In my last Roker Report article I was talking about strikers (or scorers as I said they should be labelled) and this got me thinking of something which has become a bit of a dying breed, i.e. the target man.
Now I know what you are thinking - there are plenty of them kicking about, especially in the lower leagues - but what I’m talking about is the good old-fashioned, run through a brick wall centre forward who would leave central defenders battered and bruised knowing that they’d been in a game. Now no disrespect to any of the current front men but I have to laugh when I see some of them prancing about the field - they’re not a patch on the hard men of yesteryear.
Now most of us normal folk would probably think twice about sticking our heads in where the boots are flying, because it’s not much fun having a face full of studs, so in many ways it’s an understandable reaction to bottle it, but my theory is that nowadays it’s less about the pain of being booted and more about having their fancy hairstyles ruffled or getting dirt on their pearly white gnashers.
Talking of their molars, I’m surprised more clubs haven’t cottoned on to using them to save money. After all, if they were to line a few players up and ask them to smile broadly the shine from their gobs could mean less floodlights are needed for night games. Some of them look like they’ve been chewing a dozen glow-worms. By the way, at this point I feel duty bound to confirm no wriggling creatures were harmed in the writing of this article.
No, my friends, when I talk about target men I mean those guys who have a mouth where every other tooth is a gap, black eyes are a badge of honour and have more scars on their mush than your average cage fighter.
Unfortunately one of the reasons this particular type of player is rarely seen nowadays is that they’d end up with enough cards to have a full deck before the end of the season.
I suppose the nearest we’ve had in the Premier League in recent years was Diego Costa, who had the sort of mean looking face that would have a midwife wondering which end of the kid was supposed to be slapped. He certainly put himself about and I’m sure many a referee took to the field with his name pre-printed on their cards, but as tough guys go he was a shrinking violet compared to lads like Joe Jordan or Mick Harford. Those fellas looked hard as nails and certainly lived up to their billing.
Just one look at Jordan said it all because when he opened his mouth he had more gap than tooth with a smile that would look well at home in a Dracula movie. He was real battering ram and I only found out recently he was close to playing against us in the 1973 FA Cup Final. He’d scored nine goals in 16 starts but Don Revie overlooked him, preferring to go with the more established duo of Allan Clarke and Mick Jones. He later moved to Man Utd and in the 1980 Cup Final the Spurs keeper Milija Aleksic stupidly got into a running battle with Jordan throughout the match and ended up leaving the field with a broken jaw after an ‘accidental’ collision.
Mick Harford was another fearsome competitor, and it was a real shame we didn’t sign him until he was nearing the end of his career. He’s a Sunderland born lad but a cult hero at Luton having played, managed, coached, made the tea and probably driven the team bus down there. Tough as old boots and certainly underrated, but when you are a player and Sir Alex Ferguson admits to getting it wrong when he didn’t sign you it must say something about your ability.
However if any of you youngsters out there really want to see the type of player I’m talking about just get yourself online and look up a lad by the name of Billy Whitehurst. He was considered by many to be the hardest bloke to have played the game, and whilst I’m not condoning violence, it’s fair to say that young William had a somewhat robust approach.
I think he had 23 clubs in an 18 year career, leaving his mark wherever he went - and I’m not just talking about on defenders bodies. He was one of those divisive characters who were often loved by supporters but were a bit of a nightmare for management.
His main success came at Hull City, where he was a real cult hero - in fact I was once in a motorway service area when their team had stopped for refreshments. Believe me just standing next to Billy was intimidating enough, so goodness know what it was like marking him. He was built like a tank and under the current rules and regulations he would probably have had to have a shirt bearing a health warning in place of a sponsor’s logo.
He wasn’t the greatest player but watching him in full flow was certainly an experience the likes of which we won’t witness again. The role of the target man has gone forever.