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The bald and the blond

The Old Firm hard men have a lot to answer for when it comes to hair and prejudice in the classroom, says John Cairney

WHEN Rangers and Scotland midfielder Barry Ferguson was red-carded during the first Old Firm sectarian extravaganza of the season, I cannot deny that I experienced a certain sense of schadenfreude (how I just love lingering over that word). My reaction had nothing to do with the colour of his jersey or the fact that I used to attend Celtic home games.

Honest. And in no way did I condone the ebullient reactions of my mother and sister to young Barry's departure. OK, deep down I wanted Celtic to win, and the ordering off did their chances no harm at all.

I attended a Celtic-Rangers game only once, before I saw the anti-sectarian light, and normally wouldn't go out of my way to watch, and certainly never to a pub. But since my mother had cable television I thought I would be able to view the game in a civilised atmosphere. I did, more or less, though I think my relations thought I was some kind of traitor because I applauded any good move by Rangers and didn't leap to my feet shouting "foul" every time a Celtic player was tackled.

It was when the cameras showed the close-ups of the offending Rangers player that I realised why I took pleasure from his discomfiture. The cropped hair, the wrinkled nose and the twisted mouth as he snarled at the referee and the Celtic players brought back so many bad memories of the look-alikes I came across during 33 years teaching in Glasgow.

It wasn't just the hair, or the lack of it. Anyone who has taught in Glasgow can recall the feeling. Every August when the new intake arrived, no matter how much the parents scrubbed their weans and how much they dressed them in sparkling Persil-white shirts, school ties and smart trousers - and they did - there was always something predictable about the faces, especially those of the boys. Not all of them thank God, but enough.

It couldn't possibly have been the result of inbreeding, but so many of them looked like so many that had gone before. They were usually smaller than average for their age, and generally smaller than the girls in the class. The faces may have been scrubbed clean but nothing could have erased the essential hardness. A hardness that was oftn made even more unpleasant if they were antagonised, and they usually had a very low provocation level.

The kindlier side of my nature told me that the kids couldn't help how they looked and that generations of deprivation must have had something to do with it, but when I was on the receiving end of the Ferguson treatment, my caring side took a holiday, especially if the hair was cropped. Irrational, I know; after all hair doth not maketh the man any more than clothes do.

If I'm not mistaken it was a former Celtic player who started the baldy look, in the striking form of Dutch internationalist Pierre van Hooydonk. Glasgow's barbers must have loved him, since it meant they could charge money for attacking hair rather than styling it. And since fashion dictated that the hair remain very short, or even be removed completely, kids would go to the barbers every few weeks at considerable cost, as I recall from discussions at parents' meetings.

It took some time for Pierre's mid-season tonsorial influence to be felt, but when Paul Gascoigne signed for Rangers and turned up at Ibrox during the pre-season in a blaze of media hype with his hair not only cropped but bleached blond as well, I feared the worst. When school restarted there were indeed a number of kids besporting themselves, like Robert Shaw doing his Panzer officer in The Battle of the Bulge, but not as many as I expected.

Because it was a denominational school, albeit with a significant number of pupils who were not Catholic, the baldies outnumbered the blonds. I quite liked the Robert Shaw look since it had a softening effect on the hardest of visages, though it did nothing to ameliorate the nasty expressions.

Two weeks after the Ferguson ordering-off, a picture appeared in the press showing a group of school-leavers who were starting trade apprenticeships with Glasgow City Council. I thought it was an advert for a Scottish version of the movie Being John Malkovich. Two of them were girls but it was noticeable that all the boys (about 100) looked like Barry Ferguson. Aaaaaaaaaaagh no, I thought, then cheered up: they were all wearing green sports shirts, and most of them were smiling, a most un-Barryish combination.

Did I mention that Celtic won 6-2. No? OK then, Celtic won 6-2.

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