A celebration of Alex Ferguson & Arsene Wenger’s ‘snood’ wars
There was a time when you could wear cosy winter accessories without Sir Alex Ferguson calling you a “powder puff”. Rewind just over a decade and that wasn’t the case.
History shows that late 2010 had two main antagonists: a sad-looking Nick Clegg, who had betrayed the students, and a kind of tubular neck warmer that was worn, all too briefly, by a selection of Premier League footballers. It was a pandemic of sorts, and Carlos Tevez was its deadly pangolin.
In November 2010, ‘snoods’ began appearing, in huge numbers, on Premier League football pitches.
You could see lots of them at Manchester City, where Mario Balotelli, David Silva and captain Tevez all sported the trendy winter accessory.
In fact, so synonymous did snoods become with City, the club shop began selling a £10 ‘neck gaiter’ complete with team badge – and the product sold out within hours.
Snoods also made their way to north London, where Arsenal players like Bacary Sagna, Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh all found comfort in the girdled scarf substitute.
But not everyone was happy with the craze. Heading into December, snood numbers were on the rise, but so was a surprisingly intense backlash against the garment.
Paul Ince, then manager of Notts County, tore the snood to shreds, figuratively.
“Now you’ve got snoods, people wearing headphones when they are doing interviews… pink boots, green boots. You name it, they’ve got it. Tights? They’ll be wearing skirts next.
“I’m sick and tired of seeing players, even when it’s mild weather, wearing tights and these things around their necks. It’s not right.”
And Ince wasn’t alone in defending masculinity from its cotton foe.
England cricketer Graeme Swann said: “I wonder what Norman Hunter and Chopper Harris would’ve made of the snood being adorned by some Prem footballers? Broken leg time!”
Tony Cascarino, former Ireland striker and — worth noting — also a professional journalist for The Times, presumably required all his strength to refrain from using the word “fruity” when he said: “It’s like a fashion accessory and personally, I think it’s typical of the modern footballer.
“I don’t want to seem like a dinosaur but I think the modern game is full of players who are of the ‘softer option’ when it comes to playing football. I would see it as a weakness, slightly; that they’re not a real man.”
Radio personality Alan Brazil echoed Paul Ince, fearing where the horrible trend might lead. “I despair when I look at the players these days,” Brazil moaned. “They will be wearing duffle coats under their shirts next!”
Snoods were the subject of media scrutiny over this period, but they didn’t face serious opposition until Manchester United came out against them.
Newspapers quoted Sir Alex Ferguson as saying, “They’re for powder puffs,” and, “Real men don’t wear things like that.” United captain Rio Ferdinand tweeted: “U won’t see a Man Utd player wearing a snood.”
And former skipper Roy Keane, then manager of Ipswich Town, weighed in with some predictable opinions of his own.
“I don’t know how you could focus on a game when you’ve got something wrapped around your neck,” Keane said. “It’s weird, but that’s the modern player I’m afraid. They’ve all gone soft.”
For maximum psychological effect, the United contingent made their comments just a few days before a huge game against Arsenal at Old Trafford, knowing Nasri and the gang would approach the North West in full Arctic gear.
Fortunately for the Arsenal stars, Arsene Wenger had their backs (and necks) and publicly defended the wearing of snoods, suggesting the garment could prevent muscle injury.
“I get advice from the medical team,” Wenger said. “That’s why we let them wear them.”
But the encouragement wasn’t enough to inspire an Arsenal win. On 13 December 2010, United’s masculine men edged the Monday night fixture 1-0, thanks to a neck-twisting header from Park Ji-Sung.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 13, 2020
The Korean celebrated the goal by proudly displaying his nape, which a turtleneck undershirt was snugly protecting. This apparent contradiction didn’t seem to matter.
Nor was it just Ferguson getting angry about snoods while turning a blind eye to (functionally similar) base layers.
“To be honest, wearing tights I can understand, especially if you’ve had a hamstring injury,” said the paradoxical Alan Brazil. “But to see them wearing scarves, hats and gloves is ridiculous.
“They’ve all gone soft. The ‘Under Armour’ gear they have now is fantastic. That’s all they need.”
For Ferguson and Brazil, the problem wasn’t about keeping warm in general — after all, Ryan Giggs had infamously worn tights in a Manchester Derby back in 2005 — but specifically about keeping warm with an easily removable garment like a snood. Cosying up was fine, just as long as you used lycra instead of fleece.
United stayed true to their word though, wearing base layers and gloves over the Christmas period but never resorting to snoods. Thank fuck.
Boys in the Snood
2010 eased into 2011, The King’s Speech came out, and Sky sacked Andy Gray for making sexist comments. By February, there were rumours that snoods might be banned from football.
“There may be a safety issue,” a FIFA spokesperson warned. “If, for example, a player was running through on goal and an opponent grabbed his snood, that could pose a potential danger to his neck.”
The ban came into force in early March, and snoods disappeared for good.
“It was not even a discussion because this is not part of the equipment and it can also be dangerous,” said Sepp Blatter, still president of FIFA at the time.
Coincidentally or not, Carlos Tevez spent the following winter on extended holiday in Argentina, having conveniently fallen out with the Manchester City hierarchy just as the leaves started to fall.
In hindsight, a lot people failed to cover themselves in glory — or adequate neckwear — during the snood wars of Christmas 2010.
Alex Ferguson was a short-term victor: two months after FIFA’s ban, United lifted the Premier League trophy, finishing 12 points ahead of Arsenal.
But professional football actually made an embarrassing volte-face on neckwear. During Project Restart, the Premier League actively encouraged players to wear snoods in training in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Most striking, however, is how bitter some of these opinions sound — opinions about a piece of clothing, remember — just 10 years later.
You might have expected cynicism from Roy Keane and Alan Brazil, but Rio Ferdinand and Graeme Swann shouldn’t have been ‘yer da’ characters in 2010: both were in their early 30s, well before the typical onset of fashion stasis. Both should have known better.
So what now? Players still can’t wear snoods during competitive matches, but how would fans and journalists react if they could?
In neckwear tolerance and neckwear tolerance only, Britain is making commendable progress.
As if to demonstrate this, Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney recently made headlines for wearing just a polo shirt in the cold weather while his team-mates bundled up in big coats, gloves and, of course, neck warmers.
In this instance, most fans and journalists didn’t lionise the full-back for his bravery. Most, including conservative voices like The Sun, just laughed at him for his Scottish kookiness.
The snood wearers, the shawled majority, were now the sane ones. Like what happened to Andy Gray, perhaps we have exiled the whole “snoods are for pansies” way of thinking to the remote island of beIN Sports.
Ferguson may have won the battle, but Wenger, in this case, won the war.
By Benedict O’Neill