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Why are footballers suddenly wearing neck-warmers?

image captionA warm neck and a win for Arsenal's Nasri

Footballers have started insulating their necks. Are these so-called snoods a fashion statement or a reasonable attempt to stay warm in freezing temperatures?

Forget the 10-foot snowmen, the sledge races and the closed school gates.

The strangest sight sparked by the freezing temperatures was evident at Premier League football matches, where players were sporting some new, natty neck-warmers.

A snood? A scarfetta? A cowl? The football message boards have been humming with debate about what to call these new accessories (and not inconsiderable laughter that they are being worn at all).

The term most commonly settled on seems to be snood, although snood purists would argue the type adorning the multimillionaires at the weekend resemble only a miniature version of the the chunky, knitted, scarf-cum-hoods which have returned to high street fashion shops after being a big hit in the 1980s.

Although still in their infancy in the English game, they have long been a feature in the leagues of Spain and Italy, especially among goalkeepers, and Brazilian full-back Daniel Alves sported one at last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Then in January of this year, Manchester City players Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez became early adopters for the Premier League when they braved the cold against Blackburn in January. But in the last couple of weeks their use has proliferated, with Arsenal's duo Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh among those joining in.

It isn't a craze that has been welcomed by fans, journalists and former players. England cricketer Graeme Swann broke off from Ashes duty in Australia to comment on Twitter: "I wonder what Norman Hunter and Chopper Harris would've made of the snood being adorned by some prem footballers? Broken leg time!"

Neck-warmers are simply an indulgence that say much about the modern game, says Tony Cascarino, who was known as an uncompromising centre-forward with teams like Millwall, Marseilles and the Republic of Ireland, during a career in which he can't recall ever thinking that his neck felt particularly cold.

"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."

The reason why we're seeing it now, he says, is that the dressing room has changed into a much more indulgent environment.

"It's not frowned upon now, but 20 or 30 years ago a player would not have got away with it. He would have been buried [with abuse]."

Given the view many fans have about the appetite of high-earning players, they may respond to the irony that the word "snood" originally applied to the hairnet worn by single women in the Middle Ages.

But other fans are more pragmatic and don't have a problem with players doing everything to keep warm.

So what difference does a snood make to a player? Professor Ronald Maugham, of the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, can't see a practical benefit.

"This does not seem like the best strategy for staying warm," he says. "A hat and gloves would be more effective, if perhaps less fashionable."

image captionThe snoods of fashion tend to be a lot thicker and can be pulled over the head

More heat escapes through the hands and the head, he adds, because there is a large surface area and low insulation.

Gloves are now commonplace, but when John Barnes became one of the first to wear them in the late 1980s, there were a lot of sniggers. Since then, footballers have been able to develop their winter wardrobes to include tights, which were also spotted occasionally in the 1970s.

For some players, especially the talented French ones, there's been a need to express their individuality sartorially, within the strict regulations governing dress. Eric Cantona popularised the lifted collar, while Thierry Henry pulled his socks up over his knees.

But there is a suspicion that the recent trend for snoods has more to do with fashion trends than insulation.

"Gloves have long been de rigeur to prevent the poor lambs freezing their mitts off, but the snood has quickly become this season's must-have garment to beat the winter blues," says Men's Health style director Dan Rookwood.

"And, as with their wages, footballers are right on the money with this one, because the snood is very 'on trend' this winter. You could argue that it is a classic item of English clothing - the very word 'snood' originated in Anglo-Saxon times.

"A combination of hood and scarf, it's a two-in-one extremity protector that doesn't impede movement and covers up any hickies the players may pick up at their Christmas parties."