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Up for it? Snood debate evidence of English football’s continued bigotry

23 January 2011

Carlos Tevez: doesn't fancy it (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Football in Britain has forever been associated with strength and manliness. It’s a belief that dates back to the game’s origins and its development in the 19th Century. From this, the image of an English ‘hard man’ has grown; your ‘no nonsense,’ ‘big hearted’ and typically dim individual who we know never to pull out of a tackle, never to give the opposition at inch.

Naturally, this isn’t the default for all footballers across the world. Many countries have sought technique over physicality, or chosen to intellectualise the sport rather than use the hell-for-leather approach sometimes adopted in the English game. The point is that different countries produce different footballers, with different preferences and a different understanding of the game. This is why some footballers struggle to settle in other countries; it can be a case of finding it difficult to adapt to a new league, or simply find living hard without home comforts.

The English football bubble, however, continues to fail to understand or appreciate this, and this was no better evidenced than over a bitterly cold month of December this season. A number of players, most notably Carlos Tevez, Marouane Chamakh and Samir Nasri, all sported snoods in addition to other body-warming attire during Premier League matches in November and December, and continue to do so in January.

Managers and members of the media have provided their thoughts on snoods, with Roy Keane perhaps unsurprisingly being the most forthright:

Don’t get me started. I don’t know how they do it. It’s very strange. Gloves, scarves, I think somebody came on a few weeks ago for [Manchester] City who had a hat on. I don’t know how they do it and focus on the game, it’s weird. That’s the way the game’s gone. They’ve all gone soft. I think John Barnes wore gloves but to be fair I think that boy could play. That was just gloves. Then it went to tights. Now it’s scarves.

Keane’s former manager Sir Alex Ferguson went so far as to ban players wearing snoods, confirmed by Rio Ferdinand via Twitter:

I’m telling u tweeps, U won’t see a Man Utd player wearing a SNOOD

The most riling aspect of the criticism of snoods is commentators suggesting that sporting one makes you ‘soft’, and not ‘up for it’. The accusation is that it is a distraction, and means players will not commit 100% to their performance. Take Paul Wilson’s piece in the Observer, a few days after Everton’s 2-1 away win at Manchester City in late December.

Everton don’t put on snoods either. Not only did they sport short sleeves at Eastlands on one of the coldest nights of the year, there were 11 bare necks, which makes them even more deserving of some kind of award from the campaign for real football. Or perhaps real men.[1]

Wilson implies that Everton’s snood-less display had something to do with the result: Man City’s players, largely non-British (eight started the match at Eastlands), are not ‘real men’, and didn’t deserve a victory anyway. Everton’s performance was probably their best of the season, but realistically it has nothing to do with their lack of warming attire. It certainly doesn’t explain their inability to win a league game since, nor Man City’s 7-match unbeaten run after the defeat. Equally Arsenal has only suffered one league defeat since the start of December – that too at Old Trafford – in a period where snood-wearer Samir Nasri in particular has shown remarkable form.

Wilson’s thoughts were echoed on radio stations and in pubs across the country. The entire issue stinks of bigotry; the English football-following public, influenced by the opinions of those in and covering the sport, believe there to be a certain ‘correct’ way of approaching the game. Despite the influx of foreign players and coaches into the top division, there remains a dismissive attitude towards the mindset and beliefs of these players, where we expect them to conform to our thinking of what a ‘hard man’ should be.

It is no surprise to hear Arsene Wenger look beyond appearances and support the snood on medical grounds.

I got advice from the medical team. We had some players with neck problems before the Aston Villa game – Nasri and Chamakh.

By insulating the neck, more blood and oxygen reaches the affected area. Wenger’s comments however are still a little beside the point. Tevez, Nasri or any other non-British player don’t face the discrimination towards their attire that they endure in this country. Many players are used to warmer climates, or simply enjoy a certain level of comfort when taking to the field. Indeed they’ve made an important but risky career choice to move to England, where clubs let alone fans often don’t even give foreign players the chance to settle. Boudewijn Zenden, the former Chelsea and Barcelona player, told Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski of Why England Lose & Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained:

It’s the weirdest thing ever that you can buy a player for 20 mil, and you don’t do anything to make him feel at home. I think the first thing you should do is get him a mobile phone and a house. Get him a school for the kids, get something for his missus, get a teacher in for both of them straight away, because everything obviously goes with the language.

Milan: best club ever. AC Milan is organised in a way you can’t believe. Anything is done for you. You arrive, you get your house, it’s fully furnished, you get five cars to choose from, you know the sky’s the limit.

In the book, Kuper and Szymanski quote Didier Drogba’s autobiography, which tells of his early days at Chelsea. Drogba claims his family lived in a hotel for weeks whilst he house hunted after training, without the support of the club or much grasp of the English language. Drogba and Zenden’s accounts demonstrate the ignorance of English football clubs, an attitude that is passed on through the game into the terraces.

We would do well as English football fans to appreciate the needs of foreign players, who have no doubt improved the league over the past decade. Foreign players should be made to feel comfortable playing in England, not discriminated or mocked. Conclusions drawn from the attire of a footballer are baseless and narrow-minded, and indicative of deeper problems of distrust within the English game.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    24 January 2011 4:00 pm

    Excellent blog.

    For me supporters’ opinions on snoods centre around their clubs ‘policy’ on them. Were United players to wear snoods I’m sure the abuse from their supporters would stop, likewise I’m sure the same Arsenal supporters who are for snoods now would have been negative towards the introduction of long sleeve shirts when Tony Adams was so against them several years ago.

    And it’s no surprise that Alex Ferguson decided to be critical of Man City’s and Arsenal’s use of snoods, incidentally right before the match against Wenger’s side. For once he didn’t criticise the manager in the pre-match build-up, but his mind-games still existed, targeted towards a large majority of the Arsenal side. For Fergie, his snoods are for ‘puffs’ rant was just another way to win a match, but I agree that for many United fans there may well be an element or two of bigotry – at least towards the opposition.

    • 24 January 2011 6:52 pm

      Cheers Adam. I think you’re spot on – I don’t think you’d see many European clubs adopting the policy either. Just a stubborn mentality in this country really.

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