My god those hands were frozen. I’m not talking a bit nippy; more like snap-them-off-they’re-icicles punishingly sub-zero freezing. The worst part was not the excruciating agony as blood flowed through my veins again upon warming up. Oh that was hell too, believe me. What crushed my spirit was the pure unfiltered fear filling my lungs, the last bastion of sentient function.
But hey, we had just won the warm-up game 7-6, so who gave a shit? I know I didn’t. Remembering the sweet free-kick I struck off the inside of those deliciously whitewashed square stanchions saw to that. The swerve of the Mitre Ultimax as it smacked satisfyingly onto the inside of the wooden post was just sublime. Yes, all you get is highly sardonic prose in this column – humility not included.
The point is that despite suffering conditions that felt worse than inhumane, they were inconsequential against the joy of playing. Sure, I was ready to collapse in sheer pain once we stopped playing. In all seriousness, frostbite really probably was a risk. It was worth it though.
Aside from the battle against the elements, there was one particularly strange element to the near-apocalyptic scene unfolding. Not one of the rapidly deteriorating zombies that lurched across the icy abyss back home was wearing gloves.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to see players with no skin bar their face exposed to what are realistically mild temperatures. Every single design concept has been realised including thermal leggings, thermal vests, gloves, those bizarre headbands, snoods – fucking hell, remember them? So glad those atrocities died a quick death – hats…
I could stand here and point the ‘man-up’ finger at these pampered prima donnas for layering up to maintain their core body temperature. I could, but it would be far too easy a target. Anyway, every few years that pass brings new more detailed understanding of biology and health that proves the smaller details are critical. I’m no scientist, but one would imagine keeping body temperature as stable as possible helps promote blood flow and in turn preventing more avoidable muscle injuries from occurring.
So it’s not to lambaste those poor shivering souls from running scared shitless from a bit of cold that I pen this. The laddish culture of trying to prove one’s virility by toughening out extreme conditions is quite frankly shit, even if some examples are embarrassing. Look further down the anatomy of the average layered-up player and you’ll see something else. You might not even notice it at first, so commonplace has it become.
Socks. Thrilling topic, right? But look again. Golfers in the 18th century wore plus-fours around the course – Ian Poulter eat your heart out – but football? Victorians were in hindsight faintly ridiculous in their attire, but again we’re wandering off topic a touch. Focus on today: socks. Call me a dinosaur, but they’re for wearing on your bloody feet. Almost all players who want to make the latest ‘skillz’ YouTube compilation wear the damn acrylic abominations over their bloody knees.
By the beard of Zeus, what is that all about? The modern sock is so flimsy you half expect it to disintegrate into nothing when in contact with moisture. It does not inspire confidence against the cold. Unless I have missed the memo, they don’t offer enough direct support to increase blood flow to muscles. In other words, even in the flimsiest mindset, there is no rational, acceptable explanation for wearing them so high.
Thierry Henry was happy to build a cult of sophistication around himself with those cringe-worthy Renault adverts two decades ago. “Eh Bobby, what’s French for va-va-voom?” I’ll tell what the French for “‘Ave it! Oh yes.” mate. In fairness to the sublimely talented chap, he really did have the charisma to pull off pretty much whatever he wanted.
When I was an aspiring under-11 footballer, I asked my dad if i could grow my hair long. “If you become a professional footballer or a rock star, fine,” he replied. Henry went for the socks over the knees thing instead. Now at the biggest stretch imaginable, he could just, JUST, get away with it. I’m really not sure why he would want to, but that’s his choice. The question is, why would anyone want to?
It’s a blatant scream of ‘look at me!’ that grates when it comes to wearing socks high. In a phase of our beloved sport’s lifespan where image and connection to fans is stupidly out of sync with reality, I cannot stomach this. If your legs are cold, wear thermal leggings. If it’s not for cold, then you’re an utter idiot.
That day stumbling across the training rink – pitch is generous – all our socks were rooted by our ankles. Not as a reverse snobbish way of rejecting the stupid high sock, but simply because we didn’t care. For all its rampant commercialisation – that has been as inevitable as a Boris Johnson fuck-up – football should care less. Image rights bla bla bla… OK, so it’s a tiny step, but would it really be that hard for players to pull their socks up and, erm, roll their socks down?
Sorry, how silly of me – where else would the Facundo Savas of this world hide their Zorro masks? Hmm, maybe there is something to this knee-high sock lark…