After the World Cup: why sport shows Peak Beard is a long way off
Earlier in 2014 some Australian researchers, having shown some pictures of men with beards and men without beards to some other people [mostly women] and asking which they preferred declared that we have reached Peak Beard and that beards are in decline.
Numerous media comment followed mostly along the same lines.
You only need to look at the World Cup in Brazil to see that the theory of Peak Beard was some way off reality.
Beards there have been in abundance. Moreover, although this is to a degree speculative since the reasons why footballers have beards- often for luck- are not always verifiable, the facial hair appears a bit more benign that it was in the 1970s when ‘caveman’ organic beards were quite common in football.
Why do footballers wear beards? Occasionally because they have just forgotten to shave. More often because they have decided not to shave for superstitious reasons.
There are two more positive reasons. Firstly as an image thing. The England cricketer Moeen Ali who possibly has the best cricket beard since WG Grace is known as the ‘beard that’s feared’. In an Ashes series against Australia decades ago England captain Mike Brearley grew an organic beard for the same reason. The beard makes an impact on opponents and suggests gravitas and beyond. Think of the moustache of Australian pace bowler Mitchell Johnson.
The other reason is one of aerodynamics. Facial hair can influence air currents and hence in sports where a ball is involved potentially its direction. This is of course scientifically a bit doubtful but no more so than Peak Beard is.
Not all sports have become hirsute.
Cricket certainly has, and it has moved on from an era when a former England captain Ray Illingworth reputedly sent a player from the field to get a shave, in essence to smarten up.
Yet tennis [Wimbledon had mostly stubble and Andy Murray lost the beard he often has with predictable results], cycling [where there are some beards and the aerodynamic impact of follicles is hotly debated] and golf [there will be few beards at the Open in Hoylake later this week, beyond possibly Jimenez, and if there are expect pogonophobic comments from Peter Alliss] remain mostly clean shaven.
Why is this? I can only advance a thought. It is in more ‘traditional’ sports where old fashioned discipline imposed from above [the blazers and clean shaven look] that beards are rare. In sports like football and cricket where that has broken down a bit, players are more individualistic and beards are part of that.
It is a mixed message if you’re looking for sporting success. The individualistic beard wearer may have flashes of brilliance but be a less than great team player. Former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen often has a beard for example.
Again however this is only a thought, to be taken about as seriously as Peak Beard.
One thing is clear we are going to see a lot more beards, both organic and hipster, in sport in the period to come