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Most players don’t give a flying tuck

Watching the Spanish Clasico last weekend – which was excellent, how could you take your eye off it? – I found I was all the time leaning forward to get a decent view of something I have been investigating all season: which players wear their shirts inside their shorts and which wear them out?

Come on, think hard, see Cristiano and little Lionel in your mind’s eye – now, are their shorts in or out? In all, how many players from Barça and Real Madrid in that game had their shorts tucked in? I’ll tell you in mo.

Get shirty

This obsession was prompted by old friend in California – Dr John Davies of San Jose. He had somehow been watching Newcastle-Spurs on his telly – his first English Prem game for many years – and was struck by the fact that almost all the players had their shirts hanging out, not tucked into their shirts as nature intended – or at least how players had worn their shirts when he was a lad living in Newcastle in the 1950s. 

Was this now common, Hunt? You know about these things. And if so, why?

So I sat with my little notebook through several Match of the Days and blow me, he was right. The vast majority of modern players do not tuck their shirts into their shorts any more, apart from goalies. I hope De Montfort University is on to this. Could be a PhD thesis.

I wondered at first if it was just a general fashion thing – so many blokes under 40 these days walk around with their shirts not tucked in, sometimes to hide their beer guts but mostly ’cos they think it’s cool.

Then I thought, perhaps it is because football shirts have got shorter over the past few years, which makes them harder to tuck in. In the old days, shirts and shorts were voluminous, so you had to tuck in or you got blown away in a strong gale.

The history of football strips is totally fascinating and a history of them is long overdue. (I have put the idea to all my publishers at one time – and they have all said, nah, boring.) Football strips did not exist till 1863, when football began. Now it is one of the world’s biggest global industries.

Who would have imagined, back in 1863, that someone would ever be able to make enough money from selling football shirts to buy a football club – which, of course, has happened with that bloke at Newcastle and also the one at Wigan? Or what about the rise of Nike and Adidas, enormous world brands, worth billions – all based on footer gear?

On reflection, I have decided the reason for not tucking in is to do with the manufacturers. They are always telling us they have found new, amazing, improved, technological breakthroughs in boots and shirts. And more recently in undershirts. That’s probably what’s done it

My research has included whizzing back on Sky Plus when someone is injured or changing his shirt and noting that underneath they all do seem to wear some sort of Lycra-type vest or T-shirt – tight-fitting and figure-clinging. 

I assume someone has told them the micro-fibre synthetic will heighten the flow of blood to the muscles, improve their performance and give a better-looking body, which will increase the chance of a shag after the game. 

Because they are all wearing these funny tight vests, constricting their body, they let their top shirt hang out. It is harder and less comfortable to have to tuck two shirts into your shorts.

Clasico couture

Having proved, with my own eyes, that most players all over the world now don’t tuck their shirts in, I then tried to see if there was a pattern among those who still do resolutely tuck in.

Scott Parker of Spurs tucks in and so does Phil Neville of Everton – two rather old-fashioned, no-nonsense characters, both leaders on the field, the sort you would expect not to be swayed by current fancy-dan theories.

Van Persie normally tucks in, yet he always strikes me as a more modern, cool character. Hmm, more research please.

Meanwhile, in El Clasico, none of the Barça team tucked in, even the goalie Valdés. Most unusual for a goalie. While in Real Madrid, only two tucked in – goalie Casillas and Sergio Ramos.

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 30 April 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The puppet master