From the ‘beautiful game’ in English speaking countries to ‘jogo bonito’ in the sport’s spiritual home, Brazil, fans have long celebrated the artistry of football through suitably idyllic nicknames.
But from the parks to the professional ranks, football also has its fair share of players that don’t shy away from the ugly side of the game.
Sergio Ramos is chief amongst them. He has accumulated 29 red cards – more than any other player still active in football, with his latest coming in November while representing Sevilla against Real Sociedad. Indeed, so bad was his tackle on Brais Mendez he was effectively shown two red cards; the first by the referee for a second yellow card offence, and then a second via VAR who deemed the challenge a straight red.
Ramos has now been sent off 29 times in 18 years, but often for second yellow card offences or moments of stupidity. It would be wrong to describe him as one of football’s true hardmen, even accounting for that disciplinary record.
It would also be incorrect to describe the Real Madrid legend as the dirtiest player in football past or present; others lead the way in that category.
Most Red Cards: Gerardo Bedoya
Football has lone had its share of ‘niggly’ players: those that wind up their opponents, pick up plenty of yellow cards, commit lots of fouls but who know where to draw the line to prevent themselves from being sent off.
But there are those that have simply lacked that ability to modify their behaviour, and taking top spot is a man nicknamed ‘The Beast’: Gerardo Bedoya.
He was sent off a record 46 times during his playing career in South America; the best way to describe the Colombian would be ‘rugged’.
For the most part, Bedoya was red carded for his over-zealous tackling – although other charges on his rap sheet include dissent and violent conduct; he was once suspended for 15 games for an assault on an opposition player during the hotly-contested Bogota derby in his native country. Later he would bemoan his bad luck, claiming ‘I’m not normally like this.’
Those that know Bedoya well have claimed he is a softly-spoken and mild-mannered type, but one that evidently gets white line fever – he was sent off 21 minutes into his debut as an assistant manager for Santa Fe.
Is Gerardo Bedoya football’s dirtiest ever player? His CV certainly takes some topping.
Most Yellow Cards: Sergio Ramos
An old friend greets us when we consider the players that have been shown the most yellow cards – certainly from the year 2000 onwards, from which the data is much easier to find.
Sergio Ramos has been booked more than 270 times during his career, with more than 150 of those coming since 2009 alone. In that 2009/10 season for Real Madrid, he was cautioned 13 times and sent off once – from which point, his behaviour on the pitch has only marginally improved.
To offer some context to Ramos’ petulance, only two other players in the modern era have recorded 200 or more bookings when playing in one of Europe’s big five leagues – he is by far and away the most frequently cautioned individual amongst the elite of the sport.
In six of his 16 seasons with Real, Ramos recorded double figures for yellow cards – confirming that he thoroughly deserves his place in our countdown of the dirtiest players in football.
Most Fouls: Gareth Barry
One of the other markers of how ‘dirty’ a player is comes via their foul count.
In the vintage era of football, these stats were much harder to come by, but we do know who has made the most fouls in the Premier League era since 1992 – and the accolade goes to a player that might surprise a few.
Gareth Barry might not have presented the image of a midfield enforcer, but he certainly loved to commit a foul or two – in fact, in 653 Premier League appearances he made 633 fouls, which is 28 more than nearest rival Kevin Davies.
Raheem Sterling would need to make the best part of 300 fouls over the course of his career to catch Barry, so the former Aston Villa and Manchester City man should cling on to his accolade for a long time yet.
Most Hardman Moments: Billy Whitehurst
When quizzed on the hardest player they ever faced, the answer for many is the same: Billy Whitehurst.
The man sat down in the middle is Billy Whitehurst,he was the boogie man to opposition defenders. I’ll tell you how hard he was, he was my minder on the pitch for a short while.I met him for a coffee earlier and to catch up on old times. It was an honour to play with him pic.twitter.com/yUNmO34rN4
— Brian Deane (@deanobri1968) August 24, 2022
Once described as a ‘lunatic’ by Martin Keown, who had a snapped shinpad to prove it, Whitehurst did not mind throwing his sizable frame around on the pitch or off it – according to Vinnie Jones, he once ‘cleared’ an entire pub of Sheffield Wednesday fans while playing for their city rivals United.
Jones, no shrinking violet himself, described Whitehurst as the ‘hardest footballer’ and many others have shared stories of the terrors that the striker gave them.
Of all the players on this list, Billy Whitehurst is surely the dirtiest of them all….