The Barber’s Chair: Sports and Politics

It has been many years since I last had to go to a barber for a haircut.
In fact the last time was in 2000, almost twenty years ago.

From a very young age, until my late forties, I was a regular at the same barber shop in south London. Never one to let my hair grow, (it has never touched my ears, let alone collar) constant trips to see the barber were just an accepted part of my routine. Once I was working, I would have to go at weekends, and that meant they would be busy.

Back then, two barbers worked flat out dealing with the constant flow of customers. They rarely had time to sweep up the cigarette butts and huge amount of hair on the floor, and I always knew I would not get their best efforts when they were that busy.

As is common with hairdressers, they chatted to the customers. Both the one whose hair they were dealing with, and those waiting on the seats close behind too. Invariably, the talk would be about football, and because of its proximity to the ground of the local football club, Millwall, that team would feature.

Trouble was, I wasn’t a Millwall fan. I supported Tottenham, in north London. Admitting that would have been close to sacrilege in that company though.
So when the talk started about Millwall’s successes or failures, I went along with it, nodding or shaking my head at the appropriate time. Even during the summer, when it was cricket season, they still talked about football, and Millwall. Nobody even mentioned cricket, they just commented on what they expected of their local team when the next football season started.

As I got older, I became more reluctant to keep quiet. On occasion, I might even debate the poor performance of the local team, comparing it to other teams in that league who were doing well. Sometimes, this resulted in what some writers would describe as an uncomfortable silence.

By the time I was in my late twenties, I had started working shifts. This meant that I could now make the trip to the barber during weekdays, and often found the place empty. Even though I had moved a considerable distance away by then, it would never have occurred to me to use a different barber.

One weekday morning, I found Mustapha (the owner) alone in the shop. He was pleased to see me, and started to cut my hair. Our connection was so established by now, he never had to ask me what I wanted, and I always knew how much to pay. As he snipped away, he smiled at me in the mirror. “I meant to say, Pete, while nobody else is here. If I were you, I wouldn’t get into arguments about football. They might not end well, as some of those supporters are pretty tough guys, and can be violent”.

It hadn’t occurred to me that not being a supporter of the local team could put me in hospital, so I thanked him for his advice.

Changing the subject, he asked me “How are you doing at work? I bet the ambulances are still as busy as ever?” I chatted for a while about my job, then mentioned that I had become heavily involved in the union, and was about to become a local organiser. He had finished my hair, and was holding the mirror up, so I could approve the cut at the back. Even though we were alone in the shop, he leaned forward, speaking softly.

“Ah, politics and unions. I wouldn’t mention those either”.

61 thoughts on “The Barber’s Chair: Sports and Politics

  1. A lady’s hairdresser seems very different. My experience that the hairdresser only talks to the customer she is giving a haircut and that she learns all about that person’s life if you come there for many years.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pete, I read the book “Among the Thugs” about football fans in the UK, and he may have had a point…also, I calculated that, in the 20 years since you’ve had a haircut, I’ve spent more than $15,000 on haircuts!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One benefit of having to wear hearing aides is I take them out in front of the barber and when he wants to talk about fishing, sports, or whatever, I just tell him I can’t hear him. He not only doesn’t bother me with his chatter, he concentrates on his work and gives a better haircut in a faster time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Despite having worn a ponytail for the better part of 50 years, (that ended with my hand surgery in early October–ponytails require two hands, at least for me) my barber was one of my best men when Nancy and I got married. He and a local minister were my closest, non-work related friends. I can’t imagine sports, politics or unions being missing from the banter and chatter in his shop–all sides. That ended a decade ago when I moved out West. Out here, I never hear any conversations of interest when I go to the chain barber entreprise. Indeed, if I check-in online, I hear no conversation at all. I rather think this change is not all for the good. Warmest regards Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve always liked the atmosphere of a barber shop. I’ve always enjoyed sitting and listening to older fellas talk and now I’m getting to be one of the older fellas, lol. Hair salons just don’t cut it for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I only get a hair cut when the kids start calling me mummy πŸ™‚
    I have often toyed with the idea of going back to my Richard Beckinsale look (more Rising Damp, than Porridge) especially in the winter when every hair counts, but after I had it all chopped off about 20 years ago I can’t seem to get past the 3 month stage.
    Nowadays conversation is minimal, what with my lack of Polish πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mustapha sounds eminently sensible what is close to a man’s heart he will quickly defend with his fists.
    In my days of ignorant bliss barbers were places where a pack of three could be surreptitiously purchased to save the embarrassment of going into a chemist shop.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes,, I once wrote about the “Something for the weekend sir?” conversation. I was too embarrassed to admit I had no use for them at the time, so bought some, and dropped them into a bin along the street. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

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