TV screens in trendy London gyms are invariably tuned to one of two things: sport or music. It can prove very frustrating if you are desperate to watch the big Stoke-Leicester match and instead are presented with The Fabulous World of Leo and Gisele (boy do they have a lot of houses!) or Pimp My Ride (surely an arcade machine in your Vauxhall Nova is just begging to be stolen?).
Not long ago, I was watching the lovely Ashlee Simpson, sister of poor man’s Britney Jessica Simpson and star of her own reality vehicle, inevitably called Ashlee. Little sis is forging a pop career in her own right (I was a huge fan of her debut single, Pieces of Me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it) but, as tends to be the case in these shows, things are not going as smoothly as they might. Ashlee has problems with her vocal cords, you see, which are threatening to undermine her career before it begins. Aside from the obvious human drama this created, which had me on the edge of my exercise bike saddle,
Ashlee’s doctor’s attempts to combat the problem used one particular method which took me back to a heady sporting era: the nineties.
It is rare that technology is transferable from the realms of vocal cord medicine to the football pitch, or indeed vice versa. One of young Ms Simpson’s remedies was, however, distinctly (and rather unfortunately for the pretty young wannabe rock chick) Robbie Fowler.
If you look closely at images of Fowler from his Liverpool heyday, or Pierluigi Casiraghi of Italy during Euro 96, a small white line is visible across the bridge of the nose (no sniggering at the back please). It was not an attempt to cover up some kind of crazy piercing (hey Cristiano Ronaldo, why not take your earrings out before the match?), but a valiant attempt to gain that extra edge.
The technology behind the strips is simple. Stuck firmly to the outside of the nose, they widen the nasal passages to allow more air in, getting more oxygen into the blood so making things work better, basically. That’s the bumf they tell sportsmen anyway. They are also reputed to be highly effective in unclogging even the worst snorers, bringing relief to millions of sleep-deprived wives and girlfriends, and indeed husbands and boyfriends judging by the blond girl used in the tube adverts for a particular brand. And of course they are utilised by up-and-coming pop princesses in the constant battle against knackered vocal cords, although I’m sketchy on the details of how exactly they do this.
Sporting people are usually quick on the uptake of new technology (I’d imagine Kieron Dyer is a big fan of Pimp My Ride) and, back in the mid-nineties, Premiership players rapidly caught on to the potential benefits. Not one to shun a fad (see also bleached blonds), cheeky scouser Fowler adorned his cosmetically challenged mug with a new piece of facial furniture.
As marketers rubbed their grubby hands together, kids sent their parents to the chemist to fetch a packet of overpriced pieces of glorified sellotape. Sure enough, the first wearing of the new fashion accessory provided the benefit of extra oxygen and a legal advantage. Unfortunately, the second occasion failed to provide the same sort of boost, and the strips were not re-usable. After they ran out, the difference without the aid was, according to a mate on my school rugby team, akin to having been out drinking and smoking the night before (which, to be fair, he probably had done as well, but it’s still a fair test, as my chemistry teacher would have said).
It wasn’t only school kids who were trying out and soon abandoning the technology. In fact the short-lived fad was largely over by the time Euro 96 rolled around, as I discovered during a particularly arduous day trawling the Manchester Evening News’ football photo archives for an image of somebody clearly sporting “one of those white plastery things” for a small and, one assumes from my brief, particularly well-informed feature on the phenomenon.
While the widgets continue to fulfil their original purpose for snorers and singers (one particular brand, which offers free samples in their posters, has had to stop due to excessive demand, much to my chagrin), footballers have managed to adopt an even less aesthetically pleasing solution to nasal blockages. Gone is the discreet strip on the nose, replaced by the en vogue, particularly among the French contingent, big dollop of menthol gunk on the front of the shirt. Ashlee can thank her lucky stars that she didn’t have to soil one of her trendy vest tops in the name of nasal clarity.