Tag Archives: Soccer

Football Tough Guys: Billy Whitehurst

When you think of football tough guys, you immediately think of the old guys. Men like Ron “Chopper” Harris, Neil “Razor” Ruddock or Vinnie Jones were feared on the pitch. These weren’t baby faced assassins, these were tough brawlers who would take you down on the pitch and wouldn’t even think twice about waiting for you in the car park after a match. They defined the term “hard cunt”. However, there was one player who was the hardest of them all. The player we’re speaking on today was defined by that term and then some. Jones and Ruddock both have stated in their careers that this man was the hardest they have ever played against. Alan Hansen has said that he was frightened of this man. That man is Billy Whitehurst.

“ I went off at half time and the doctor’s ripped all the stitches up and stapled me up, literally put staples in and to be fair they were a lot better than stitches. So he’s stapled me out and I’ve gone out for the second half. I had a hole in my cheek so you could see the whole way through my mouth. ”

Billy Whitehurst was playing professional football while also laying bricks at the same time. At that moment, he had been playing for Mexborough Town before Hull City scooped him up for the bargain price of £2000 in 1980. In his career he would go on to play for more than 10 clubs, but Hull City embraced this giant (he played from ’80-’85 and again in ’88-’90), and he would go on to score 52 goals in 223 appearances for the Tigers. Feared by teammates, opposing players, and managers alike, Whitehurst was indeed a true tough guy of the game. Whitehurst bounced around from Newcastle, Reading, Sunderland, Oxford, Sheffield United, Stoke City, Doncaster, and Crewe Alexandra before going abroad and playing. Whether he was pranking his teammates, crushing opponents with goals or elbows, or playing with actual proper staples in his head and a hole in his cheek, Whitehurst claimed he always gave “120%”. He would eventually retire after a knee injury, settle in as a pub owner (among other jobs), and go back to civilian life. I’m sure when his retirement was announced, the people he played against him and feared him all breathed a collective sigh of relief in knowing they weren’t going to be smashed to bits on the pitch. A true football tough guy of the modern football era.

To Hull City and Back

Hull City vs. Port Vale 1983, Top of Division Table 4 Clash

Hull City vs. Liverpool 1989 FA Cup Pt. 1

Hull City vs. Liverpool 1989 FA Cup Pt. 2

(aet)

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Football Tough Guys: Roy Keane

Like him or hate him, Roy Keane was one of the toughest and hardest working players on the pitch in his 18 year football career. From his scrappy beginnings at the semi-pro Cobh Ramblers to stints with Nottingham Forest, 12 years with Manchester United, finishing up his career at Celtic, plus the turbulent years on the Ireland National team, Keane has both been a team leader and quite an outspoken player on and off the pitch. Respected, hated, and loved in football, Roy Keane is one of the true tough guys of the modern football era. One of my favorite incident being the Manchester United v. Arsenal tunnel incident with Patrick Viera, after Viera decided to pick on wee Gary Neville. Judge for yourself.

(aet)

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12.4.76: Birmingham City 6, Leicester City 2

December 4th, 1976. Match of the Day. Birmingham City take on Leicester City. The Blues came into Filbert Street to take on a struggling Leicester City team on a rock hard, frost covered, frozen pitch. However, the Blues proved that night to the whole of England that no matter the condition of the pitch, you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Maybe it was the motivation by a local business man who proclaimed that he would give a Triumph TR7 auto to the person who scored the 6th goal, or maybe it was the defender turned striker (and back to defender again after he left Birmingham City) Scottish pitch whiz Kenny Burns, who netted a hat trick that night. The Blues scored early with a Garry Emmanuel “fine left foot” that opened the score line before striker Trevor Francis was able to put one in on a free kick. It was Francis the play maker again in the 33rd when he was able to beat the Foxes defense and simultaneously get it to Burns who put in for his first. In the 37th minute, Kenny Burns would grab his brace. The half was finished, but he wasn’t.

It wasn’t until the second half that an own goal by the Foxes (a missed timed header by LC’s Dennis Rofe) got the Blues back on the board again. John Connolly would then find, guess who? Kenny Burns, who knocked in his third, the Blues sixth, to grab the last goal in the 64th minute and also grab the sports car. The Foxes, would go on to net a few of their own, but came up way short on this cold December evening. So cold that I may add, that the winger Keith Weller would be the first player ever, to be seen wearing tights under his uniform on MOTD. The players were touch as nails back then, no long sleeve Under Armour underneath their kits, no gloves, but I’m sure that Weller just said ‘sod it’, I need to stay warm. Kenny Burns would go on to play for Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, and would go on to win the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year for 1977-78 (and a First Division title with Forest to boot). He Bounced around clubs such as Leeds, Derby County, Notts County and Barnsley, before playing for a handful of smaller clubs. He also represented his country of Scotland on the National team.

On this cold day in the East Midlands, before all of England, the Blues tore apart Leicester City, and another Scottish Kenny was King on Match of the Day. Interesting that he was so comfortable going from defender to striker so easily, and his hat trick was a sure sign of how good of a player he would mature into. They don’t make them like Kenny Burns any more.

