Brutes at the Ballet

Story by Aaron Bliss.

Whether it’s Old Trafford or the New Den, Villa Park or Boundary Park, a corporate VIP box or a cow shed, football grounds are theatres. You pay to see a play for drama, and perhaps a prism through which all human emotions are refracted. You long for the murder every bit as much as the reconciled love. What I’m trying to say is that, though we condemn them, we all love a filthy challenge now and again.

Whether it’s a highly strung hothead reacting to provocation, or just a mindless, studs-up challenge from nowhere, nothing stirs the blood quite as much as a violent collision. I thought I’d remind you of some of the more flagrant breaches of on-field etiquette in England, some of which should perhaps have attracted prison sentences rather than red cards.

Remember the days when Alan Shearer was actually good at what he did? When he was setting the goal scoring benchmark and captaining England? There was a time when, rather than inspiring people everywhere to put their foot through their television, he tried to put his through Neil Lennon’s head:

This led to the FA reviewing the incident and bizarrely pardoning him of any wrongdoing, hence people joking about Lennon’s filthy headbutt on Shearer’s studs.

Of course, dirty challenges were part and parcel of the game pre-Premier League, and one of the finest proponents of these was modern action hero Vincent Jones. Witness him using fellow dubious tackler John Fashanu as a prop with which to hold Gary Stevens exactly where he wants him, before wiping both of them out:

Of course, combative midfielders with a hairtrigger fuse were also found in Roy Keane and Steven Gerrard. There are a few foreign shockers here, particularly the kung-fu kick to the face, but I want you to pay particular attention to our Premiership heroes here, featuring Lionheart JT stamping on Luis Garcia with no red card, whilst Paolo Di Canio got the longest ban of all for giving Bambi on Ice Alcock a contemptuous shove. Meanwhile, enjoy Keano and Stevie G duking it out for worst challenge in Premier League history:

There was nothing remotely funny about Martin Taylor shattering Eduardo’s ankle with a ridiculous stamp tackle though, nor Chris Morgan fracturing Iain Hume’s skull with his elbow. Both cowardly and indefensible, it makes a mockery of the FA that neither player received anything like the ban Di Canio received for a mild shove, or that David Prutton received for doing the same to a linesman. The fact that their ‘assaults’ were on officials should not detract from the career and life-threatening consequences of the aforementioned challenges.

You’d have to go a long way to beat the shocking brutality in Ben Thatcher’s elbow smash on Pedro Mendes, if only for the malice wrought across his face and spite as he bemoans a team-mate racing to the unconscious Portuguese’s aid:

Some players lack what we might call flair, and make their careers on the backs of the fine art of clogging. Stephen Hunt is such a player. Runs all day but his second touch is usually a tackle. A horribly-timed one:

Let’s not mention Petr Cech. Another clog of war was Michael Brown, here showing how his trade was based on not showing anyone, not even Premier League luminary Ryan Giggs, respect:

Nigel De Jong is a man who looks more suited to the nightclub door scene than the football pitch. Having already broke a player’s leg in an international, he followed it with this ugly leg-breaker on Hatem Ben Arfa:

Ah Joey Barton. Deserves a category all of his own:

Although honourable mentions for service to catcalls go to Lee Bowyer, the man who, whilst looking a little like fellow clog-merchant David Batty, also copied his style in attacking his own team-mate, Kieron Dyer, during a Premier League game against Aston Villa. Patrick Vieira could also be feisty, while Karl Henry doesn’t seem to have any function but boneheaded challenges. Or reactions:

Though sometimes a ridiculous challenge can be completely out of character:

But the most volatile characters usually produce the most jaw-dropping moments of indiscipline. Step forward that man:

Arsenal’s midfield seems to bring out the worst in Mario Balotelli.

So, in conclusion, I offer this thought. Sometimes, we need brutes at the ballet. We need a full pallet of colour to paint a more glorious picture. So take a bow, you filthy buggers. Football needs you, if only to howl abuse at and condemn in the pub afterwards.


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