ and commentators saying ‘the defender gave the forward an excuse to go down’. The working man’s game, seemingly no longer…

By Chris Reinholter

Twitter @mrchrisr91

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