Lausanne players celebrate a goal in the 1981 cup final against FC Zurich.
Lausanne players celebrate a goal in the 1981 cup final against FC Zurich. Swiss National Museum / ASL

From fighter to model

In the 1980s the footballer was a fighter; a decade later, he was a sporty pop star, and now he’s a model. Nowhere is the change in the image of masculinity more apparent than on the football pitch.

Mämä Sykora

Mämä Sykora

Mämä Sykora is editor-in-chief of the football magazine ‘Zwölf’.

The image of masculinity has changed dramatically in the past few decades. This is particularly evident in the football stadium. In each decade, football players can be seen as prototypes for the role of men in that particular era. Whether adventurers in the 1930s or fighters 50 years later, footballers also represent the mores of the society they live in.

The fighter: 1980s

You were hard as nails, an untameable maverick and, above all, you showed no weakness. Ever. ‘If you felt pain anywhere during training, you didn’t dare to say anything,’ says Charly In-Albon. Originally hailing from Valais, In-Albon won five championship titles with GC and was respected and feared for his unwavering dedication to his art. ‘You might go to the medical officer, who would want to tell the coach about it, and then you’d get all kinds of crap.’ What counted was bite and fight. ‘In training we were worked into the ground,’ says In-Albon. You had 45 minutes of running around; after 10 minutes you were over-acidified and the rest was just mind over matter. ‘We really wanted to be hard men – we had this image.’ Together with Roger Wehrli, Andy Egli and Heinz Lüdi, In-Albon was part of ‘Abbruch GmbH’ [Demolition Ltd], as Paul Wolfisberg’s national defensive unit was called in the 1980s. No holds were barred, all permitted means were acceptable, and every opponent was considered fair game. Despite this – or perhaps because of it – the national team remained notoriously unsuccessful.
But back then, football wasn’t any prettier in other countries – apart from exceptional talents such as Maradona and Platini. The main style-setting footballers came from Germany, and also gave guest performances in Switzerland. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge ended his career with Servette, and European champion Hans-Peter Briegel – the ‘Walz aus der Pfalz’ (the steamroller from Pfalz) – ended his with FC Glarus. In particular, however, German managers such as Friedel Rausch, Jürgen Sundermann and Hennes Weisweiler shaped an entire generation of Swiss footballers. Drills dominated; nothing short of an actual broken leg was accepted as an excuse for lack of effort. The nicknames of the heroes of that era speak volumes: there was ‘The Oak’ Heinz Lüdi, ‘Fang’ Roger Wehrli – and of course ‘Iron Foot’ Charly In-Albon. The moustache, that emblem of manliness that many had thought extinct, made a comeback; obviously, a moustache adorned In-Albon’s upper lip. Hair was short and clothes were practical. ‘There were no fashions,’ says the 40-times-capped national player. He saw his first tattoo on GC teammate Wynton Rufer: ‘We looked at him as if he came from another planet.’ On today’s generation, among whom an un-inked body is the exception, In-Albon has this to say: ‘They’re all just carbon copies.’ In Iron Foot’s time, they would have had it really hard.
Illustration of a football player.
Illustration: Laura Herter

The pop star: 1990s

Pascal Castillo wore blonde highlights in his heavily gelled hair, and a gold chain. Giuseppe Mazzarelli showed off his perm. And Marc Hodel’s parting was perfectly straight. The Panini albums of the 1990s show clearly that the new fashions of the era also took hold in the footballing world. ‘I had a Take That hairstyle, and two earrings,’ recalls Hodel, who played for FC Zurich and GC. In those days, inspiration didn’t come from football’s global stars. After all, you hardly ever saw your role models play, due to a lack of TV presence. Only selected matches were broadcast in this country; the international stars could really only be seen in action at World Cup and European Championship games. The big stars from film and pop music had much more of an impact: Leonardo DiCaprio and the boybands. But football caught up rapidly during that decade, reaching more and more social classes. If you wanted to stand out, you had to do more than just go along with the fashion.
The routes to greater individuality were many and varied: Roberto Baggio wore a ponytail, Henrik Larsson had dreadlocks, Taribo West dyed his hair green, Eric Cantona always wore his collar standing up. There were mohawks and platinum blonde hair, and clothes also became more extravagant. The footballer became a brand, and David Beckham was the most successful. ‘There were some in my teams who could have been just as extroverted,’ says Hodel. ‘But there was just no platform.’ But he does remember that some of his teammates spent more time in front of the mirror before the televised games than they did before warm-up. But that – ‘and perhaps after the game the merchandising people’ – was the only stage they had. The appearance of the new generation was never decried as ‘unmanly’ by football’s old guard. ‘At most, they thought we looked stupid,’ says Hodel, who played for Switzerland 13 times. At that time it also made a huge difference whether you played your football in Aarau, Sion or Zurich: in the larger cities, footballers were much quicker to latch on to the latest fashion trends, while elsewhere those trends were still frowned upon. There was great emphasis on hairstyle and clothing. The body cult of today was still a long way off. And for good reason: ‘We weren’t that fit back then. When I met Paul Gascoigne once, he had striking peroxide-blonde hair – but he also had a gut on him.’
Illustration of a football player.
Illustration: Laura Herter

The model: 2000s onwards

When a new beauty centre opened in Basel in 2013, the entire FC Basel team turned up. Yann Sommer talks openly about his visits to the beautician, and gives tips on anti-aging creams. Coach Murat Yakin, on the other hand, tried a facial peel only once – it gave him a rash. Generational differences could not be more apparent. Fashion and styling have found their way into the dressing room. Pascal Schürpf, now a striker in Lucerne, has no problem with that: ‘I find it quite fascinating that there are so many players who are so concerned about fashion and styling.’ In the end, that’s their private lives, and as long as they do their job properly, there’s nothing wrong with it. ‘So no one really makes an issue of it in the dressing room.’
In Switzerland, nobody symbolises the ‘new’ footballer better than national team goalie Yann Sommer. He talks about fashion and perfumes, livestreams a cookery show, and is the face of Nivea. One advertising campaign says: ‘Real men have the courage to show their sensitive side – and to look after it.’ The fact that footballers are daring to set foot in areas that just a few years ago were dismissed as ‘typically female’ isn’t the only change. When Alex Frei bursts into tears like he did when he was substituted due to injury in a UEFA home game in 2008, or Cristiano Ronaldo starts crying in an interview, they’re not met with a wave of ridicule. It’s now acceptable to openly show your sensitive side. If the occasion calls for it, anyway. A footballer’s body is his capital. Footballers take scrupulous care of their diet and appearance. Sometimes, this brings forth strange fruit: Real Madrid star Marco Asensio once skipped a Champions League party because he had spots after shaving his leg hair. One can only imagine how an old school-coach like Felix Magath would have reacted to that. Even Pascal Schürpf admits: ‘In the past, you really needed a serious injury before you would be allowed to see a physio.’ Today’s professionals know their bodies better, and they’re also more concerned about them because they know that without the requisite fitness, they have no chance. Thanks to social media, they now have a convenient way to showcase themselves to their fans – preferably with a smoothly waxed torso or a pink T-shirt.
Illustration of a football player.
Illustration: Laura Herter
In the first part, read about how the adventurer was tamed into the son-in-law, and why he then rebelled all the same. A little bit, anyway.

Further posts

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