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Movember Special: Top Ten Football Taches

December 1, 2009

To the relief of thousands of men around the world (and their perpetually embarrassed partners) the annual facial hair phenomenon that is Movember is mercifully over for 2009. Giving to charity has never been more grueling – wearing a moustache for a whole month is a task not for the weak of mind – and hats off to everyone who endured the inevitably merciless taunts that go with a full-on lip slug.

Amidst such modern-day struggle and selfless sacrifice, it’s hard to imagine a time when men, especially rock-hard footballers, wore moustaches through choice. Indeed, many of the greatest ever footballers built their careers on their overgrown upper lip and the confidence surging through their veins when they strode onto the field ‘tache first. Here we celebrate our favourites.

10. Giuseppe Bergomi
Bergomi was just 19 years of age with 30 first team games under his belt when he won the World Cup in 1982 with Italy. Entering the team midway through the tournament, his performances were so assured he instantly became undroppable, and his unflappable and uncompromising style won him numerous plaudits. Few players gain nicknames because of their facial hair, but Bergmoi’s bushy black ‘tache (grown to make himself look older in his early days) earned such respect that he was referred to throughout his career as “Lo zio”, or “the uncle”. Even though the ‘tache was ditched before the 80s came to a close, Bergomi was able to continue performing at the highest level, spending his entire 19-year career at Inter where he won a scudetto and three UEFA cups, all the while gaining 81 caps for his country.

9. Roger Milla
Matthaus was inspired, Gazza and Diego cried, and Salvatore Schillaci ignited a goalscoring fire under the ultimately unlucky hosts, but there was one real star of Italia 90 – the moustachioed maestro Roger Milla. Amid reports that he was anywhere between 28 and 68 years old, the 38-year old Cameroon striker scored four memorable goals and followed each one with a corner flag wiggle that was as shocking to old ladies as Elvis Presley in his pomp. Milla came on as a largely unnoticed substitute in the shock opening victory against Argentina but his second appearance from the bench, against Romania, resulted in a match-winning brace and the unveiling of his unique dancing skills. Cameroon were the first African nation to progress beyond the group stages of a World Cup and Milla celebrated by scoring two more goals to see off Colombia in the second round, memorably dispossessing another player who favoured a hairy lip, Rene Higuita, outside the box and rolling the ball into the empty net. A Gazza and Lineker inspired England proved their undoing in the quarter-finals, but Milla and Cameroon provided the true highlight of a disappointing and largely negative World Cup.

8. Billy Meredith
Not many players are afforded legendary status at both Manchester City and Manchester United, but wispy winger Billy Meredith, known as “Old Skinny” due to his unimposing frame, is one of the few players to hold that dubious distinction. Seventy years before Ryan Giggs, the original “Welsh Wizard” made over 300 appearances for both clubs between 1894 and 1921, and was arguably the first real superstar the game has produced, drawing huge crowds wherever he played. The fact that he took to the field with a massive ‘tache chewing tobacco or a toothpick make him a bona fide terrace hero.

7. Rudi Voller and Frank Rijkaard
This is what happens when ‘taches collide in one of international football’s most hotly contested and spiteful match ups – sometimes the pitch just isn’t big enough for two hairy appendages of this stature. These two legends ‘tached off in the 1990 World Cup quarter-final between Germany and Holland in a penalty area melee that saw both men receive red cards. As Voller cursed his luck (he had done little wrong) the Dutchman casually strolled behind him and spat lustily into his mullet. Cue understandable fury from Voller and an unrepentant Rijkaard steaming down the tunnel giggling. A low point in the glorious history of the moustache, it is widely believed that this incident signaled the end of the ‘tache as a desirable accessory.

6. David Seaman
Not only did England’s premier goalkeeper of the 1990s and early noughties sport a massive moustache when everyone else had realised they were only suitable for porn stars and members of YMCA, “Big” Dave Seaman topped it off with a flowing mane of hair or a ridiculous ponytail. Even the public glare and the national ridicule it entailed failed to persuade this fashion victim to realise the error of his ways. Big Dave was a great goalkeeper who will sadly be remembered for being easy to lob from the halfway line and for not knowing how to use a razor or a pair of scissors properly.

