These days, when a player wears glasses on the field, it’s immediately noticeable.
There have been few footballers sporting specs on the turf, with only Edgar Davids, Alex Song, and Andrew Farrell springing to mind as taking to the field in eyewear, and for all those cases it’s been protective glasses needed due to an optical injury or condition.
Yet there’s nothing in the FIFA rules to forbid the use of glasses, with the rulebook only stating, “A player may use equipment other than the basic equipment (shirt, shorts, socks, boots and shinguards) provided that its sole purpose is to protect him physically and it poses no danger to him or any other player.”
It wasn’t always so, however.
In the 1950s and 60s, Northern Irish international midfielder Eric Ross wore glasses throughout a career that took in Hartlepool United, Newcastle United, Northampton Town, and Glentoran.
In 1970, European champions Feyenoord won the Intercontinental Cup over Estudiantes La Plata, and the Argentines were so incensed by winning goalscorer Joop van Daele’s glasses they snatched them from him and stamped them into the turf.
By the 1990s, soft contact lens technology had progressed to the point that players could wear daily disposables on the field without risking unsavoury incidents from bad-tempered losers. Top pros of today who are known to wear contacts include Sergio Reguilon, Paul Pogba, and Lucy Bronze.
Football is a game for everyone – hence the recent FA campaign ‘The FA. For All’ – and the MLS recently echoed it with ‘Soccer For All’, which shows their heart’s in the right place, even if they got the name wrong – and eyesight shouldn’t be a barrier.
Let’s take a look at four stars who needed specs.
While he was often pictured out and about and interviewed in his glasses, Nobby wore contacts on the pitch, despite glasses on the field being somewhat more common in his era than ours.
Perhaps it was an aesthetic decision – he consciously decided to take his dentures out when playing so his vampire-toothed snarl could look as intimidating as possible – and glasses may have cramped that style. He certainly didn’t need the lenses to pick out 60-yard passes, as he explained, “My job was to win it, give it to Bobby and let him get on with it.” That went for both Manchester United and England over a highly decorated career.
On the subject of former stars, while David de Gea has been open with his wearing contacts for longsightedness, it took until the keeper’s return to Scotland and a second stint at Aberdeen for Leighton to confess that he wore contacts on the pitch and glasses off it.
More famous for the Vaseline above his eyes than what was in them, Jim may have been aware that the English media had a trope that Scottish goalkeepers weren’t up to much.
Despite his eyesight issues, he was highly successful playing 91 times for Scotland, second only to Kenny Dalglish’s 102 appearances. Together, they formed one of Scotland’s strongest teams.
While Leighton has retired from football, Dalglish still has an eye for a Scottish talent.
The former Germany captain pulled the MLS into sharp focus when he headed across the pond to star for the Chicago Fire. Schweinsteiger showcased not only the league but also the city.
He was a regular jogger on Chicago’s 18-mile Lakefront Path, telling the New York Times he’d love to join in some of the volleyball games on North Avenue beach, but his contract forbade it.
He threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, and his Instagram account was full of him and his wife, Ana Ivanovic, taking in Windy City landmarks.
The glasses ‘Basti’ wears – simple solid black-rimmed Clark Kent-style designer glasses very similar to the Oakley Chamfer models – weren’t designed to disguise him in public.
While some footballers have diva-esque demands, Schweinsteiger flew economy class with the rest of the team and was happy to drop back and play sweeper when his coach demanded.
The Frenchman is highly fashion-conscious and is often snapped in specs.
He’s modelled them and collaborated on his own line of them for legendary designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.
His fit at the 2022 Ballon d’Or, comprising golden glasses and a custom made Fendi shirt and collar was inspired by his idol, rapper Tupac Shakur. Puts a new angle on All Eyez On Me.
While he may swap them for sunglasses in the Saudi sun, we’d bet he put them back on to check his contract – at a staggering £516m over three years, it’d be worth his while checking the number of zeros at the end of his £3.3m weekly wage.