First published in League Express, Monday 9th Sept 2013
I hope our readers all recognised the significance of Saturday.
In Australia we went to the polls to choose a new Prime Minister. And we all voted early so we could make it to the matches in the last round of the Premiership.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t the election that made Saturday noteworthy – it was the fact that it was World Beard Day.
The Northern Territory News, Darwin’s irreverent daily newspaper, took up the theme by photo-shopping beards onto the two candidates for the top job Down Under, Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. The conservative Abbott won, but it wasn’t a close shave.
Being well read, our readers would have known of the Danish legends that the bearded Vikings started the commemoration by setting out special days for their bearded warriors to pillage villages, cut of the heads of clean-shaven males and molest the victims’ consorts.
I have an impressive list of bearded ancestors. Most of those from the 19th century and earlier sported impressive facial hair.
In one case, my great-grandfather James Slocombe was saved from death at the hands of a bushranger by his beard. When the felon tried to slit great-grandpa’s throat the knife got tangled in his beard and the terrified Slocombe was able to escape.
For his trouble, the bushranger was hanged – but not before confessing to some half-dozen successful murders.
In recent years, my three British-based sons had tried in vain to get me to shave off the moustache I first grew while backpacking in Europe in 1969. But after three and a half decades I would never feel right without it.
Anyway, the three of them have now all fallen for the current trend of growing beards – just like so many Rugby League stars.
On our sister publication Rugby League World one can’t ignore Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who has a splendidly tailored growth on his cheeks and chin (although perhaps he could do a little better on the crown of his head).
Another colleague, Dave Hadfield, must surely have grown his impressive forest of follicles to filter the many pints of the flowing fluid that pass though his lips as he ventures from one side of the Pennines to the other every weekend.
But few could match the bearded Bulldogs, Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano. They could be twins with beards that seem to have been inspired by the ancient statues in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.
I suspect that mothers in the Canterbury and Bankstown areas don’t threaten their wee children with “If you don’t behave yourself, the boogy man will come and get yoi.” No it would be a case of “If you continue being naughty, you’ll have to deal with Fearless Frank or Slamming Sammy”.
Come to think of it, I reckon some of the forwards in opposition teams probably have nightmares about the pair, too.
Beards are everywhere now. Aiden Guerra, whose first-half try for the Roosters on Friday night started his teammates on the road to a victory that earned them the Minor Premiership, boasts an imposing growth.
I have also noted that 24 hours earlier the beard on the Broncos scrum-half Ben Hunt is now almost as big as the man himself.
I have in my library the 1975-76 John Player Rugby League Yearbook. It boasts a delightful photograph of former Australian Test winger Chris Anderson. At the time he was sporting a massive black beard (a vivid contrast to Anderson’s sleek silver-grey hairstyle when he was coach of the Kangaroos). He was showing his Challenge Cup winners’ medal to a Wembley green-coat after Widnes’ victory.
Few players had beards in those days.
It is believed the first to wear a beard in Australia’s Premiership was the Newtown star Bob Carnegie, who in 1971 wore a goatee. But the likes of Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal would say that was just an excuse for a beard.
Such was Cleal’s facial fuzz that the magazine Rugby League Week once got him dressed up as bushranger for a cover photo. Or was it as a Confederate soldier? It mattered not, because thanks to the beard he looked the part.
So, too, has one his successors in Manly colours, international winger David Williams. You can see why his team-mates dubbed him ‘The Wolfman’. He’s more frightening than Boris Karloff was in the days when the Hollywood actor would bay at the moon.
The Canterbury medico Dr George Peponis was the first Australian Test captain to wear a beard.
I am not too sure about some of the more recent representative captains. Were they wearing a beard, or was it just cheap wine and a three-day growth?
I suspect we’ll be seeing plenty of the latter in the coming days as the players from beaten sides celebrate the so-called Mad Monday (or, as it has become these days, Wicked Week).