I am lucky enough to have a career based around my passions. From sourcing vintage trainers, back when believe me, before the internet, you had to source them. This then allowed me to fulfil a wish, and author the aptly named ‘Trainers’, printed in 2003. The first book released about Trainers and the culture around them. Now, lady luck shines once more, with the first steps being taken on the production of a book on Football shirts, a homage to the shirts and the culture around them too. With the latest release of Trainers being celebrated with a launch party with Le Coq Sportif, in there swanky Covent Garden shop, it feels a fitting time to chat about 5 of my favourite Trainer and Football shirt related vignettes. I am a firm believer that there is no one more modern than an historian, as they, more than anyone will have an idea of what the future will bring. So rather than bringing you the usual slice of new releases, or collaboration this or oft repeated tale that, I would like to detail some of the more obscure but interesting slices of these cultural pasts.
Johan Cruyff and the two stripes (vid above)
For those of you too young to remember him, do yourself a favour and google Johann Cruyff. Not only will you find footage of a gloriously gifted footballer, who even has the ‘Cruyff Turn’ named after him. You will also find details of a man with deep principles, a man who banished stattos and number crunchers at his beloved Ajax. A man who ripped down the poster at Barcelonas training ground which read, “players below this mark (5ft 10”), turn around”, thus sowing the seeds of creation for Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta to dazzle us with the now seen playing style of Barcelona. But Cruyff even made a mark on football shirt folklore with one of my favourite shirts of all time, the Orange 1974 era Netherlands adidas shirt worn by one of the greatest national teams never to have won the World Cup.
The shirt was a toned down classic, the old (and infinitely better) adidas Trefoil logo with rampant Dutch Lion logo on the chest, with the simple classic beauty of adidas’s 3 stripes down the arm to finish it off. Did I say 3 stripes? For 10 of the players on the pitch, yes. One stood out, one was different, one made a stand for his principles, you guessed it, Mr Cruyff wore two stripes. The Flying Dutchman had a personal sponsorship deal with Puma, and rather than wear the marks of another brand, Cruyff ripped off a single adidas stripe from both his shirt and shorts. I have found a lot of my dream shirts, but this is one I think I’ll never get my hands on.
Fiorentina Away, early 90s
Look closely, especially either side of the club badge and brand logo and what do you see? That’s it, a Swastika! Look again. It can seem obvious now, when someone points it out to you, but I was one of the millions of Football Italia fans who, like the authorities, did not notice the ‘accidental optical effect’ (to quote the shirt manufacturers Lotto) on the Fiorentina away shirts until December of the Italian 1992/93 season. The now infamous away shirt was worn by such brilliant players as Gabriel Batistuta in league games before it was pulled amongst much furore. The conspiracy rumours were rife, Firoentina had been reknown for their facist tendandcies during World War II and some of their Ultras still shared the same sympathies. After all the fuss, the shirt was pulled on political grounds, with the club issuing the following statement: “Fiorentina and the manufacturers, Lotto, would like to underline that the optical [swastika] effect is purely a matter of chance.” Perversley it’s now very sought after by collectors. Let’s leave it at that.
The Black Panther 'Salif Keita' and Le Coq Sportif
Not many players are so good that a team alters their team badge and playing shirts to reflect their gratitude, but that’s exactly what happened with St Ettienne and Salif Keita. St Ettienne were THE French club of the era, gracing many an iconic and gorgeous Le Coq Sportif kit. The prolific Malian goalscorer, being the first African Winner of the Golden boot was known as the ‘Black Panther’. Whilst blazing a trail for African players in Europe scoring no fewer than 135 goals in 167 matches for Les Verts between 1967 and 1972, the love affair between club and player became so strong, that the club added the Leaping Panther to the clubs logo. Even today the clubs away shirts pay homage to Keita, by being a mixture of black and green, and possessing “claw marks” at the bottom.