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  • Jacob Sweetman: The mane man


Jacob Sweetman: The mane man

Paul Breitner just turned 60. Sócrates is lying in his hospital bed sick. Mathias Holst has just returned from injury. What links these events? The beard. The Sportsdesk delves into these shaggy dog stories with a hard hitting expose.

“How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, and to arrange his hair at the mirror, shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them! … For God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But He has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest, a sign of strength and rule.” – Clement of Alexandria (vol. 2, p. 275)

I found this quote whilst thinking about beards. It was a special occasion, Paul Breitner’s 60th birthday which was last week.

Early on in his career he had revolutionised the role of the left back, playing in the team that won the 1972 European Championships – considered by many Germans as a superior team to that which won the World Cup two years later, partly due to the constant presence of Günter Netzer – but despite his outspokenness about social issues, and the famous image of him clutching Chairman Mao’s little red book, Breitner was no revolutionary.

Not like Socrates.

Breitner accepted 150,000 DM to shave off his beard for an advert for Pitralon aftershave.

Now, Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Viera de Oliviera, on the other hand, Sócrates wouldn’t shave his beard off for money. Sócrates was a true revolutionary. A thinker and a genius. A chain-smoking leftie with a touch of silk and a backpass that made Pele say, “He’s better going backwards than most are going forwards.“

Socrates is sick at the moment at home in Brazil. The greatest man never to lift the World Cup (if that ain’t an argument starter, then what is?) is in hospital dangling a fag out the window and telling the doctors how to do their job. He is one of them, too.

That’s a true beard wearer. One should remain true to ones beard. It is a sign of one’s determination in the face of clean-chinned officiousness. Breitner’s is back nowadays, but God still knows that he was clean-shaven for money.

There was another story a couple of weeks ago about the greatest beard seen in football since Trifon Ivanov stumbled out of his coffin to help Bulgaria to come fourth in the 1994 World Cup. I don’t count Alexi Lalas in this, not because it was ginger (a beard is a beard, after all), but because he was an American with a penchant for the acoustic guitar and so should be shunned like everybody else who has ever treated a party to their version of “No Woman, No Cry“. You know he has.

Matthias Holst a central defender for the traditional old Eastern Club Hansa Rostock, had developed a fantastic beard over a year or so. he had determined to shave as soon as he got back onto the pitch after a horrendous injury that kept him out for 14 months, but not one minute before. He finally got fit, but immediately got caught in a night club at 4am. “The hedge“ as he had wittily been named, “Abraham“ as his team-mates called him would have to keep the glorious mane a little longer.

It was a joy to behold, 10 centimetres of catweezle-esque tangles of hair. He complained about food getting caught in it, and his wife apparently hated it, so was happy to take to the pitch against Braunschweig in the end with a chin as smooth as a baby’s bottom. I’m disappointed. Just as I was when Alan Cork shaved his off when Sheffield United were knocked out of the FA Cup semi-finals in 1993. That beard was the talisman that had kept Utd. going through the cup all the way. He refused to shave until they were eventually knocked out by Sheffield Wednesday.

When he was at Wimbledon, apparently, the fans used to sing: “Alan Cork, Alan Cork, Alan Alan Cork, He don’t care, He got no hair, Alan Alan Cork.“ They won the FA Cup with their captain with a bald chin. That he came so close with Utd. – with a beard – only brings him closer to Socrates’ standards. Everyone loves a glorious loser. Especially if he’s got a beard…