Almanack: Baldies but goldies

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The Independent Online
ONE topic cries out for Almanack's attention this week: baldness in sport. The Bulgarian Yordan Lechkov's guided- missile header against Germany launched a million reminiscences of follically challenged footballers. Bobby Charlton, everyone said, miming a wisp draped from ear to ear; Alan Gilzean, Thomas Ravelli, Jimmy Melia, Jim Smith, Alfredo di Stefano . . . great players. Bald great players.

There's something incongruous about a bald sportsman: lack of hair naturally being associated with old age; baldness suggests superannuation, lack of athletic ability. If you came across Lechkov in the checkout queue at the supermarket you would be less likely to think him a professional sportsman than, say, the virile-looking and hirsute Emil Kostadinov. Bald sportsmen are endearing, in the same dangerous way that tubby old Gazza was endearing. They disarm opponents. As Lechkov accelerated into the German penalty area was there a flicker of complacency on the face of Thomas Hassler? 'Ha, baldy will never get to this one . . . oh.'

Lechkov himself has attributed his hair loss to the Chernobyl disaster. 'Sliven (his home town) is only 300 kilometers (180 miles) from Chernobyl and two to three months after the accident many young men in Sliven lost their hair,' he was quoted as saying. According to Almanack's geographers Sliven is in fact more like 500 miles from Chernobyl, so Yordan's explanation may contain an element of fantasy.

His compatriot the Bulgarian goalkeeper Borislav Mikhailov, was also deficient in the rug department - until he celebrated qualifying for the World Cup finals by spending more than pounds 10,000 on a hair transplant in France, where he plays for Mulhouse in the second division.

It would be quite wrong to confine our discussion to football. Brian Close (once caught off bat and pate), Geoffrey Boycott (nicknamed 'Thatch' by Ian Botham), Kim Barnett (Lechkov's double) and Dennis Lillee had very little grass on their pitches. Even the great Viv Richards became increasingly fond of his cap towards the end of his career.

Gareth Chilcott and Didier Cambarabero (a toupee-toter) are great rugby union baldies, while rugby league devotees have fond memories of Geoff Fletcher. Fletcher, who played for Huyton in the 1970s, used to remove his hairpiece before taking the field. During one match the cunning Graham Swale of Huddersfield swiped it, much to Fletcher's dismay. The thief was suspended by his club for six months, which may seem harsh by modern standards: but you shouldn't have a dip at another man's syrup.

Why are there so many bald sportsmen? Experts suggest that male-pattern baldness is caused by the excessive deployment of sex hormones called androgens - which is why many thinning chaps claim to have a higher sex drive. Stirling Moss, who was efficiently streamlined up top by the age of 30, recently backed up this theory. 'All I know about the connection between baldness and virility,' he said, 'is that I'm into my sixties now and I'm always feeling horny.' Is it possible that this extra oomph applies equally to all kinds of appetite, giving bald sportsmen an extra performance edge? And is this what Chris Lewis was searching for when he applied the razor rashly in the Caribbean?

Jim Smith, the 'Bald Eagle', now manager of Portsmouth, will not subscribe to this theory, but suggests another beneficial aspect of hair loss. When he was playing at right- half for Lincoln in the 1960s there was another baldie, Gordon Hughes, playing on the right wing. They looked so similar that the wife of a friend of Smith's, not over-familiar with the game, thought they were one and the same and came up to Smith after the game saying: 'I couldn't believe how much of the ball you had.'

The 'Bald Eagle' is a great admirer of Yordan Lechkov: 'He has tremendous skills.' Lechkov himself reserves his admiration for Madonna. 'She is a full-blooded singer,' he has said, 'and I am a full-blooded soccer player.' Conclusive evidence, surely, of the link between baldness and an increased sex drive.

(Photographs omitted)