What is the connection between beards, sport & revolution?
The answer I’m afraid is not as much as I would like
Some may be familiar with the picture of Castro and Che Guevara, both hirsute, playing golf. That is possibly the best connection that can be proven. Whether or not it helps that Castro is an Arsenal fan I’ll leave for others.
Still there is something about beards and sport even if it doesn’t exactly suggest revolutionary developments on most occasions.
The matter can be historically situated. Before the advent of the safety razor at the beginning of the twentieth century, sportsmen were often hirsute and not much significance could be attached to it. Once shaving became the norm beards also became something of a rarity although moustaches still had their place.
It would be difficult to argue here that sport was outside of the broader context of the societies in which it was played.
Over time however the clean shaven approach became institutionalised to the extent that in most cases a sportsman wearing a beard was regarded as exceptional if not to be prevented altogether.
There are stories of England cricket captain Ray Illingworth in the early 1970s despatching players back to the Pavilion If he felt they had not shaved properly.
We can plausibly say therefore that the clean shaven look in sport was one in which authority from above dominated and player power was non existent.
That began to change 50 or so years ago.
The development might be loosely tied to the move to professional cricket and the end of the cap on football players wages. Traditional authority began to fade a little and with it players ability to develop their own individual sporting personas.
The appearance in numbers of beards in football and cricket can probably be dated to the 1970s. No doubt the wider societal upheavals of the 1960s also played their part.
What is the impact of the sporting beard?
The Beard Liberation Front often claims that the sporting beard can provide an aero-dynamic advantage on the field of play, directing air currents and therefore influencing the direction of the ball whether it be cricket, golf, rugby or football.
It must be said that the scientific basis for this assertion is rather slender.
But beards do have an impact, even if not revolutionary.
The impact is mainly one of intent. An example is the beard England cricket captain Mike Brearley grew during an Ashes series in Australia. It didn’t have a direct influence on the England team’s fortunes but instead of seeing a middle class University lecturer on the field, the Australians suddenly saw a rather fearsome WG Grace type figure. The point I think was taken.
Likewise in rugby one thinks of the French player Sebastien Chabal. What was Chabal’s role on the rugby field? Primarily I suspect to lurk with his bulk and beard near opposition players and use his physical and hirsute presence to make them ponder whether making that tackle was really a wise thing to do for their future well being.
Again this is not exactly revolutionary, but it does suggest that the sporting beard makes a sufficient point to provoke the possibility of revolutionary thoughts. After all H M Hyndman the hirsute founder of the Social Democratic Federation, Britian’s first marxist organisation, played first class cricket in the 1860s for Sussex.