Wednesday, February 27, 2008

So who was City’s hardest player ever?

News that former City captain Andy Morrison has been charged with actual bodily harm made me wonder who City's hardest ever player is.

So here are a few suggestions to throw into the hat. The names are in no particular order, and hardness on the pitch has been carelessly blurred with 'being a bit of a nutter'. Current players are not included.

Mike Doyle

The son of a policeman, Doyle was taught to fight at his dad's police gym as a child after his father discovered he was having problems with some local kids.

A tough-tackler on the pitch, he was just as uncompromising off it. Doyle nurtured a genuine hatred of all things United, and took great delight in stoking up rivalries wherever possible.

'The night before a derby, I would go on ITV with Gerald Sinstadt and tell United we were going to thrash them, And why not? It was absolutely true. We were gutted the year we got United relegated, because while they were on the fixture list, it was a guaranteed 4 points every season. They might have had Best, Charlton and Law but when we played them it was a piece of p***,' he once told The Sun.

Time has failed to mellow the old warrior. His 2004 autobiography, Blue Blood, even has a chapter entitled 'Why I Hate United'.

The banner at Old Trafford that mocks our lack of success is a particular source of annoyance for Doyle. "I'd love to walk to the top of the Stretford End and rip that f***ing flag down," he once told the Independent.

Gerry Gow

A legend at Bristol City and, in my opinion, the key player in our 1981 Cup final team.

'If only a man like Gerry Gow was still playing today to act as role model for today's cosseted youth, brought up on suspect body shaving metrosexuals like Man USA's Ronaldo,' writes the author of this tribute to the Glaswegian Man of Steel.

Tony Coleman

When Malcolm Allison suggested signing the young winger in 1967, Joe Mercer's reaction was less than enthusiastic: 'Oh no, not Tony Coleman, no, no. I was at Lilleshall when he threw a bed out of the window. He did all sorts. No, Malcolm. No. He was in serious trouble with a referee'.

'He had a crew-cut, seemed to have tattoo marks all over his arms, wore jeans and a T-shirt, and spoke with a Scouse accent you could almost cut with a knife,' wrote Mike Doyle, who attended the same course at Lilleshall. Doyle believed the bed incident was a result of Coleman merely wanting 'to inject some excitement into what he felt was becoming a repetitive sort of existence'.

But Coleman proved an inspired choice for City, despite his lack of goals ('I don't like being kissed', was his reasoning for not scoring that often). Even Mercer was to later regard him with something approaching affection.

"Tony Coleman? I was the only manager he didn't hit," he once remarked.

"Big' Dave Ewing

The centre half played 279 games at 1953 and 1962. As that was a bit before my time, here are a few memories from Leo Fewtrell at McVittee:

'For Dave the player, marking an opponent usually meant exactly that. l was fortunate enough to get to know him well when he was coaching the Reserve team in the seventies. The players at the time all gave him plenty of respect because he was quite capable of knocking the sh*t out of all of them.'

George Heslop

A tough-tackling centre-half who's fondly remembered by Nimrod at Citymancs for once knocking Charlie George about 10 foot in the air after the Arsenal player had done a wonderful solo run.

According to a poster at the MEN, Heslop meted out the same treatment to Alan Ball.

Franny Lee

Famous for this punch-up with Norman Hunter, Lee was prepared to use his fists off the field too.

Rodney Marsh recalls one such incident form their playing days in his autobiography, Priceless.

The pair were in a club in Manchester's Piccadilly, but after getting abuse from a group of United fans they finished their drinks and left. The United fans followed them out and continued with the insults: "You City players haven't got the balls," said one.

'This wound Franny up. He turned on the guy and said to him, 'OK. You can have the first one’.
The guy smashed a right-hander into Franny's face, but Franny didn't budge an inch, hardly even flinched. Then he really started to lay into the guy. A couple of his mates steamed in to help but I pulled them off.
'Leave it,' I said to them. 'If they want to have a knuckle, let 'em have it'.
Franny gave the guy a real beating. There was blood everywhere. When the police arrived Lee was taken down the station and released early the next morning. Amazingly the press didn't get hold of it.

Below is my favourite ever photo of Lee, plus an example of why British society is going to the dogs.

Click on photos to see full-size image

And here are a few more that fall more into the 'biggest nutter' category:

Joe Corrigan
I forget where I read this, but apparently Big Joe really hated being beaten in training. If anyone chipped him from outside the box he’d lose his temper and chase them around the pitch.

Tony Grealish
Known as the 'bearded viking', Grealish makes the subs bench in the Rotherham United 'most mentally disturbed 11'. (Gow is in the starting lineup). 'He would be one of those uncles who would take his nephews/nieces to Macdonalds and buy them burgers until they were sick,' is Rotherham fan Alan Todd's considered assessment.

