To the much relief of Manchester United and England fans, not only did Wayne Rooney return to action recently, but goal-scoring form too. With his new headwear protecting that nasty gash on his bonce, it got me thinking - was this essential item of attire now going to be crucial to his future performance? If Rooney plays without it too soon, will he have a Samson-esque loss of ‘strength’ and only be worthy of playing for Salford Women’s Royal Voluntary Service reserves at best? As the one who resembles the illegitimate offspring of Father Jack from the sit-com ‘Father Ted’ continues to wear his new tiffer until fully healed, the Old Trafford club shop should be selling copies come the first Sunday in Advent.
You’re probably wondering why I would leap to such a dramatic conclusion, but look at other players who have used and worn additional items to improve their performance or prevent further injury. In some cases, the observer is lead to believe the player sans ‘special equipment’ is Superman with kryptonite in hands – worse than useless. When flying Czech forward Patrik Berger first appeared on our shores in the late nineties at Liverpool, he suffered from the terrible affliction of ‘barneticus longicus’ – long, flowing locks normally found on a girl that would get in his eyes when belting full tilt along the wing. Now, personally I would pay a visit to a reputable barber and have this situation remedied, but Berger thought otherwise. He simply borrowed one of his wife’s alice bands, securing his hair away from his boat race. Yes, he indeed looked a bit of a tit. But after a while, the message must have sunk in after being lost in translation as regards his appearance, as Berger stopped wearing said alice band. Interesting, his form wobbled and slipped around the same time. However, it’s not possible to ascertain if the endorsement of the alice band by Mr Berger increased their sales, as no other man would be seen dead wearing one in the first place.
Compatriot of Berger, Chelsea ‘keeper Petr Cech meanwhile had to wear headwear for safety reasons. After a very sickening clash with Reading midfielder Stephen Hunt, the Czech international was left with a depressed fracture to his skull. After three months out of the game recouperating, he returned to first team action with his club now wearing a rugby union scrum cap to protect his cranium from further collisions. Initially wearing an item made by the New Zealand rugby sportswear manufacturer Canterbury, Chelsea’s kit supplier Adidas were indifferent about the club ‘keeper wearing an item from a rival manufacturer, resulting in the brand logo being covered over. Soon, they produced a similar cap themselves, thus avoiding the confliction of advertising and commercial rights when Cech played, and inadvertently moved the German company into the sportswear protection market. I recall as a child growing up in the seventies and eighties footballers very rarely wore shin pads / ankle protection. Some horrific gashes and cuts to players’ legs occurred (former England International David Armstrong received such a deep gouge to his leg, the Middlesbrough club doctor who attended to him nearly passed out at the sight of it!), so it made sense to have these essential protective guards written into the rules of the game – in order to play, you must wear them. Interestingly, back in the eighties all sportswear companies were eager for that elusive celebrity player endorsement. Just before the 1988 European Championships, Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson wore New Balance boots, Sondico shin pads (he frequently appeared in the sporting press advertising them, as was his contract with them), with United’s kit supplied by Adidas and Umbro providing England theirs. Nothing was ever reported about any conflict of interests.
So, there’s a fine line between essential safety protection and looking a right royal waserk. One of the more ridiculous clothing items encountered in football over the last couple of decades includes those red tights John Barnes took to wearing under his shorts during the winter of his last few seasons at Anfield. For a while, some players took to wearing cycling shorts under their kit as a means of groin support – far enough - possibly Barnes saw wearing tights as an extension of this train of thought. Also, originally hailing from the Caribbean maybe he felt the Arctic chill blowing in from Scandinavia at that time of year, but interestingly he never bothered raiding the lingerie draw of his partner years earlier when his career began at Watford – or at least not publically. More recently, Thierry Henry decided the best way to wear his socks for a while during his first spell at Arsenal was to roll them as high as possible up his legs, thus giving the appearance he was now wearing white stockings. They were now over his knee and up to mid-thigh height, very flattering if you were a lady with legs that would go on forever – not a prolific goal-scorer and endorser of a certain brand of his home nation’s motor industry (Va-Va-Voom!!).
Fortunately, public displays of cross-dressing are quite rare on the pitch, as I imagine the amount of stick the individual receives in the changing room afterwards would make them think again from going into a game looking like a partially dressed drag act inbetween shows. The French international was also a regular glove wearer during the colder months of the year, while I understand everyone feels the ‘cold’ differently to the next, the vast majority of players seem to be happy to leave gloves to ‘keepers. Which may well explain that infamous incidednt during the World Cup play off between la France and the Republic of Ireland, when our French friend entered into a bit of keepy uppy with his dabs in the Irish penalty area.
Fashion faux pas are not just restricted to individuals, as the kit supplied to the Cameroon team for the African Nations Cup a few years ago more resembled the ‘all-in-one’ outfits athletes wear at the Olympics, than anything seen on a football pitch. Luckily, for the more physically challenged player (and socially acceptable good taste), it didn’t catch on. After what was published about former Coventry City and Aston Villa forward Dion Dublin and his ‘remarkable’ physique, it’s best lycra outfits remained at track and field meetings. The thickness of material used can also be problematic, as the Brazil shirts for the 1994 World Cup were so lightweight, some wearers complained of becoming sunburnt while wearing them – the cloth used offering little UV protection. Luckily, the manufacturer in question did remedy this at the next production run. And as for the design of some kits – especially that faeces brown number Coventry City had as an away kit in the late seventies – don’t get me started.
Finally, I thought I’d never see a player wear specs or glasses during a game, that would not be possible – surely they’d get knocked off the wearer’s face and make going for a header a tad tricky? Many players are contact lens users, with the physio on the bench carrying a couple of spare sets in his magic bag should a lens become dis-lodged or lost. Dutchman Edgar Davids proved you can wear your ‘bins’ during a match, with his snug, wrap around shades stuck firmly to his face becoming his trademark when he turned out for Tottenham Hotspur. I’ve tried those weird yellow-tinted glasses which are meant to aid your vision in bad light / rain / cut down on glare when driving, but for me I couldn’t notice any difference or improvement. It just took my vision a considerable while to re-adjust to normal once taking them off. Interestingly, Formula 1 drivers do have tinted visors on their helmets, but not this odd sepia coloured lens that Davids wore and no-one else has since. We await what will be next to be introduced onto a football pitch, something never been seen in this context before and no doubt this next new gimmick won’t catch on either.