Discovering a football club’s tough nut or hard man is not always straightforward. While some display their strength in tackles, others earn their reputation through sheer grit and determination. However, some players need not say or do much to make you realize they are not to be messed with. We gathered insights from the BBC Sport fan community to offer up some of the toughest players to have played for each club down the years.
Martin Keown stands out as the toughest player to have played for Arsenal. A formidable defender, Keown’s love, passion, and winning mentality were evident both on and off the pitch. Along with Tony Adams, the duo formed a solid, formidable, and dominating centre-back pairing that opposition teams feared coming up against.
Dion Dublin was a true warrior for Aston Villa known for his tough tackling and commitment. In December 1999, the striker suffered a potentially life-threatening broken neck but returned just a few months later to score the winning penalty in an FA Cup semi-final. During the derby against Birmingham in 2003, he was sent off for headbutting Robbie Savage, initiating a 20-man brawl.
Harry Arter, known for his tough tackling, commitment, and heart, was a warrior who gave everything for Bournemouth. In a stirring display in a 2015 win over Manchester United, Arter proved his worth just days after he and his partner tragically lost their daughter at birth.
Terry Hurlock is Brentford’s toughest ever player. His fierce tackling, long hair, and beard struck fear into opponents. The former Brentford player could play a bit too, appearing in both the Premier League and Scottish Premier League and winning three England B caps during his career.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Danny Cullip was a captain who led by inspiration and fear for Brighton & Hove Albion. Whether he was finishing 90 minutes at Forest in 2004 with blood pouring from his head, swearing at his team-mate Robbie Pethick so loudly the whole of Withdean heard, or his war cry of “let’s ‘ave a winner” whenever the opposition took a goal kick, he won three promotions in five years as a Brighton player.
Ron Harris was a hard-nosed defender who led Chelsea to FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup glory in the 1970s, known for his uncompromising style of play. While modern fans may choose John Terry as Chelsea’s toughest ever player, if your club’s top all-time appearance maker’s nickname is “Chopper,” the award has to go to Harris.
Fan favourite Damien Delaney became a legend at Crystal Palace for his full-blooded commitment. His iconic images, tussling with several opposition players in one and face-to-face with Chelsea’s Diego Costa in another, summed up his time at the club.
Nobody could be a worse nightmare for defenders than Duncan Ferguson. The towering presence of Everton’s legendary striker, known for his physicality, power and dominating presence, scared not only opposition players but even referees.
Terry Hurlock’s tackling prowess made him a feared man on the pitch, a reputation that saw opponents regularly duck out of tackles he contested. He earned a record 61 disciplinary points before retiring after breaking his leg in a friendly, a word that would not have featured in Hurlock’s personal dictionary.
Gaetano Berardi played with a warrior mentality, making him the toughest Leeds United player since Billy Bremner. Passionate about the club, Berardi showed his mental and physical toughness on the pitch, making him an ideal modern-day Leeds bodyguard.
Wes Morgan, the former captain of Leicester City, tops the list of the club’s toughest ever player. He never cut corners, played straightforward and no-nonsense football, and was a fearless defender on the pitch.
Andy Robertson may not be imposing in stature, but his mental and physical toughness is unmatched. Always the first to wind up opposition fans and players, he consistently raises the standards on the pitch.
Only one player comes to mind when considering Manchester City’s toughest ever player – Bert Trautmann. Despite playing with a broken neck during the 1956 FA Cup final against Birmingham City, he made crucial saves that led to City lifting the cup.
Roy Keane, the Irishman who never settled for second best, was a ferocious competitor and the toughest player to have ever played in the Premier League. His character was unquestionable, and he inspired fear in opponents.
Players on the pitch were scared of Duncan Ferguson, who was not afraid to get stuck in and always came off unscathed in a head clash. Even his teammates were scared of him.
Kenny Burns was one of the hardest players to have worn the Garibaldi, famed for taking his false teeth out and showing them to opponents. The striker-turned-defender once headbutted an Arsenal player as he lined up to defend a free-kick, showcasing the character of the man who would be a VAR regular nowadays.
Oriol Romeu’s combative approach and full-blooded commitment made him Southampton’s most combative defensive midfielder. No other player brought such an edge to the midfield, earning the player an incredible 63 yellow cards during his 11-year spell in the Premier League, without ever seeing red.
In the 1981 FA Cup final, Graham Roberts lost two teeth after an accidental collision with a team-mate but refused to go off. This exemplifies Roberts, who was never afraid to tackle, coming off the pitch with blood and sweat coming down the side of his face.
West Ham United
Julian Dicks’ hard-hitting style instilled fear in any opposition that came across him. Although an all-around nice person, Dicks showed no fear as a defender, regularly throwing his body on the line, even if that meant making some enemies along the way.
Kevin Muscat takes the title for Wolves’ toughest-ever player. With numerous incidents during his career that proved his mettle, he was labelled “the most hated man in football” by Birmingham City player Martin Grainger, and Peter Crouch said, “Kevin Muscat scared me.” Over his nineteen-year career in football, Muscat received 123 yellow cards and 12 reds.
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