5. Claudio Gentile
This hardest of footballing hardmen wore his moustache like war paint. One look into Gentile’s eyes rendered almost every opponent immobile as they considered his unspoken message: “mess with me and I’ll set my ‘tache on you”. Along with our number 10, Giuseppe Bergomi, Gentile won the World Cup in 1982 with Italy, and was one of the finest man-markers the game has ever produced. Gentile specialised in mercilessly savaging whoever he had been assigned to disrupt and in the second group stage of 1982 he manhandled Maradona and then Zico in successive matches, paving the way for Italy’s unexpected triumph. Owner of a belting moustache in the early rounds, Gentile curiously took to the field in the final without his trusted friend, yet managed to perform immaculately. This incident disproved the oft-quoted theory that once a player engages with a moustache, he is never able to play properly again should he discard it.

4. Harald Schumacher
The emergence of German goalkeeping legend Harald Schumacher and the extent of his evil deeds on the pitch signalled the beginning of the end of the footballing moustache. Along with teammate Paul Breitner (who really should have been in this Top Ten too), Schumacher favoured the feather cut/curly afro atop an imposing face ferret. Both men specialised in being obnoxious and uncooperative to everyone and everything, as well as carving out pretty successful careers. Schumacher won a European Championship and appeared in two World Cup finals, but will always be remembered for one hideous piece of play that almost killed his unfortunate opponent. In the 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and Germany, Schumacher decided to deal with a 50-50 ball by throwing his whole weight into the unsuspecting face of Patrick Battiston. The Frenchman lost a few teeth and was unconscious while Schumacher stroked his moustache and complained to the referee that he wanted to get on with the game. Football’s very own Lord of the Sith.

3. Ruud Gullit
It’s easy to forget just what an impact Ruud Gullit made on European football in the late 80s and early 90s. Tall, built like a tank, supremely skilful and a devastating finisher with both head and feet, he marauded his way around Europe for over a decade. In full flow he was an amazing sight, not least because he had a massive set of dreadlocks and an ever present monster of a moustache. Most of the time, defenders cowered in the presence of this mighty man and capitulated immediately with barely a whimper. For the national team and AC Milan, alongside his compatriots Rijkaard and Van Basten, Gullit picked up trophies for fun. Arguably one of the best footballers of all time and unequivocally one of the best moustache and hair combos in the history of mankind.

2. Rivelino
One of the coolest footballers of all time, Roberto Rivelino ignited Brazil’s left-wing for a decade and was a key component of their legendary 1970 World Cup winning side, combining outrageous skills with a swerving cannonball shot and a breathtaking mo’. If that wasn’t enough, he also invented a dribble – the ‘elastico’ or ‘flip flap’ – that has been used to great effect ever since by the likes of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, to name but a few. To this day, Rivelino still proudly sports his trademark moustache, seemingly immune to fashion or common decency. He also made taking free-kicks into the deadly art form it has become today, frequently testing the strength of 1970s netting with his unbelievably hard shot. A legend in every respect.

1. Liverpool in the 80s
Let’s face it, this Top Ten could have been populated entirely by Liverpool players of the 80s, so ubiquitous was the moustache on the faces of their lineups. There were so many on display it’s hard to know where to start. Of the veterans of the 70s who played in the early part of the decade, Tommy Smith, Steve Heighway and Alan Kennedy all wore their mo’s with pride.

As young tyros were introduced at the beginning of the decade, the likes of gangly goal-getter Ian Rush, rottweiler-in-human-form Graeme Souness (complete with permed afro), talented idiot Bruce Grobbelaar and speedy bore Mark Lawrenson all made the first-team, ‘tache in hand. The veteran schemer John Wark was there too, as was Scottish midfielder Kevin McDonald. It’s a wonder they didn’t have a full-time club barber.

It was carnage out there at times, but this team’s collective fashion faux pas didn’t stop them claiming almost every trophy going for the entire decade. As Lawro might say on Match of the Day these days, “quite simply Gary, they were tachetastic”.

So, there it is. What do you think? Have we got it absolutely right or – like our Top Ten when they looked in the mirror before they left for training – horribly, horribly wrong?

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