Birmingham City 6, Leicester City 2

(aet)

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A Life Changing Game

When I was a child, I played soccer. My coach was a hard as nails Scotsman called Malcolm Maw. He spoke with a thick Scottish accent, and named the team the Rovers. I played center half back for two years, had a NY Cosmos pennant on my wall and loved wearing my orange and black kit traveling all over South Jersey to play. Then, I made a decision that I regret to this day. I stopped playing. I have no idea why, but I got caught up with what most American boys in the 1970’s got caught up in: skateboarding, baseball, basketball, BMX bike riding, and video games. I had a friend who tried to get me back into it and of course I refused, choosing to follow other sports, or just not want to deal with it at all. It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I was a bit more refined, so to speak, that I got back into the beautiful game, it’s colorful and storied history, and gave up on any other sports I was ever into. I’m just simply not interested in anything other than football. I completely agree with the great Bill Shankly when he said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” I’ve made so many friends all over the world through football, a kinship that can be attributed through who you support, who you don’t support, or the banter that arises from last night’s match. I’ve met strangers on planes, trains, the subway and on the street who, when seeing my scarf, track top or jersey have struck up a conversation, or even have gone as far to start an argument about a penalty kick they thought was undeserved from the last time their club played my club. In my whole life, I’ve never felt so connected to a sport and the people who support it.

“ Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that. ”-Bill Shankly

My love of the beautiful game has brought me to Scotland, where I saw my first live match when Celtic took on Dundee, to London, where I was suprised I couldn’t get a stadium tour in every stadium (large and small except Chelsea) I went to. I have been back and forth through the United States to watch and support the game I love. I’ve taken my knocks from friends who thought football was a waste of time, said it wasn’t a real sport or draw for fans, and much to their chagrin I pointed out it’s the most popular sport in the world. I spoke up to so called supporters who liked the “tops the guys wear” on clubs like Man United (IMHO the NY Yankees of the Premiership) and debated why they should do their homework on a team before they just chose the most popular one. I’ve played Premier League Fantasy League for so many years that when I talk about it, the people I had worked with looked at me like I was Rafi from the FX series League. I can specifically remember when Fox Soccer Channel was Fox Sports Net, you only got sporadic games to watch, and had to actually pay to get into a place like Nevada Smith’s in NYC to watch a match on Setanta. Locally, however, I had gone to a struggling “Irish Pub” that broadcast EPL matches. I did it primarily to find some kindred spirits to watch the match with, but to quench my thirst for football all together, even if I had to go alone. As I walked in with my scarf to watch the only match on, Arsenal v. Bolton (neither of my clubs), I saw two construction workers having a Bud Light at 11am while they screamed at the tv: “Turn this girl’s sport off!”. It didn’t matter that 6 foot something Sol Campbell ran up and down the pitch gracefully for 90+ minutes without even getting tired, a feat not many athletes in American football can claim. Quietly, I watched the end of the match, finished my shepard’s pie, and looked at the owner. This guy was a beaten man, realizing that he had to switch to the NFL because the EPL wasn’t going to cut it. He just raised his hands as if to say “what can I do?”. That place didn’t last, but my interest in football did, and I went where ever I had to to get my fix. I was just happy that I could be a part of what I felt was an underground cult of people who were into a movement against the norm. Plus, it was the most exciting sport I had ever watched: the long ball, hard challenges, great defense, and unbelievable passing and goals. My mind was made up, football from now on.

I was also introduced to the England National team in the beginning of my interest in football. My room mate was a Northern Irish lad who got me into the often exciting, mostly dreadful (but altogether addicting) England National team and (a team called everyone’s second favorite team, but my first) Liverpool. I was told I couldn’t switch clubs, that’s the way it goes. I stuck with that. I didn’t bother to get into the USMNT then, as I was introduced to England first. When I supported them (England) as an American (but still pulled for the US) during the last World Cup, I had to endure a ridiculous amount of stick at my local pub. “Country first”, as my mate Fulham Dave would say. While I know it struck people as odd, for me, it wasn’t odd. I was introduced to football through England, and those words that my friend told me about not switching teams stuck. I have since grown to also love USA football, Clint Dempsey, Landy Cakes, Tim Howard, the National team and the MLS, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I was getting a bunch of flack from people who would never get up and be at the pub (I’d never seen about 95% of these people) for a 7:05 kick off in the snow on a Saturday morning, while two bottom of the table clubs fought to stay up, but would surely put on a USA cowboy hat and scream for a team they knew not one player on. At least I supported the sport! I was the bloke who was there every Saturday and Sunday for Premiership matches, no matter who was playing, and I was wondering why these Johnny Come Lately’s were stepping into my clubhouse stirring the pot? I did and still do stand my ground, and consider myself a huge supporter of the game (no matter who is on the pitch). I do support my local club (New York Redbull), have had season tickets for the last five years, and will continue to preserve the culture and history of not just a sport they call the beautiful game, but what I call a life changing game.

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