Diego Forlán and the curious tale of World Cup hairbands

Once upon a time – just a few years ago, in fact – there was a kit accessory that was very popular with football players: the hairband. Wearing them, long-haired footballers found a way of stopping their locks from interfering with their game.

In the FIFA World Football Museum, one very special hairband is on displayed: the one worn by Diego Forlán at the 2010 FIFA World Cup – where he finished joint top scorer. It was donated to the museum by the former Uruguayan striker himself. 

Throughout the first World Cup tournament played on African soil, the Celeste played seven games with Forlán scoring five times. Although three others matched this feat, it was Forlán was awarded the Golden Ball – the prize for the tournament’s best player – thanks to numerous inspiring performances. Arguably his most memorable goal was the equaliser in an emotionally charged quarter-final against Ghana courtesy of a breath-taking free kick.

"The hairband in the FIFA Museum is the one I used in the South Africa World Cup and I liked it a lot. It was comfortable and we had my initials embroidered on it as a personal touch,” said Diego Forlán, recalling the various items he had used to tie back his hair during his career.

"I’ve never bought a proper hairband. At first, I used a length of string, but in 2000 I started to use home-made bands made from stockings, which are better quality. They’re not too tight around the head and they don’t pull the hair like rubber bands."

The trend of players with long hair first started to really emerge in the 1960s but there are several earlier examples at World Cup tournaments. Among the images of the 1930 FIFA World Cup in Uruguay, is Bolivian player Juan Argote with a thick band of towelling around his head. Four years later, World Cup winner Italy’s Luigi Bertolini also wore a thick white head band - quite different from the one worn by Forlán all those years later.

The explosion of pop culture in the ‘60s brought eye-catching hairstyles to the fore and it was just a matter of time before quiffs and mop-tops started to be seen on the football pitch. In the ‘70s, it became fashionable to wear a long fringe down to the eyes with sideburns. Many of the best players at the time, Mario Kempes, Ubaldo Fillol, Gerd Müller and Johan Cruyff for example, favoured this particular style.

Players with curly hair had less trouble with their hair – even when it was long. Brazilian great Sócrates, however, did use headbands with many carrying political slogans. When Colombian Carlos Valderrama, another curly haired player, appeared at Italia ’90, he certainly didn’t go unnoticed. Both his classy footballing style and his unruly cascade of golden curls caught everyone’s eye. His team-mate, eccentric keeper René Higuita, was just as eye-catching with his glorious 'King Charles II-style' hairdo.

South Americans have been the biggest advocates of long hair at World Cups but in the 1974 tournament, mercurial German Paul Breitner’s hair was the longest - standing out because of how kinky it was. Argentinian Alberto Tarantini and Mexican Leonardo Cuellar followed suit at the World Cup of ’78.

The most famous curls in the world, at the time, were on display at the 1982 World Cup in Spain with Diego Armando Maradona sporting a thicker and longer barnet than he did later in Mexico, Italy and the USA.

In the opening match of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Claudio Caniggia made his debut with long blond hair, held in place by a thin white band around his head that stopped it from falling down over his face. Nicknamed “el hijo del viento” ('Son of the Wind”), he was a favourite of coach Carlos Bilardo - ironically known for getting very angry with players for wasting time rearranging his hair.

Forlán, who has a similar style to that of the Argentine, knew that his hair could be a distraction when he decided to grow it: “Before I was 18, I had short hair, but I really liked having it long. To prevent it from falling down across my face, I started using hairbands.”

Having played a supporting role to many of the main protagonists at World Cups, hairbands have been involved in football since Uruguay 1930. In the FIFA World Football Museum, you can see the one worn by a genuine World Cup legend – as he made history.