The Fan: Alas, Roy Keane Was a Thug, and Thugs in Football Are an Endangered Species
Davies, Hunter, New Statesman (1996)
So Roy Keane has gone from Old Trafford, no longer Man United's captain and motivating force, inspiration and leader, greatest ever midfield player, a living legend, totally irreplaceable, oh do get on with it. Yes, an era has passed, Brian, they don't make them like that any more, we will not see his like again, and other bollocks. Thank Gawd for that.
Because he was a thug, and thugs in football, so I suspect and honestly hope, are an endangered species.
At one time, every team had at least one player whose speciality was thuggishness, whose job it was to snuff out, duff up, put the frighteners on, use any physical means to make sure the opposition's star creative player did not create and, with a bit of luck, did not even get a chance to play.
Defenders may be rough and tough, clumsy and lumpen, may flatten and upend, but on the whole they are not thugs, even though their main job is to stop, to negate. Generally they wait, ready to react, rather than go out looking for trouble.
It's mostly a midfield player who gets given the specific, destructive job, and often given a specific man to destroy. Norman Hunter of Leeds used to bite legs. Tommy Smith of Liverpool ate razor blades and half a cow for breakfast. Nobby Stiles of Man United, despite being thin and weedy, kicked anything human that dared move. "Chopper" Harris of Chelsea chopped bodies into little pieces, then spat them out, looking innocent.
More recently, Vinnie Jones of Wimbledon was a master of the black arts, verbal, emotional and physical. That infamous incident when he grabbed Gazza by the balls, caught on photograph, occurred in 1987, when Gazza was young and fresh in the Newcastle team. The minute they kicked off, Vinnie got behind him and bellowed in his ear: "I'm Vinnie Jones. I'm a fucking gypsy. It's just you and me today, fat boy ..." Gazza, despite all his cockiness, was shitting himself even before the assault happened.
Today, I can't honestly think of a comparable figure. Vinnie looked and acted the part, almost a pantomime baddy, but they don't build them like that any more. …