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Author Topic: the hardest man in history  (Read 14178 times)


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the hardest man in history
« on: March 16, 2011, 09:25:48 AM »
Hard men and characters. Everybody says there aren't enough of them left in football. All the old faces say there used to be plenty on the old days. Vinnie Jones wouldn't have lasted five minutes against Tommy Smith. Norman Hunter, there was a real hard man. And Dave Mackay, Billy Bremner and all the rest. They were real hard men. No they weren't. Not compared to the hardest of the lot.

[float=left][/float]Frank Barson. The mere mention of his name made opponents claim they were injured. Like all legends, tales about Barson are many. But in his case most of them are true.

Barson was born in Grimesthorpe, in the Sheffield steel belt. He first came to prominence playing for Barnsley, where he had already served a two month suspension following an incident in a friendly against Birmingham, and on one occasion had to be smuggled out of Goodison Park to avoid a large crowd who had gathered outside the ground to discuss with Barson his behaviour in an FA Cup tie with Everton.

Barson came into conflict with Barnsley over travelling expenses, and Messrs Ramsay and Rinder were convinced that he would be the best player to improve a Villa team which had been struggling after the First World War. Barson, strangely for such a self-confident man, initially thought himself not good enough for the Villa, but the persuasive Ramsay, as usual, won the argument and Barson moved to Villa in October 1919, making his debut in a 4-1 win at Middlesbrough.

Barson undoubtedly played a large part in the Villa team during his three seasons at the club, but it is his run-ins with authority for which he is best known.

He maintained a business in Sheffield and refused to move to Birmingham despite the Villa's insistence that he should do so. This cost him dearly once, when he and goalkeeper Sam Hardy, who lived in

Chesterfield, were forced to walk seven miles to Old Trafford in bad weather after missing a rail connection. Naturally, Barson was the best player on the pitch that afternoon.

Barson's living arrangements caused further controversy on the opening day of the 1920-21 season, when he and Clem Stephenson missed a defeat at Bolton. Both were suspended by the Villa board for fourteen days but Barson still refused to move. In fact, he was appointed captain in succession to Andy Ducat, although it's not known whether he merely decided he wanted the job and nobody dared argue with him. He celebrated his appointment by scoring with a header from thirty yards out against Sheffield United.

Opposing crowds hated him, so much so that Barson was forced to publicly defend himself on the grounds that he had been "brought up to play hard and saw nothing wrong with an honest to goodness shoulder charge."

However, Barson was not always the guilty party. The Villa's opponents frequently took out their anger on his colleagues, which was often the signal for Barson to roll up his sleeves and extract revenge on the miscreants. It was also common for the crowd at away fixtures to howl for Barson's blood following incidents in which he had played no part.

Probably the most famous story about Frank Barson concerned the 1920 FA Cup Final, when he was warned about his behaviour by referee Jack Howcroft - in the dressing room before the match started. "The first wrong move you make Barson, off you go" he was told. Howcroft repeated the threat a couple of years later when officiating another Villa game. But despite this, the two men retained a healthy respect for each other.

For a player like Frank Barson, a lengthy career at any single club would have been impossible. The beginning of the end to his time at Villa came following a match against Liverpool. Barson invited a friend of his to wait in the dressing room while he got changed, and this drew a rebuke from a director. The disciplinarian Rinder became involved in the argument and when Barson refused to apologise, his Villa days were numbered. Even Frank Barson couldn't get the better of Fredrick Rinder. A seven day suspension was the result and this was followed by a transfer request.

Villa actually did offer him good terms to re-sign at the beginning of the following season, but Barson refused to play for the team again. He turned down offers from several clubs but eventually joined Manchester United in late August 1922. Villa had wanted £6,000 for his signature but eventually settled for a reduced fee from United (where have I heard that before?) of £5,000. He also received permission from the Old Trafford board to live and train in Sheffield.

It's typical of Barson that despite falling out with the Villa board, they should go to great lengths to help him out. He believed that he was due a signing-on fee, but the FA Management Committee ruled that his refusal to accept Villa's terms meant that he had forfeit this right. Rinder took his claim to the FA but the fee was never paid.

Despite suffering a bad injury, Barson was regarded as a hero in Manchester, although he didn't welcome undue flattery. In fact, he was so sick of such attention that on the opening night of his pub he gave the business to his head waiter.
In his book Soccer in the Blood, Billy Walker wrote of Barson "Perhaps the greatest of all the great characters in my album - he played with and against me - was the one and only Frank Barson.

"Frank was a Sheffielder, a truly great footballer and personality and a card. He was never ashamed of numbering amongst his friends the notorious Fowler brothers, who were hanged for murder."
In fact, prior to a game against Spurs, Frank was sent a good luck letter from the brothers - who at the time were in the condemned cell.

Walker claimed that Barson did more to make him the great footballer he became than did anyone else. However, that didn't stop Frank from behaving in his usual style when they were in opposition. When playing against Manchester United, Walker once laid on a goal and the latest of all late tackles then put him out of action for three weeks.

Barson later played for Watford, Hartlepool, Wigan and Rhyl Athletic. The fact that he moved to Birmingham upon retirement though, and lived there until his death, showed which club he held dearest to his heart.

Oh, and there's an unconfirmed story that towards the end of his career he didn't feel he was getting the pay rise he deserved, so helped contract negotiations along by going to a meeting with his manager carrying a gun.

Beat that, Vinnie Jones.
Dave Woodhall
« Last Edit: March 16, 2011, 10:06:15 AM by spritzer »