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Joel Sked addresses the Hairband culture of football.

What does British football need to do to improve? A question that has prompted much discussion amongst professionals, the media and public. A topic examined to the point of boredom after constant failures of both England and Scotland on an international (and club – yes Scottish clubs I am looking at you) level.

Conclusion. We are obese, drink too much, play too much computer games and are still stuck the prehistoric age when it comes to technique and tactics. In short we are useless. Or so we are told. Criticism has only been heightened by the all too perfect football of Barcelona; who in their first league game of the season fielded one defender and no ‘out-and-out’ striker and still won 5-0*.

All aspects of football have been scrutinised with many concluding, and rightly so, that more has to be done at youth level; more time and effort spent cultivating technical and tactical aspects of the youngster’s game rather than looking for the biggest and fastest 12 years olds; the same players who ten years later are playing Sunday league football, still the same height although now accompanied with a large central area and exterior with their pace, ironically, left behind.

This article however is not another strategic outline of what kids need to do to better their technique and understanding of the game. This is a call to football players to revert back to older times to meet the new times.

I re-entered the world of competitive football action last season after taking a sabbatical to follow an unnamed football club each Saturday. The six year long break saw me ‘reinvent’ myself from an indecisive goalkeeper to a mercurial winger after a few years of running around men twice my age at 5-a-sides. It made me feel is as if I could seamlessly fit into the high octane world of under-21 football. Yet a handful of games in and my friend was right (yet again); 5-a-side is to 11-a-side what pool is to snooker. Anyway this isn’t about my struggles acclimatising to 11-a-side football. It is about players attitudes.

Going into a changing room full of 20 and 21 year-olds you expect the atmosphere to be boisterous, players fuelled with adrenaline moments before a football match and at that age semi-intelligent discussion about tactics, positional play and movement. Nope. Sat there, one of only few changed, I look round at players bargaining for tape, admiring a team-mates new multi-coloured boots and getting themselves into a sweat over which thermal, baselayer, call it what you will, to wear. It’s September. AND mild.

Now too old for under-21’s I have moved onto Sunday amateurs (and right back – the fall back option for all those not so good). The Sunday leagues – or pub leagues – have a notorious reputation for being no-holds barred wars – the less admirable side of British football. Pumped up, shaven-headed ogres ready to part your ankle from your leg. Your shin from your knee. Your knee from . . . you get the idea. They are not to be messed with.

On arrival I expect my nostrils to be assaulted by a combination of stale alcohol – the last remnants of the night before – and deep heat. Instead it is players failing to hold down the previous evening’s alcohol intake. Then there is the bargaining again . . . this time over a ‘good-fitting’ strip, talk of new £120+ boots and tape. What is up with footballers and tape?

A little bit to hold the socks up is often required. Fair enough. But you look at players ankles and they’ve been mummified. Whole rolls are used because it helps keeps their socks and shinguards in tact. Who are they kidding? They are doing it because it makes them ‘look good’. It started with ‘flashy’ wingers. Now there are ‘flashy’ defenders. Give me a break.

Then there are the players with hairbands. This is not Anatoly Tymoschuk hair we are talking about. It’s slightly long hair. Boyband hair. Not enough for a hairband but hey! It makes them ‘look good’. Supposedly.

Hairbands should be left to the exotic goal-getters with their luxuriant locks. Tape, fitted strips, £100+ fancy boots, more tape and hairbands. What is going on in the lower levels of British football?

It is here where we meet the crux of the problem. Players have almost become more interested in football ‘fashion’ and looking good. Playing and improving has taken a back seat. It is a trend that I noticed with younger age groups over the last few years where boys who could barely stand on their own two feet, never mind kick a ball, were wearing boots their parents would have had to fork out the best part of £100 for. As mentioned it has crept into older age groups and even adults.

Trying to stay away from the nostalgic cliché of ‘football was different in our day; it has gone soft’ there is a grain of truth in the argument. As a coach of an under-11 side I now see some boys shirk from any sort of physicality and go to ground under minimal contact. Not to try and win a penalty or free-kick but to feign injury and ‘look injured’.

It comes back around to replicating what they see when watching football on television. Players with their scientifically developed baselayers and football boots. The perfectly wrapped tape and perfectly placed hair. Then of course there is the going to ground and ‘feigning injury’ but that is a story for another article. Soon players will be sticking Kinesio tape – the blue tape strapped on players to help give support and stability to your joints and muscles – onto their body without any inclination of what it does, again with the reasoning it makes them ‘look the part’.

It seems over time football in Britain has struggled to imitate and reproduce the technical and tactical elite of Europe while losing some of its steel the British game was admired for.

There is of course need for better educating of players in this country as shown by the anecdote provided by Steve McLaren from his time in Germany. British players need to strive to become more intelligent. But it should not come at the price of the famed resolute British fortitude and tenacity which has pulled clubs through ties against more skilful and tactically adept opposition. Currently there is no middle ground. Or any ground at all. Coaching and technique has improved but it still lags behind European and South American counterparts. Shouts of ‘get it forward’ are still prominent in every, with the exception of a few, grounds in Britain. While at the lower levels, youth and amateur, players have perhaps lost ‘something’ in their desire for football, yet increased in their desire for the latest football fashion.

So I ask, call, plead you to get yourself to the shop and buy shorts, t-shirt, socks and a pair of Copa Mundials and get down the park and focus on becoming a better player.

*A lesson here for those ‘traditional’ football fans. You don’t need to always have ‘two up top’ to play good football and win games.

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