Me? Look like a footballer?

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The Independent Online
WE'VE all had dreams about sport: indeed, I'm told I never snore quite as sweetly as when I'm dreaming of holes in one at Royal Troon or punched back- foot drives for four at Lord's. But there is also a dark side to this - nightmares of such ferocity that you wake up sweating and screaming and yelling the names of obscure early-Seventies footballers whose Soccer Star cards were the only ones you never managed to collect. Bobby Stokes, Bobby Stokes, - one year I had millions of the little bastard, the next year none at all.

In the past few weeks, though, my sleep patterns have been disturbed as never before. Not even my recurring Frank Lampard dream has prepared me for this. As ever I have been drifting off into a happy land of make-believe, where golfers still wear ridiculous check trousers and drivers win Formula One races because they're the best drivers . . . and suddenly, with a terrible lurch, a huge grinning face with tiny teeth has thrust itself towards me, burping and talking in a strange unfamiliar accent. Yes, it's Gazza, complete with pathetic ponytail.

Initially I was confused, not to mention slightly terrified. Why now? Why after all these years of Gascoigne should he suddenly leap unbidden into my subconscious? But then on Friday the nightmare suddenly ceased. For two nights now I have slept the sleep of a man at peace. There's only one possible explanation: the ponytail.

For although the above photograph may imply that I have elegant short hair, expertly trimmed every four days by teams of highly trained coiffeurs, I in fact sport my own ponytail - of real hair, my hair, grown in the traditional fashion. Such tonsorial arrangements tend to inspire extreme reactions - notably sneers and jibes from contemporaries whose own hairless pates twinkle with the gleam of recently applied Pledge - but I could put up with anything until Gazza. For now I find I possess a Footballers' Haircut.

Imagine the shame. It's like waking up one morning, staring in the mirror and discovering that you look exactly like Charlie George. Or like going to the barbers, letting him do his worst and then realising that he has given you a Chris Waddle circa 1989 - the only haircut I've seen that could reasonably have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

Needless to say, my friends have been merciless - even though, in their own way, they too have footballer's haircuts (the footballer in question being Alan Gilzean). Several solutions were suggested for my dilemma: opening a boutique, recording an abject pop record, and, after injury had wrecked my career, talking absolute balls on Match Of The Day every week.

Happily, though, I hadn't accounted for the sublime good sense and taste of Dino Zoff, Lazio's uncommonly perspicacious manager. First, under Zoff's beneficent rule, the Gazza ponytail was drastically abbreviated. Then on Friday I opened my newspaper and saw that it had been removed altogether. My joy since then has been unconfined. I am Charlie George no longer. My days as Kevin Keegan are over.

And yet am I entirely safe? For, on the news the other night, I noticed that a number of Gascoigne's Lazio teammates also have dinky little ponytails flapping Mediterraneanly in the breeze. And whatever happens in Italy today is bound to be de rigueur in Leicester and Ipswich tomorrow. Are all the top footballers really growing their hair? Could Vinny Jones be contemplating plaits?

Off to the barbers on Tuesday morning, I think . . .