Premier League done with "hard men"...

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The past couple of weeks under a variety of posts, we've been discussing effeminate men—men real men refer to as "gay," "soft," or a word beginning with "p" and ending with "y."

With that as the context, a friend just forwarded this article from ESPNFC lamenting the death of "hard men" across professional soccer leagues—especially England's Premier League. Here are a couple excerpts from "Where have football's hard men gone?...

You knew them by the way they looked: hulking beasts with close-shorn haircuts, like bouncers in midfield deciding when to snap the rope. You knew them by the way they played: soccer as hot-potato. Nobody wanted to win the ball more and keep it less. They were the "Hard Men" of English soccer, a pillar of the First Division for decades, a staple of the English game.

They're all but gone now, relics of eras past, retired to the graveyard... The game is supposedly more beautiful without them, but I don't buy that. In fact, I'll put it to you this way: The same forces that led to the demise of soccer's most brutal players have led us to a sport that is less soulful and even less elegant.

Half a century ago, English soccer thronged with Hard Men.

You can get a sense of their skill sets by looking at the nicknames of the Hard Men of the '60s and '70s, such as Chelsea's Ron "Chopper" Harris and Liverpool's Tommy "the Anfield Iron" Smith. ("Tommy Smith wasn't born," Bill Shankly once said. "He was quarried.")

* * *

The crucial moment in the Hard Man's demise might have occurred when Arsène Wenger took over at Arsenal in 1996, speaking openly and without deference to traditional English values about his desire for Arsenal to play what he called "modern football." 

...The "prettification" of modern soccer isn't just tactical. It's all-encompassing, nudged forward by everything from increased money and endorsement opportunities to the rise of social media and locker-room selfies.

Where yesterday's Hard Men cultivated a tough look, modern toughs tend to coif, style and beautify themselves. They fit right into a world in which the meaning of the word "axe" has shifted from a tool one uses to chop wood to a scented body spray.


Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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