'But Newcastle have length in depth, taking the field with a panoply of eccentric hairstyles, unchanging, whatever the vagaries of fashion'

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The Independent Online
There has been one issue that has perplexed the football fan more than any other in this season of sleaze. Bung-taking, bribe-giving, coke- snorting, match-fixing, tax-dodging, cab-smashing, drop-kicking - we can handle all that. Given time we will even get over seeing Jrgen Klinsmann disappear in the direction of a large cheque. But this year we have witnessed something go very wrong at the heart of the game, in a vital area of interest to the armchair fan. I refer, of course, to footballers' hair.

The year of barnet controversy began when Ryan Giggs caught sight of himself on the video of the Charity Shield raking his fringe out of his eyes in slo-mo in a manner Hugh Grant would be pressed to match. So alarmed was he by this vision of foppishness he went straight to the barber's for a No 2, precipitating a crisis among his myriad sponsors, who assumed they had bought an image of loveliness to promote their products, not a skinhead. And the season ended with David James, previously recognised by a dreadlocked top-knot, occupying the Liverpool goal wearing a corn- coloured crop which, in colour and texture, exactly mirrors the "realistic hair" sported by later incarnations of Action Man - a new look that has been wisely jettisoned as the national spotlight follows Blackburn's visit to Anfield tomorrow.

Such wild fluctuations have become all too common: Tim Sherwood, hair long enough to disguise an errant elbow, suddenly going short; Lee Dixon getting a shave on television prior to the Cup-Winners' Cup final to bring him luck (he won't be using that barber again); and Gazza, never shy of a change, turning out for Lazio hairless after an attempt to give himself a trim went, in a metaphor for his career, hideously wrong.

You used to know where you were with footballers' hair. In the early Seventies, photos of team line-ups were characterised by the uniformity of the sideburns, luxuriant growth advancing down both cheeks for a rendezvous under the chin. Peter Osgood's sidies alone were home to several species of unique wild-life. Later, Willie Morgan, of Manchester United, led the way in three-tier wedding-cake coiffure fashion, which took hours of back- combing and blow-drying to maintain its architecture and which, in an act of dogged perseverance, he still wears.

In the mid-Eighties, the footballer's haircut became, well, the footballer's haircut: close-cropped at the temple, spiky on top, long at the back, giving the impression that a small rodent had settled on the top of the head. Niall Quinn had possibly the perfect example of a genre which can be seen on the heads of Ian Botham and half the New Zealand rugby league team: the kind of people, in short, who barbers think twice about telling that they look stupid.

This season, though, the football hair market appears to have been de- regulated, locks have been all over the place. Note the Buffalo Bill wild and bearded (De Wolf, Kilcline), the Claudio Caniggia Continental playboy (Paul Walsh, Mark Hateley) and the Carmen Miranda memorial pineapple on the head (Jason Lee of Forest, Cobi Jones of Coventry). And Carlton Palmer, scoring last-minute goal after last-minute goal for Leeds with two diagonal stripes carved into his scalp, as if he had fallen out with Adidas two- thirds of the way through a sponsorship deal.

Fortunately, one club has remained consistent through out all the crazed rug rethinking. Any side which could boast the following would earn your respect: Beresford with his Princess Diana circa 1981 tease perm; Beardsley, who has spent a career looking like an eight-year-old after his mum has had a go at the fringe with a pair of kitchen shears; and Srnicek resolute with a 1964 Beatles mop top despite the number of times it interferes with his vision. But Newcastle have length in depth, taking the field with a panoply of eccentric styles, unchanging, whatever the vagaries of fashion (though style might be too elevated a term for Darren Peacock, who seems merely to have a pathological fear of scissors). Leader of the pack is Barry Venison, stuck in a 1987 time-warp, hair hauled and streaked into such submission you wonder Amnesty International have not been on his case. His cut-that-time-forgot is increasingly seen on Sky TV's pundits' sofa, squatting atop a wardrobe of bad suits and loud cardigans, a strategy about making your mark as a pundit clearly picked up from Mickey Skinner.

An institution takes its character from its head, and a glance at their bench reveals why Newcastle are so out in front of the barnet Premiership. There's Arthur Cox with his sergeant-major's crop and Terry McDermott, the model for Harry Enfield's Scousers, leading a one-man campaign to keep Carmen rollers in business. And, of course, there's Kevin Keegan, so wedded to Newcastle he wears their colours in his hair. Which may prove a problem at away grounds next season when the lads trot out in a new change strip of cream, beige and burgundy hoops. Thus Newcastle United are the recipients of the first annual Independent award for services to hair in football. A trophy almost as sought after as the Inter-Toto Cup.