Take it on the chin

A COUSIN of mine once received an electric shaver as a Christmas present. As I recall it, he spent much of Christmas day sitting on the stairs with the shaver in his hand and a strange, faraway look in his eye.

Aidan Semmens

A COUSIN of mine once received an electric shaver as a Christmas present. As I recall it, he spent much of Christmas day sitting on the stairs with the shaver in his hand and a strange, faraway look in his eye.

He was 16, the growth on his chin as yet a barely visible blond fluff, yet he had clearly been given the perfect present. It wasn't just an electric gizmo - it was a male right of passage.

A moment to rank with your first official trip down the pub. The young jungle warrior's first overnight hunting expedition. Your first snog.

To tell the truth (and if you look at my photo you'll see just how true) I'm not as experienced as most men in the art of shaving.

I have only once as an adult razed all the hair from my chin. I didn't much like the stranger who appeared in my mirror that day and I have since banished him from my life.

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But at 16 it would have done my heart good to think anyone imagined I might need a shave.

Even three years into my career, when I got my second sports writing job, I was identified by the interviewer as “the one with the see-through beard”. Oh dear.

A later colleague once watched me lighting up (a filthy habit I've long since abandoned) and declared: “I've always thought men with beards and pipes were effeminate.”

I think he was joking - but like many jokes, there was maybe a grain or two of truth there. Maybe I was subconciously trying to boost a faltering image of my masculinity.

Of course the truly butch don't wear beards. They either join that over-advertised quest for the perfect smooth shave or settle for a manly stubble.

In either case, they might as well splash on pure testosterone as an aftershave. Personally, I've never gone much on perfumes of any kind. Yet another colleague accosted me recently in the newsroom of the national paper where I work at weekends.

“I don't want to be rude,” he began.

“But you're going to be,” I responded. “Nobody says that unless they're going to be rude. But go on - what were you going to say?”

That put him on the spot, macho and masculine as I am.

“Well,” he spluttered, “that beard. Not very modern, is it?”

What I wanted to reply was: “Ah, but I can shave whenever I want to, whereas you're stuck with that stupid tattoo for life.”

Actually I said nothing but just gave him a look as old-fashioned as my whiskers.

I might also have asked him when he last went to a heavy-metal gig or a biker convention, but he probably thinks they're not very modern either.

His remark did make me look round the office, though. And I realised to my surprise that in a national newsroom full of about 80 blokes - journalists, page-makers, graphic artists and other assorted professionals - mine was the only beard.

Whereas in any gathering of my extended family - be it wedding, funeral, Christmas lunch or a family photo album extending back generations - there is hardly a clean-shaven man to be seen.

I'm not sure what this tells you, except that I have fulfilled my seasonal challenge to commit newsprint to a discussion of mere fluff.

And perhaps that while far, far fewer column inches are devoted to it, men in fact regard each other, and their appearance, almost as critically and competitively as women do.

I WAS eight years old when I watched a whole football match for the first time. And like so many of my generation, that one match was enough to get me hooked.

So it was with fascination that I watched that game again the other day - even though this time I knew all along that England would beat West Germany 4-2 after extra time.

For someone used to the pace and style of the modern game, there were real some real eye-openers in the 1966 World Cup Final.

For one thing, how slow it all was. How random and pattern-less much of the play appeared. How much space the man in possession always seemed to have.

Standards of gentlemanly conduct, both on the field and off it, were far above the petulance so sadly familiar now.

But the fitness level required to play even at the highest level 41 years ago was way short of that expected of today's professionals.

The hard-working Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball - praised by commentator Ken Wolstenholme as “perpetual-motion man” - were the only players who came close to the mileage run by today's stars.

And they didn't need to be as quick, or their skills as sharp, to avoid being closed down by their opponents as even average players in an average game today.

And was that really the great Bobby Moore committing a Titus Bramble-style defensive blooper to gift Germany their opening goal?

Wolstenholme didn't mention it at the time, and no one seems to have remembered it among all the hype and celebration that followed.

Oh, and no - England's third, decisive goal did not cross the line. But that's one way in which we haven't moved on.