The Best Trainers I Never Had

Forget Fever Pitch this is Trainer Pitch, a tribute to the most desirable but unattainable sports footwear of yesteryear.
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Everyone’s an expert on trainers these days. Personally, I think it’s all a load of secondhand shite; the trainer revolution happened a long time ago, and most people who were there couldn’t afford the trainers they really wanted. That’s why I’m going to tell you about The Best Trainers I Never Had. It starts when trainers didn’t exist, kind of...

Cut to circa 1973; a mate called Kezz who lived on my road was bought a pair of black running shoes by his parents. He was a cheetah-like chappie, and harboured ambitions of being England’s next 100 metres champ. “Proper running shoes, feel the toes, they’re dead ‘ard,” he proudly informed us, as we kneeled as if in submission at his feet, pressing and prodding at the toecaps, which, like the flesh of an alien saucer, refused to yield. That was it, the first official trainers I’d ever touched. Purpose built for running, if you don’t mind. Black stippled faux leather with a couple of thin stripes. A serrated sole, clutched the tarmac like a pertinacious denizen of the seabed, ensuring full purchase on terra firma as Kezz propelled himself towards Olympiad status. At the time the best trainer I never had. The only trainer I’d ever seen, actually. In hindsight, they were probably shite, but so were Stanley Matthews’ football boots. It’s all about evolution.

By the time the 1978 World Cup came around, a lot of the big boys had started wearing Adidas Kick, closely followed by a superior version of Kick called Bamba. Then another, even better one, called Samba. And let’s not forget an intermediate one called Mamba. Or did I imagine those? No I did not. The Kick-Bamba-Mamba-Samba heirarchy was a colourless affair, all black and white, not even yellow stripes like the Tesco snides I wore. Then 1978 turned into 1979, and my snide days were over; I now had a pair of Gola Jet. Which were absolutely wank. The Best Trainer I Never Had here is not Kick, Bamba, Mamba or even Samba. That’s right, you can keep the entire fucking smorgasbord. The reason is that another shoe soon arrived fresh from Adi Dasler’s workshop, called Jogger.

At the time the best trainer I never had. The only trainer I’d ever seen, actually. In hindsight, they were probably shite, but so were Stanley Matthews’ football boots. It’s all about evolution.

My first sighting of the miraculous suede creation came in the autumn of 1979. A mate – Kezz of original proper trainers fame, no less – was wearing them. I was 14 and he was 15. Unfortunately, he and I weren’t on speaking terms, so this time prostration/prodding was impossible, unless I fancied seeing one close up at very high speed. Our mutual radio silence was due to my best mate having a fight with my cousin Trevor, who was Kezz’s mate. So I spent the winter of ’79-’80 silently walking to school behind Kezz and Trev every morning. Living a couple of houses down from them both meant I followed about 50 feet behind, in a pseudo-quasi-faux nonchalance. Until one morning when Kezz came out with lightning bolts on his feet. The way Jogger clashed with the charcoal grey and black of the school uniform was breathtaking; the refined nap of the blue material, the jagged contrast of the stripes and above all, that thick white rubber sole. It was impossible, it couldn’t be real. If only I could be allowed a brief interview with them, I could determine exactly how much of that sole was solid, whether the tongue was suede or leather or something else, and most importantly I could have a good sniff. It took a few months until I also owned a pair of Jogger. So you can stick them up yer arse an’ all.

The next Best Trainer I Never Had was in fact the Adidas Stan Smith (yeah, I bought three pairs for work on Martha’s Vineyard between ’97 and 2001 – one pair even had “Stan Smith” on the heel under the trefoil – but I was thirty years old and in gainful employment, so it didn’t count: Take note fat, forty-somethings pissing away your mortgage and children’s inheritances on re-issued lightweight crap that doesn’t even contain the proper toxic chemicals anymore). My introduction to Stan Smith – the real Stan Smith with the gold autograph on the side – was at Old Trafford in early 1980, when Liverpool came to town; an earth-shattering sight as 3,000 wedge-flicking mickies poured into the Scoreboard End, dressed almost identically. Even more alarmingly, that very evening I discovered some of the elders of my own tribe already owned the very same! My Jogger suddenly took second place to this bizarre, girly-leather-version-of-Dunlop-Green-Flash type effort. I mean, they were all white, for fuck’s sake. Oh aye, all white and smooth as an angels pissflap, with delicate perforations and a sole that was to all intents and porpoises identical to Jogger! All white, until people started dyeing them every colour under the currant bun; orange, red, yellow, blue, you name it. We made them paint their face and dance, you could say. Once they were soiled and worn in, the Adidas Stan Smith was truly the cook-in-the-kitchen-and-whore-in-the-bedroom of the trainer world. They changed the trainer world. They changed the world! Around the same time, a leisure shoe (for want of a better term) called Kio’s was launched. They were virtually Stan Smiths without the Adidas logo and the quality stitching, but they did have a nifty red rectangle in the side of the sole, and another in the sole itself. Kio’s came in many colours, after being introduced in white, and, like the Quentin Queerbeast I was, I melted at the sight of the petrol coloured variety. “Petrol” being another word for “lilac”. I couldn’t help myself. Stan Smiths were just a couple of quid dearer than Kio’s, but Kio’s were the original Skechers or K-Swiss, i.e. shoes made to look like trainers that weren’t actually trainers. That’s right, a poncey lilac leisure snide deflected my one chance of owning one of the Best Trainers I Never Had.

Once they were soiled and worn in, the Adidas Stan Smith was truly the cook-in-the-kitchen-and-whore-in-the-bedroom of the trainer world. They changed the trainer world.

Sorry. I’ll pull myself together if I can. Probably not gonna manage it though, ‘cos we’re on an evolutionary trip into the unknown. Well, not now we’re not, but we were back in 1980-81, when all these new trainers were turning up. The Stan Smith had dominated a talented landscape that included Coq Sportif Arthur Ashe and Adidas Gazelle, but once 1980 rolled into autumn it was completely blown out of the water by the next generation in tennis shoes.

That thick rubber sole, all white, all mythical could never be bettered, I told myself. I was wrong; it transpired that real tennis shoes weren’t just one type of solid white rubber, oh certainly fucking not, son. The next specimens to roll off Mr. Dasler’s production line were remarkable and indeed remarkable-r by the week. Not content with that uniform composition, these were of an even thicker, softer white rubber, with a harder undersole usually coloured dark blue. It started with Nastase. Nastase came in two, possibly three types; Nastase, Masters and Supers. I think. But I probably made one of them up. Then there was ATP, Grand Slam, Grand Prix, and finally Wimbledon – all from Dasler, all totally devastating in their effect on us ignorant British scrotes. The thick sole and blue bottoms were everywhere, and then Puma went and did it, didn’t they? Oh aye, just when you was all thinking Wimbledon was the Best Trainer I Never Had, up popped Puma Argentina, a blue shoe with the Puma “upside-down Nike” swoosh and that same sacred sole. Originally Argentina were suede, but they soon made leather ‘uns, and then they made red ones, and then I wanked myself into a stupor while looking at pictures of them. I didn’t really. That’s The Best Wank I Never Had. I’ll save that article for another time.

So that’s that. Kezz’s prehistoric beasts, Adidas Stan Smith, and Puma Argentina. The best trainers I never had. Actually, hang on, can I change that..?

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