Putting your head in where it hurts

Charlie Oatway
Charlie Oatway

Hard, but fair - most of the time!

Diego Costa’s recent histrionics brought players’ behaviour into the media spotlight. The Spanish striker’s gamesmanship - also known as blatant cheating - resulted in Arsenal defender Gabriel’s dismissal and a ban for last season’s top-scorer.

Diving has long since been a lively conversation topic in the country’s pubs and clubs, but Costa’s actions were a bit more cynical. I’m a big fan of robust, tough, good-in-the-air forwards, mainly because - in my dreams - I was one. It’s a hard game and sometimes you have to put yourself about a bit. It can be done fairly, of course.

A former Albion defender, who shall remain nameless, divulged a few of his tricks of the trade. Sly pinches and what cricketers would call "sledging" were popular methods of unsettling an opposition hitman, but nothing to get a player intentionally sent off - apart from the occasional badly-timed tackle. Incessant ribbing, one-way discussions as to the potential philandering of someone’s wife, a reminder of a poor run, anything to upset rhythm, and put a player off.

Then there are your tough nuts, players who make you wince each time you see them launch into a full-blooded challenge. They go in hard, and you want them playing for your team. They seem to be a dying breed as the game gets faster, more technical, and less physical.

These are the players who fans love to hate - unless they’re yours. No-one likes John Terry, but ask any Chelsea fans worth their salt and they’ll espouse his attributes until the cows come home. Duncan Ferguson, who actually spent a spell inside for butting a Raith Rovers defender while representing Rangers, is a demi-god at Everton.

Thankfully, Albion’s hardmen haven’t done bird due to their on-pitch antics, but we’ve had our fair share of "solid" players. Dutch firebrand Hans Kraay managed two red cards in just 23 appearances from 1983 to 1985 and was once branded the "dirtiest player in Europe" by the Dutch tabloids.

During the Withdean years, Albion were blessed with a surfeit of hardmen. The backbone of Danny Cullip, Richard Carpenter and Charlie Oatway struck fear into teams across the land as they romped to two successive titles, not taking any prisoners along the way. But the player who perhaps epitomised the rough and tumble of an old-fashioned pro was Martin Thomas. The Welshman hardly pulled up any trees during his brief sojourn at the Theatre of Trees, but in one of his eight appearances, he went in for a ball - just an inch of off the ground - with his head.