Fashion on the field - whatever next?

George Best's loose shirt was one thing, but Liverpool's Patrik Berger is wearing an Alice band... Julie Welch charts the latest eccentricity on the British pitch

Every decade has its seminal moment of football fashion. The first time George Best wore his shirt outside his shorts, that Nobby Stiles took to the pitch without his teeth in, that Kevin Keegan walked into his barber's and said "I can't do a thing with it - can we try a perm?" Ever since the first Saturday afternoon that Eric Cantona pulled on his jersey in a hurry, Sunday footballers all over the land have been cavorting around with their collars up in homage. But now there is a new contender for the fashion detail that takes football into the new millennium.

Last Sunday afternoon, as Liverpool's new Czech star Patrik Berger scored twice against Leicester, all eyes were on his stunning footwork. But had anyone glanced upwards they would have noticed the little black item with which the Super Czech kept his flowing locks in place. The man whose goals lifted Liverpool to the top of the Premiership was clearly wearing an Alice band.

It is worth noting that Berger started the match on the subs bench, replacing Liverpool's troubled star striker Stan Collymore in the second half with dramatic effect. Now Collymore's regular place alongside Robbie Fowler is in doubt. Liverpool manager Roy Evans may explain away Collymore's eclipse by saying that "he is not as sharp as normal", but come off it. The real reason is there for all to see. Collymore is a tonsorial dinosaur. A footballer with a head shorn like a billiard ball is yesterday's footballer.

This is not the first time players have trotted out in garments more suited to the ground floor at Harrods than the hallowed turf of our footballing citadels. The game might be bathed right now in September sunshine but come January it gets cold out there. Keith Weller, a Leicester hero of yesteryear and clearly a man of some courage, favoured white tights. Foreign imports are often spotted trying to cheat British winters with nancy things like gloves. And Berger has long hair. It must get in the way. Keeping it out of his eyes is only common sense.

Even so there are questions still to be answered, ie how? and why? What possessed an eminently sane-looking footballer to rein in his tresses with an accessory that Princess Diana's friends wear to shop in Sloane Square along with a mulberry handbag and Hermes scarf? Did his agent, the Czech Republic's version of Eric "Monster" Hall, eager for his protege to cut a dash over here, get his Rothmans Football Yearbook mixed up with the Sloane Ranger Handbook?

The Alice band has its uses. With a Laura Ashley ballgown, it affords the wearer an English rose sort of charm. But in footballing terms it has a distinct drawback. It is a fiddly, narrow article. The names of Carlsberg, JVC, Coors, Sharp, all visible from the highest seat in the stands when emblazoned across the manly chests of our lads, need a magnifying glass to be identified on a hair band. Sponsors are not going to like this new fad.

Is Berger mad? Is he brave? Or is he at the cutting edge of soccer style in a sport in which in 10 years' time, Nike twinsets and Diadora pearls will be commonplace? By then, of course, they will have changed the name from Alice band to something more in keeping with the culture that will have so slavishly adopted it. A Gary band, perhaps.

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