Eric Nixon
Fondly remembered by Gavin at Citymancs for punching Palace's Mark Bright (details here).

Stan Bowles
Left City as a youngster following a series of off-field incidents. Nearly got lynched by Sunderland fans a few years later for failing to show complete respect to the FA Cup winners.

~ And just to prove that bad-boy behaviour is nothing new, here's a newspaper story from 1903 about three City players who were fined by magistrates for 'behaving in a disorderly manner'.

~ There's a very funny story about George Heslop's wig over at Arsenal News Review.


Anonymous said...

Roy Paul

Now there's hard for you!

Anonymous said...

I can remember Joe playing against Boro in the 70's and Graeme Souness was trying to throw his weight around. He clattered Big Joe in our area and Joe just contemptuously patted him on the head as if to say "come back when you are 6ft taller and 10 stone heavier."

I can't believe you didn't mention Dave Watson. Absolute legend, man mountain and underrated hero of ours. The 1976 League Cup footage of Dave being interviewed by Brian Moore whilst having stitches put in above his eye is the kind of thing today's so called hard men could only dream about having on their cv's!

Finally, special mention to Peter Reid and the match against Spurs where Gazza patted him on the head after embarrassing him with a mazy run. Reid growled at him and Gazza gave him a wide berth for the rest of the match!

Andrew said...

Of course, Dave Watson.

I'd forgotten all about that League Cup incident.

I'll be doing an update later this week so he'll defintely be included, along with Roy Paul.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought you would have to mention Niall Quinn in there...maybe not a dirty player, but certainly one who could look after himself ala the story of Niall Quinn's Disco Pants and his sorting out of Steve McMahon...

Jackblue said...

Yes Roy Paul was hard. But Roy Little would eat Watson, Doyle, Lee, et al for a light breakfast snack.

Anonymous said...

Dave Connor, f ittest lad on the pitch and the man he marked felt it

Anonymous said...

where the hell is bert trautmann? the guy played with a broken neck for christ sake!
that is hard

Anonymous said...

DaMarcus Beasley.... OK maybe not.

Anyone remember Murtaz Shelia: one of the cluster of Georgian players who followed Kinkladze. He was built like the proverbial brick "out"house, with legs the same circumferance as my waist (and let me tell you, that IS saying something). Problem is, he went in for a tackle against Reading (I think) knackered his knee and never played again. Shame, really: looks can deceive.

Anonymous said...

Great article.. Glad you're back!

You've helped make my mind up about a certain Irish midfielder and made me laugh that you could include Joe Corrigan in a "Hard Man" list...? I don't think chasing people because they've chipped you in training counts as hard... Just daft!

Keep 'em coming...



Anonymous said...

Gold: Got to be Roy Paul. I saw him kick St.Stanley Matthews so high in the air he had snow on him when he came down.

Silver: Buzzer. He was well hard on the pitch. He was the only forward in a poll of hard men by first division footballers, a list that included Chopper Harris and Tommy Smith.

Bronze: Gerry Gow

Andrew said...

Thanks Stewart,

Funny, I was always under the impression that Corrigan was pretty hard.

Everyone else,

Thanks for all the suggestions. I'm going to wait until next week to update the story, so if anyone has a first hand account worth including feel free to email me at purelymancity (at hotmail dot co dot uk)

Anonymous said...

Allegedly Corrigan once beat up a reporter in a hotel elevator while on tour in Australia for not paying the Queen proper respect during a dinner.

Anonymous said...

Ben Thatcher, or is he just in the nutter category?

Anonymous said...

Can't believe no-one has mentioned the 80's midfielder Neil McNab, i recall him having a stand up brawl on the pitch in the days when a player didn't get sent off for breaking another players finger nail...

Anonymous said...

I can only comment on players I've actually seen play on numerous occasions, and on that basis I'd say Nicky Reid has to be up with the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) of them. I remember Reid being more or less a fair but uncompromising player on the field; certainly his teammates at the time were always glad when Reid was on their side during training.Probably the most ferocious tackler I've seen, but not dirty. Ask Vinny Jones, Paul Stewart, Steve McMahon, Paul Gascoigne, Joe Jordan, Bryan Robson , Kevin Bond and many others about this City (and Blackburn Rovers ) legend.

Anonymous said...

No-one has mentioned the toughest, hardest player ever to pull on a City shirt, and who was feared by most forwards of the opposition. I refer to Bill Leivers, who played RB or cente half in the 1950s.
Now he was a really tough cookie.
None of those mentioned would come anywhere near him for sheer physical power and brute strength. He also took penalties; these were struck with brute force, fortunately no keeper was ever hit by one.......