Hair today and gone tomorrow, along with your mojo

About ten years ago, I was sitting outside in the garden, enjoying the first real sunbathing of the year, leaning against our back door, when I felt the back of my head go cold, as if a cold compress had been applied to it suddenly. "Heh up," I thought. "That's foony." I always say "foony" to indicate that it obviously isn't funny, just vaguely, possibly half interesting.

Over the winter, my bald spot - hardly a spot, really, more a dot the previous year - had grown big enough for it to feel icy when in contact with a colder surface.

I'd gone through life with a fine head of dark hair (oh, yes, and I have pics to prove it) and had not really taken in men's hair, ample or otherwise. But since that change-of-life moment, I have become awfully conscious of other blokes' hair, observing the thinnings, tracking the recedings. And I've come to a conclusion that I'd like to share.

To get ahead as a manager in the Premiership, you need a good head of hair. Look at Fergie, Carlo Ancelotti, Arsène Wenger, Harry Redknapp, Roberto Mancini and Kenny Dalglish - managers of what look like our top six clubs this season (Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Man City and Liverpool). Observing them from all angles using mirrors and by getting up close to the telly and creeping behind them at post-match press conferences, I would say all of them are sans bald spots. Some are going greyish, like Wenger and Mancini, and some are a bit thinner than they were, like Dalglish, but no cheeky kid could creep up behind them and shout, "Baldie head!"

Bald truth

At the bottom of the Prem, we have a clutch of definite receders, if not actual baldies, such as Steve Kean of Blackburn, Ian Holloway of Blackpool, Tony Pulis of Stoke and Avram Grant of West Ham. Mick McCarthy of Wolves has some sticky-out, healthy-looking grey hair but it's stuck at the back of his head, about to slide down over his neck.

Why is this? Being a successful manager is the same as being a successful player - confidence is vital. Having a fine head of hair helps to make you decisive, unselfconscious, strong.

I think Rooney began to lose some of his confidence when his hair started disappearing. Berbatov's loss is less obvious, but since thinning at the temples he's been a lesser player. And since Torres stopped dyeing his hair, he's been worried about everything, really.

Rubbish, you say - there is no connection, how could there be? This is all bollocks. You'll be theorising next about their star signs or reading their tea leaves.

OK, then. Note how those six hirsute managers have deputies and assistants who are far from well endowed on the hair front. Fergie's deputy, shoved in front of the cameras when Fergie can't be arsed, which is most of the time, is the almost hairless Mike Phelan. Joe Jordan at Spurs is definitely thinning, though you wouldn't say so to his face, as is Steve Clarke at Liverpool. Hmm, not sure about Pat Rice at Arsenal. Wenger never lets him out unattended or appear in public, so it's hard to check his hairline. At Man City, you have David Platt, now a proper slaphead, while football's most noted baldie, Ray Wilkins, was assistant manager at Chelsea till he got the boot. And why? Lack of hair. Lack of confidence. Lack of respect. It's obvious.

So the best you can hope for with unfortunate hair is to be a deputy, not a leader. It eats into your soul: you get seen as second fiddle, an also-ran, and you begin to act accordingly.

Look at William Hague - never had a chance of staying leader, not with his bonce - or Iain Duncan Smith. Cameron is in for the long haul, till he leans back one day and feels that cold compress sap his mojo.

It's pretty obvious that José Mourinho's success is due to his fine head of hair. Gives him strength. He could walk into the Spurs job, once Harry ascends to England, or Fergie's.

There is one exception to the rule: Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. Must have been alarming as a young man to lose so much so quickly, yet clearly it has not hindered his progress. So far. But watch carefully. Mourinho is beginning to get him worried, hair-wise . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The Firm

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide