The Hard As Nails Classic XI

Here, Eoin Lyons brings you the ‘Hard As Nails Classic XI’; a team made up of football’s most notorious hard men. 

With Diego Costa recently grabbing the headlines after being given a three match ban for stamping on Liverpool’s Emre Can, the dirtiness of the modern game has again come to the forefront of discussion.

Arguably, football has seemingly lost its hard-hitting nature and integrity in the place of playacting and downright dirtiness.

Many footballers of the past must be gritting their teeth in seeing this development in the modern game. There are many names from football’s tougher days who Diégo Costa may think twice about stamping on.

So why not make a classic XI of these hard-hitting players from days gone by? The side includes one goalkeeper obviously, three defenders, four midfielders, and three upfront.



There are few in the history of football as withstanding as Burt Trautmann. The German shot stopper was always a force to be reckoned with between the posts. However, in what has to be the most staggering display of sheer hardened resilience in the history of football, it was his performance in the 1956 FA Cup final which cements his place in this side.

In a collision in the box, the Manchester City goalkeeper broke his neck, and played on. Not only did he play on, but they won too. This video is the only way one can truly appreciate it.



Willie Woodburn is the last footballer in Britain to receive a lifetime ban from the game for indiscipline. What makes this Scottish defender particularly mighty is the fact that his lifetime ban came in an era when it took nothing short of an assault to be dismissed.

The Rangers player feared no man, and regularly retaliated with a head-butt to anyone who crossed him. He is nothing short of an icon in the most violent era of Scottish football.


The face of Jaap Stam was the most intimidating image in football at the turn of the last century. He was not one for starting arguments, but he did tend to finish them.

One stern look and a hand around the throat was his classic approach to any player who he felt deserved to be put in their place for a wild tackle or intimidation of a fellow player. The Dutchman was talented and indestructible defender, a favourite of many.


Even the name, Terry Butcher, suggests this man was hard as nails. A former England captain and steely defender, Terry Butcher was another tenacious tackler.

The most iconic example of his unyielding tenacity came in a World Cup qualifier when not even a roll of bandage and nine stitches could keep his white England shirt shielded from his blood.



Nobby Stiles was the ultimate holding midfielder in the first of Manchester United’s glory eras. He was a dogged powerhouse in the centre of the pitch, who regained possession for his team time and time again.

In a squad surrounded by skill and flare, Nobby Stiles provided the passionate no-nonsense approach, leaving him feared not only by the opposition, but by his own teammates on occasion.


While he may not be as famous as the rest of the members of this team, Stig Tofting is no less intimidating than anyone else.

Another defensive midfielder, the Danish ‘Lawn Mower’ is nothing short of a maniac, unstoppable on the pitch and off it.

Involved in various brawls and not a stranger to jail time, Stig Tofting is a volatile but highly-respected character. He gets a bonus point for being the scariest looking too, regardless of any other attributes.


Love him or hate him, there is no denying the rightful inclusion of Roy Keane in this team. He was the toughest, most consistent player that Manchester United possessed at the turn of the century.

For club and country, he never sat in the backseat. His long-running rivalry with Patrick Vieria and his ruthless exchanges with Alf-Inge Haaland were classic examples of his fiery temper. Again, Roy Keane was not a player that many were keen to upset.


Much like Roy Keane, Graeme Souness was an excellent midfielder who has proven his aggression both on and off the pitch.

He was a rock in the centre of the pitch and a playmaker. His explosive persona though, meant he could turn the game on its head in a matter of seconds. To this day, his punditry is blunt and fearless, in direct resemblance to how he carried himself on the pitch.



Duncan Ferguson is an undeniable hard man both on and off the pitch. As if nine red cards in his professional career weren’t enough, one of these was given for a head-butt, which resulted in a 12-match ban and a three-month prison sentence.

It would be rude to not include a member of Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang.’ The obvious choice of course would have to be Vinnie Jones. He is simply the personification of hard-hitting football.

His 12 red cards affirmed his ‘hard man’ image on the pitch, and his intimidating appearances in some great films affirm this image off it. His most iconic moment of madness resulted in some light discomfort for another tough character, Paul Gascoigne.


Last but by no means least, is the hardest of them all, Billy Whitehurst. He may not be the first name that springs to mind in guessing who is the most intimidating footballer of all time, but for anyone who has come across him, it is a name you will never forget.

One anecdote to elegantly put this man’s tenacity into context details how in a game against Nottingham Forest, Billy Whitehurst was playing with over 30 stitches in his face after a pub brawl.

During the game he was punched by the opposition goalkeeper, opening the wound considerably. However, instead of coming off, he insisted the team doctor staple (yes, staple) his cheek back together, resulting in him playing the second half with a hole in his face.

Now you can understand why Vinnie Jones reckons he’s the hardest opponent he has ever faced.

Eoin Lyons, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.