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From the Archives: Villa star Barson the hardest footballer ever?

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From the Archives: Villa star Barson the hardest footballer ever?

By Paul Brown

There have been plenty of hard men play for Villa down the years but has there ever been anyone as menacing as Frank Barson?

Barson played at Villa for three seasons - between 1919 and 1922 - and he never found himself out of the limelight.

In fact, if he was around today, he'd be perfect national newspaper fodder - on the front and back pages!

The most famous story about Barson during his claret and blue career concerned the 1920 FA Cup final, where he was warned about his behaviour by referee Jack Howcroft - before the match had even started!

Howcroft is alleged to have said to Barson in the Villa dressing room: "The first wrong move you make Barson, off you go!"

Barson had one of his few quiet games but was still instrumental in Villa's 1-0 victory over Huddersfield.

But his fiery temperament was evident before, during and after his Villa career.

Apprenticed to a blacksmith, he quickly became known as a centre-half not to be trifled with.

Barson came to prominence playing for Barnsley, where he served a two-month suspension for being sent off in a friendly against Birmingham for a fight with opposition players.

On one occasion with the Tykes, he had to be smuggled out of Goodison Park to avoid an angry mob following an FA Cup tie with Everton.

George Ramsay and Frederick Rinder, the Villa directors responsible for scouting and signing new players, were convinced Barson would improve the team and a deal was struck for £2,850 in 1919.

It was a sensible view because, as it says in the 'Aston Villa Chronicles', Barson was recognised as having the ability to work with the effort of three normal players, initiating an attack one minute and helping out in defence the next.

In Villa's situation this was just the player they needed - a very strong character.

But it was this sort of character that got him in trouble, time and time again.

He maintained a business in Sheffield and refused to move to Birmingham despite Villa's repeated insistence that he should do so.

This cost him dearly once when he and goalkeeper Sam Hardy, who like Barson lived in Chesterfield, were forced to walk seven miles to Old Trafford in pouring rain after missing a rail connection.

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 due to further problems on the railways.

Both were suspended by the Villa board for 14 days but Barson still refused to move.

He was appointed team captain for the rest of the season, although it's not known whether this was the board's decision or Barson decided he wanted the job and nobody dared argue with him.

As the 'Aston Villa Miscellany' points out so succinctly, for Barson, a lengthy career at any single club would have been impossible.

Following a match against Liverpool he invited a friend to wait in the dressing room while he got changed and this drew a rebuke from a director.

The disciplinarian Rinder soon became involved in the argument and when Barson refused to apologise, his Villa days were numbered. Even Barson couldn't get the better of Rinder!

During his time with Villa, Barson made 108 appearances, scoring 10 goals.

He joined Manchester United in August 1922 but the controversy didn't leave him.

He quickly became a hero in the north although he didn't welcome undue flattery.

He was so sick of huge amounts of attention that on the opening night of his new pub, he gave away his business to his head waiter.

He also received a good luck telegram prior to a game from a pair of locked-up criminals.

There is also a story that at the end of his career, he didn't feel he was getting the pay rise he deserved so helped contract negotiations along by meeting his manager carrying a gun.

After leaving Old Trafford, Barson wound down his career at Watford, Hartlepools United, Wigan and finally Rhyl Athletic, where, with some kind of symmetry, he celebrated his last game, at the age of 40, by being sent off once more.

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AVFC Official
By @AVFCOfficial 13th November 2012
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