The sportsmen who can lose games – but not their hair

Why do men try to hide their bald spots? Is it vanity, pride, the fear of being seen as less macho, lack of confidence? 

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About 20 years ago, around this time of the year, on the first day of springlike spring, I was sitting outside with my back against a glass door when I felt a sudden surge of icy coldness. I jumped up and found that I had acquired a dinky patch of baldness at the back of my head, no bigger than a sixpence. It had been pressing naked against the glass. (A sixpence, by the way, was what tricky Scottish wingers used to turn on, practising for hours. That must have been awfully hard but it worked, whenever they stuffed the lumpen English at Hampden Park.)

God, I am going bald, quick, get me to the nearest weaver, find a transplant clinic in the Yellow Pages, my life, my career and my incredible attractiveness are ruined.

Actually, I didn’t think any of that. I thought, “Oh, drat!” – which is what I still think, even though the patch is now the size of a soup plate. I got on with the day, got on with my life.

Antonio Conte, the new boss of Chelsea from next season, is a young man of 46, with a most convincing, luxurious, wild head of hair. It makes him look as he did twenty years ago, playing for Italy. But the Italian fans and media know that it’s false and so they snigger.

Why do men do it? Is it vanity, pride, the fear of being seen as less macho, lack of confidence? I don’t see my bald pate when I shave in the morning (the only time I ever look in the mirror), so honestly it doesn’t worry me. Honestly. In photos, though, especially after swimming, I see that I am a baldy heed, which is depressing. But I tell myself that I have much more worrying things to worry about.

I can understand Elton John having his rug, which looks as luscious as Conte’s, cos he’s in show business. The same goes for James Nesbitt and Bono, or the Edge – one of that lot – who wears a hat to fool us, as well as Gordon Ramsay. They appear on TV, so naturally they want to look good, or what they consider good: hirsute.

There are people in show business who don’t bother, such as Sean Connery. If a film part called for hair, he put on hair, but in his normal life, even in public, he makes no pretence that he is not bald. He happens to have no physical vanity, never considering himself a hunk, nor does he think he’s a great actor. (Intellectually, he regards himself as a bit of a philosopher but you don’t need hair for that.)

Two of my contemporaries, Paul McCartney and Melvyn Bragg, are always being teased in print for having had work done on their hair. I’ve walked around each and looked closely, with my best specs on, and can tell you that their hair is kosher, the real thing, thick and luscious, lucky beggars. Perhaps Macca has had some slight colouring done – the clue being that his younger brother, Michael, has an equally fab head of hair but it’s pure white.

Why sportsmen do it is often hard to understand. How they look is irrelevant. Wayne Rooney was never picked for the team for his appearance. He has a lovely wife and family to tell him how gorgeous and lovely he is.

When sportsmen cover up, it suggests that they can’t bear being called “Grandad” in the dressing room, or being wound up by the opposition. Shane Warne is an ex-cricketer but still in the game, nudge, nudge. He presumably feels that it helps to attract the girls to have endless pampering and primping on his hair.

With active sportsmen, such as Rooney, perhaps it’s a fear of growing old, or of showing signs of age. They’re worried that some day, some manager will think, “He’s getting on. Let’s sell him.”

I always felt that Steve McClaren’s fall from grace, from his England career onwards, was somehow intertwined with his thinning hair – either cause or effect. In both cases (hair and career), he failed to do anything to stop them falling apart.

The world’s best football manager, Pep Guardiola, had a full head of hair as a young player but, once it started going, it was off, off, off, shaved to the bone. He knew his priorities, knew himself. That’s why I fear for Conte at Chelsea . . . 

Hunter Davies’s new memoir, The Co-op’s Got Bananas! , is published by Simon & Schuster

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 appears in the 14 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The making of a monster