Popular culture sees the advent of the Premier League in 1992 it as a distinct dividing line, between images of burly, mutton-chopped mullet wearers venturing to deliberately injure one another, and the preened superstars engaging in inch-perfect passing and counter-attacking seen today.
That is far from the case though, and even in the Premier League era, there have been some truly X-rated tackles and challenges over its near 30-year existence, but some are less well-known than others.
With no ‘Keane on Haaland’ in sight, here are our ‘alternate’ picks for the worst challenges seen in the Premier League.
Marco Boogers on Gary Neville – 23 August 1995
Only the most ardent and delusional of West Ham fans still believe that this player could have been the ‘thinking man’s Bergkamp’. A tally of 53 goals, across 147 Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie appearances with four different clubs, was enough to convince Harry Redknapp that Boogers was the real deal.
It hardly mattered that Redknapp had never seen the Dutchman play, unless you count a grainy, scout-procured VHS tape of his Sparta days. Nonetheless, after Boogers put in a solid 5/10 performance in a 2-1 defeat against Leeds on the opening day of the season, it was time to put him up against a new-look Manchester United team.
Perhaps feeling very quickly that the Premier League was not exactly his calling, Boogers decided to make a legacy nonetheless.
That legacy would be the attempted assault of Gary Neville. Perhaps envying the fop-haired youth, the decidedly balding Boogers executed a lunge at rib-level when Neville was in possession. A straight red was the result, and after just two further appearances for the Hammers, Boogers was off back to his homeland.
Jay Bothroyd on Mattias Jonson – 6 November 2004
Jay Bothroyd’s existence reminds us all that there is hope for anyone that still harbours aspirations to be called up for England. It also reminds us that there is still room for some old-school violence in the post-millennial top-flight.
While this was only a potential leg breaker, it deserves a place on this list for sheer moronic value. Just as they are today, according to current Premier League odds, Norwich were prime candidates for relegation in early 2004/05. Along with visitors Blackburn, the Canaries had produced a lamentable spectacle in a goalless first half, but several minutes before half-time, Jay Bothroyd momentarily entered a UFC match. The so-called ‘England international’ kicked the lower leg of Mattias Jonson in full view of officials while engaged in a duel for the ball.
Off he went, and Norwich would capitalise by taking the lead after the break. Blackburn eventually saved a late point through Paul Dickov, though it did little to change the strong possibility that Rovers boss Mark Hughes wanted to do something phonetically similar to Bothroyd…
James Beattie on William Gallas – 12 February 2005
Another one for the utterly stupid pile, and though it pales in comparison to Ben Thatcher’s head-high assault on Pedro Mendes, it could still have resulted in concussion and unconsciousness if executed with greater venom from a different angle.
No doubt sick of Southampton’s floundering at the foot of the table, one-time England striker and part-time blimp impersonator James Beattie arrived at Everton in January 2005 for a then-club record £5m. He began February in good form, taking just five minutes to open the scoring at the ground of his old club in a 2-2 draw that saw Everton equalise at the death.
A week later, he faced one of the world’s best defenders at Goodison Park. Perhaps sensing that he was in for an afternoon of frustration and humiliation against Chelsea’s William Gallas – who had been pocketing defenders for fun all season – Beattie took action. That action was to double-headbutt Gallas during a chase for the ball and earn a three-match suspension.
Again, nobody sustained a career-threatening injury, but it had none of the perverse bravery required for a leg-breaker to lunge in and pose a risk even to themselves.
Thierry Henry on David Weir – 9 February 2002
Had this resulted in a serious injury, it would be up there with the worst of the worst, alongside Shawcross, Taylor and Brown. Yes, it seems as though beneath all the va-va-voom and impeccable dress sense, Henry had a ruthless streak that saw him lunge at David Weir with both feet off the ground.
Referee Jeff Winter opted for yellow, with pundits citing that it was very late but not malicious. However, many fans in attendance, and watching live via Henry’s future employers, understandably felt differently. There was always an overriding sentiment that a player at a lesser club would have been sent straight for an early bath.
Arsenal eventually won out 1-0, but had Thierry Henry seen red, the result and the destination of the trophy may well have been different – ironically, Anfield. What is certain is that any suspension for Henry would have put Arsenal’s record of scoring in every 2001/02 Premier League match in real jeopardy.
Jobi McAnuff on Jack Wilshere – 17 December 2012
Sometimes words cannot aptly describe the pain of some challenges, but this video summarises it quite well.
Miraculously, Jack Wilshere is currently the proud father of two children.
Eric Cantona on John Moncur – 19 March 1994
One of the less-cited examples of Premier League brutality, due to being part of the franchise’s ‘early era’, Cantona’s off-day at the County Ground in March 1994 showed the true extent of his mercurial nature… at least it did before a far more infamous incident just ten months later.
Swindon were playing only for pride by this point, while Manchester United were locked in the first of two title races with Blackburn across consecutive seasons. A duel dead in the centre of the field saw Moncur besting Cantona, and for the Frenchman, being beaten in a duel by part of the worst team in the Premier League’s 42-game era was beyond conceivable.
Moncur fell under pressure and was then stamped in the chest by Cantona, in a move that could easily have done damage to the Swindon man’s ribs – if not his vital organs. Moncur’s agony was visible for all to see, and Brian Hill had no choice but to dismiss Cantona. Duly deflated, United went on to concede a late equaliser, and put a minor blemish on their double-winning season.