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Top Ten: Sunderland’s hardest players of all time - who’s the toughest b*stard?

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Niall Quinn once said that Sunderland fans cheered a tackle as much as a goal - and he wasn’t wrong, was he? Indulge in our latest top ten, as we look over those who loved a bit of on-pitch aggro.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

10. Alex Rae

Yellow/Red cards - 27/4

By Alex’s own admission, when it came to big derby games against Newcastle, he “couldn’t wait to get the f**k into them” - but they weren’t the only one to feel the force of the Glaswegian terrier.

The central midfielder was a fine talent, but his love for a tackle and a sly dig stood out in his game like nothing else. The evidence of Rae’s love for a bit of aggro came in many shapes and sizes, such as Daryl Powell’s cheekbone or Andy Cole’s forehead.

Oh Alex Rae, Alex Alex Alex Rae, Alex Alex Alex Rae... Alex Rae!

Sunderland v Man Utd

9. Gary Bennett

Yellow/Red cards - 55/5

Whilst he may be a well known radio commentator now, big Benno was an animal at Roker Park from the late 80’s to early 90’s.

When he wasn’t rinsing England and Manchester United centre-back Gary Pallister to win the game for the Lads in the 90th minute, he was flinging little irritant David Speedie into the Clockstand Paddock via the throat, before ramming him through the hoardings, all whilst being cheered on by John Kay. Class.

A gentleman he may be, but don’t test his temper.

Soccer - Endsleigh League Division One - Peterborough United v Sunderland - London Road Photo by Paul Marriott/EMPICS via Getty Images

8. Lorik Cana

Yellow/Red cards -11/1

“He’s hard as f**k!”

The big Albanian captain was a fighter, and a man who gave his all in a red and white shirt. A cliche it may be in the modern game, but ask anyone who watched the sole season Lorik had on Wearside and they will attest that the midfielder was not a man who many got past lightly, if at all.

His motivation to succeed and win at all costs was admirable, and whilst it meant he was sometimes overzealous in the challenge, it made us love him all the same.

He currently owns part of Valon Behrami’s leg, which he proudly displays on his mantelpiece at home.

SOCCER - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Manchester United Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

7. Phil Bardsley

Yellow/Red cards - 47/1

Anyone who takes on Paolo Di Canio deserves a medal. Truth be told, if he could have, Bardo would have most likely washed the madcap Italian’s full Armani suit in Heinz Tomato Ketchup.

Bardsley was old school, a full back that made sure any winger that he came up against knew exactly what his studs tasted like.

It’s also worth noting he knocked Wayne Rooney clean out with a singular punch.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Newcastle United - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

6. Chris Makin

Yellow/Red cards -21/1

The best right-back of the Stadium of Light years? Most definitely, in my humble opinion. The Manchester-born defender had everything a Wearside crowd loved. Tough and uncompromising in the tackle, full blooded and left everything on the pitch.

Makin’s crowning glory came during the 99/00 season. As the nationals flooded with talk of Premier League player of the year David Ginola tearing newcomers Sunderland a new one, our swashbuckling number two decided he was having none of it.

Turns out coming to Wearside wasn’t worth it for the former L’Oreal model and after a first half of Chris Makin smashing the Frenchman into the turf time and time again, Spurs decided to give up on getting the better of Makin, and Ginola was replaced at half time.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Leicester City v Sunderland Photo by Mike Egerton/EMPICS via Getty Images

5. Dave Watson

Yellow/Red cards - 4/0

The England defender had a long and distinguished career, winning both the League Cup and, of course, the FA Cup in 1973. A fabulous footballer and a veritable man-mountain, Watson was an absolute beast.

Signing from Rotherham in 1970, Watson arrived as a centre-forward who switched to centre-back, quickly transforming into one of the best defenders Roker Park had seen. He had class, determination and skill.

He was quite simply a rock at the back for Sunderland’s most celebrated first eleven, and he was hard as owt.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Sunderland v Leeds United Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

4. Lee Cattermole

Yellow/Red cards - 97/7

Sunderland and Cattermole are two words that will always be synonymous with one another.

Lee Barry, as he became so affectionately known, was a footballer born in the wrong era of the game and we all loved him for it. There’s simply nobody like him in the modern day.

Where a modern day football would launch his own clothing brand, Lee Cattermole would just hitch up his shorts a little higher. Where one Premier League star would wear boots emblazoned with luminous pink dragons on the side, Lee Cattermole would slip on a pair of his old school black boots he bought as a teen.

Crashing into Daryl Janmaat with less than 30 seconds on the clock and sending him into orbit, sending Jack Colback home in crutches or discovering how to score goals last season, everyone has their own favourite Catts moment.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Sunderland AFC/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

3. Joe Bolton

Yellow/Red cards - 23/3

The press would refer to him as a “tenacious tackler”, but to the Fulwell End he was the local lad that understood exactly what they wanted to see. A man who left his opponent in a heap on the sideline more times then they’d care to remember.

You see, Joe Bolton was scared of absolutely nothing. This was proven during a memorable dismissal at Ayresome Park back in 1981. A controversial Middlesbrough goal had meant the Lads went into the final minute 1-0 down in the Tees-Wear derby and our Joe did not like that... not one bit, and so he decided to lay a headbutt on ‘Boro’s Terry Cochrane, before heading down the tunnel waving two fingers at our friends down in Yorkshire.

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Sunderland Photocall Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

2. John Kay

Yellow/Red cards - 22/2

You know the type of lad at school that is so hard, barely anybody speaks to him for fear of losing their eyeball? You know, the type of lad that is spoken about in hushed tones across the tarmacked playground. Yes, that guy. Well, John Kay is the kind of man that would be desperate to fight him.

Where do you even start with Kaysie? He’d go into challenges that were 90/10 in the oppositions favour and by the time you’d winced and covered the eyes of onlooking children, he’d be marauding down the right wing, ball at his feet, left winger left lying motionless on the floor. Just ask Peter Haddock and what’s left of his leg.

John Kay, a man so bloody hard that when he suffered two broken bones in his leg, he rowed his stretcher off the pitch, showing no sign and pain and simply bemoaned the fact there even had to be a stretcher, as “some of the lads could have just carried (him) off”.

He’s red, he’s white, he’s f**king dynamite.

Sunderland-Newcastle 1993

1. Kevin Ball

Yellow/Red cards - 71/5

There’s three ways you can shake another man’s hand. You can have the standard “pleased to meet you” shake, you can have that bizarre handshake Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba have that takes a whole five minutes - or you have the Kevin Ball handshake, a handshake so bone crushingly strong, many men have wilted in its presence.

Number ten on our list, Alex Rae, who was born in an area of the country where even the Alsatian’s walk in pairs, called Kevin Ball “a man’s man” - and as simple a statement it is, it’s rings 100% true.

Bally is the kind of man who wouldn’t want to simply buy the weird Kangaroo meat you see on those market stalls at Christmas, oh no - Bally would find more reward in running all the way to Australia, fighting the beast toe to toe, before bringing it all the way back to Sunderland to feast on it. Bally wasn’t just a hard b**tard, his toughness brought out the lion in others - he made you want to run through walls with him.

He may also continue to shy away from it, but he definitely laid out Vinny Jones too.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Kevin Ball Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images