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Foul Play: 6 Of The Hardest Men In European Championship History

Foul Play: 6 Of The Hardest Men In European Championship History
By Balls Team
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We've teamed up with Four Star Pizza to bring you six of the hardest men in the history of European competition.

Cult hero status is usually bestowed on a team's designated hard men  - that granite hard imperviousness to pain and refusal to yield in the face of adversity.

In an era when referees have clamped down on the rougher side of the game and yellow and red cards are shovelled out with abandon, people often evince nostalgia for the hard men of the sport.

While we appreciate the value of taking one for the team, we’re all about ‘fowl play’ here in Balls HQ so we've teamed up with ‘Fowl Play’ fans Four Star Pizza to bring you six of the hardest men in the history of European competition, each of whom enjoyed careers of making a chicken out of their opposition.

Terry Butcher

Despite being born in Singapore, Terry Butcher often seems at pains to present a British Bulldog image to the world. While he was a prominent figure in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, he only played in one European championship, in 1988, when England played terribly and lost every match, including the opener to Ireland.

His reputation for hardness was sealed in a vital World Cup qualifier in Stockholm the following year, when England, still at a low ebb after the debacle in Germany, ground out a 0-0 draw and effectively made sure of qualification for Italia 90.

Butcher headed the back of a Swedish attacker's head early in the game, resulting a massive head wound. He was fitted with a bandage which failed miserably to staunch the flow of blood. By the end of the match his shirt had turned red with blood.


Butcher played the entire match at the heart of defence as England kept a clean sheet. The English tabloids were loving it, calling for 'Butch' to be given the Victoria Cross.


Mick McCarthy

Before Ireland played England in the Euro 88 opener, Brian Clough, in his usual summer role as ITV analyst, said that the English players would be delighted to hear that Mick McCarthy had been passed fit to play.


"I don't think he's an international class defender and I would say Lineker and Beardsley will have been licking their hands when they heard they would be facing him", Cloughie said.

In this regard, Clough was on the exact same page as most of the Irish football media who continually bemoaned McCarthy's inclusion ahead of persona non grata David O'Leary. Eamon Dunphy, needless to say, was particularly merciless.


After the triumph in Stuttgart, McCarthy popped with an 'assist' against the USSR in the second match. We say 'assist', we mean a 'long throw'.

McCarthy cheerfully asserted in his autobiography that he had committed more fouls than any other player at Italia 90.

Basile Boli


French tough nut who headed the winning goal in the 1993 Champions League Final. The previous year, he attracted headlines for rather more infamous reasons after his 'altercation' with Stuart Pearce during the France-England group game from Euro 92, often advanced as a candidate for the worst game of football ever played.


His reputation for toughness, notwithstanding, he previously teamed up with Marseille teammate Chris Waddle - the most prolific footballer/pop star of all time - to record a song called 'We've Got A Feeling'.


Colin Hendry

Caledonia's answer to Terry Butcher, Hendry was famed for both reckless bravery and his distinctive long blond hair. In montages of his career, it was obligatory to play the James Horner soundtrack from Braveheart.  


Hendry played in two major championships, both during the underrated Craig Brown's era as Scotland manager, at Euro 96 and World Cup 98.

Unfortunately, his famous contribution in Euro 96 was being ridiculed Paul Gascoigne for England's second goal in the second group game.



Giorgos Karagounis

Greece's improbable run to the European championships in 2004 was celebrated by admirers of tenacious underdogs and proponents of 'defensivist' (as Gianni Brera called it) football but bemoaned by purists who turned up their nose at the idea that such a team could win a major competition.

At the very beginning of the tournament, when the notion that Greece might win it was still thought ludicrous, Karagounis smashed home the opening goal against the hosts Portugal.

Over three tournaments, he would set the record for the most yellow cards in the history of the European championship.


Stuart Pearce

One must presume he didn't acquire the nickname 'psycho' for no reason, acknowledging the alliteration dimension.

Played in both Euro 92 and Euro 96.

The former was a bleak affair for everyone connected with England - not least their manager who never properly recovered from the failure. Pearce's most memorable contribution was ending up on the wrong side of a headbutt.

The latter offered catharsis for Pearce six years after his penalty miss in Turin in 1990. The British press raved about his mental toughness.


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