Premier League - Stoke and Sunderland show spirit of football hard men

Football fans have spent much of this season lamenting the demise of proper hard men in the game as diving has become ever more prevalent.

Premier League - Stoke and Sunderland show spirit of football hard men

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Craig Gardner takes out Andy Wilkinson

Just this weekend Fernando Torres was sent off for going down under a challenge, Luis Suarez's relentless diving has become so bad he's even resorted to making a joke of it, and even Phil Neville tried his hand with an unconvincing dive at the weekend. (Neville later admitted that it was a "stupid thing to do" and that he "got a good kick up the backside", and rightly so.)

But an incident from a match on Saturday reminded everyone that, while highly-paid prima donnas might still try to pull the wool over the eyes of match officials, it's still very much a man's game.

Step forward Stoke City's Andy Wilkinson, who has been showered with praise for the stoic manner in which he took a simply ludicrous challenge by Sunderland's Craig Gardner. Having been upended in hair-raising fashion, Wilkinson simply got back to his feet and accepted Gardner's proffered hand.

You might dispute that, and wonder if Wilkinson wasn't simply too concussed to think about writhing in agony brandishing an imaginary card from a non-existent top pocket.

But such scepticism is disproved by the fact that the clash at the Britannia Stadium was played in the hardest, and yet finest of atmospheres.

Because earlier in the game Sunderland's Danny Rose had clobbered Geoff Cameron, while Stoke's Dean Whitehead scythed Seb Larsson to the ground mercilessly with the ball not even in the same postcode.

And while all three tacklers were shown well-deserved yellow cards, everybody else dusted themselves off and got back onto their feet and got on with the match.

It couldn't have looked more old school if the players had been wearing knee-length shorts or if the match highlights were broadcast in black and white. While one player - Marc Wilson - did indeed end up with a broken leg, it came only from an awkward fall rather than a ferocious tackle.

The hard men of the past - the likes of Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter or even Ron 'Chopper' Harris - would have been rightly proud.

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