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Sneakers that Defined Football Hooligans

Date: May 19 2019

By: Gabe Filippa

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Clenched fists, beer-soaked terraces and ... high-end Italian sportswear? Football hooligans in England during the 1980s were a truly rare breed, blending die-hard fandom with unique trans-European drip born from the success of clubs like Manchester United in the late 1970s. These ‘casuals’ (as they’re sometimes referred to) religiously followed their football clubs across Europe like pilgrims, searching for limited-edition adidas Stan Smiths, Sambas and, of course, that elusive European Cup.

It was in the chilly terraces of England that we saw some of the earliest adopters of sneaker culture in the world, with terracewear continuing to inform some of the most inspired silhouettes across the globe in the 21st century.

Sneaker That Defined Football Hooligans 1

Arsenal v Villa, 1981 | Flashbak

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Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur | Flashbak

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League Division Two match between Orient and Manchester United | Flashbak

'The Tote End itself was demolished in the nineties. Sadly a monstrous IKEA store now stands in it's place. Where once tribes of youths performed their rites of passage and bodily fluids flowed in the name of love, hate and pride; Justin and Kate bicker over which wood flooring they should choose. It fucking kills me.' - Chris Brown. My Journey Through Football

Euro-Drip

The success of English football clubs in the late 1970s would have a huge impact on terracewear throughout the 1980s.

As fans of Liverpool FC and Manchester United stampeded across Italy and France, eyes fixed on the European Cup, loot was brought back in the form of rare and hard-to-find sneakers and sportswear. Limited edition Sambas, Forest Hills, Trimm Trabs and Stan Smiths were laced, and the style scene in English terraces quickly became as competitive as the on-field matchups.

The Three Stripes cast a gigantic shadow. 

Team Trefoil were already flexing on the field with the likes of the Mamba and Bamba all digging into football fields across England. But by the 1980s, this love of Three Stripes football shoes spread to broader lifestyle designs.

‘We were wearing everything from tennis, running, training, indoor and even the leisure shoes that adidas made at that time,’ Gary Aspden, a brand consultant for adidas, told Fashionbeans.‘There was also a huge subculture of kids travelling over to Switzerland, Austria and Germany to get hold of adidas trainers that weren’t available in the UK.’

Adidas Samba Right

adidas Samba | Hanon

Adidas Gazelle Left

adidas Gazelle | Sneakerpolitics

Adidas Trimm Trabb Red Top

adidas Trimm Trabb | adidas

Arseholes With Style

Armed with the latest drip from brands like Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse and FILA, football hooligans filled terraces throughout the UK.  

But thanks to the skinheads’ proclivity for ruckus and Dr Martens back in the 1970s, more stringent rules pervaded England’s stadiums during the 1980s. Dr Martens themselves came under strict scrutiny for their potential to cause injury, with security either forcing people to unlace them, or even leave them outside the stadium altogether.

The downplayed, more neutral styles worn by casuals allowed football fans to infiltrate games without immediately arousing suspicion. High-end Italian sportswear labels didn’t pledge immediate allegiance nor raise suspicion. Instead, hooligans were using a kind of overt physicality and bravado to stand out from the crowd.

As Lebe Mann, a Swedish hooligan told Vice, we were ‘arseholes, but arseholes with style’.

But it wasn’t always violent. Sometimes, it was enough just to have a more significant drip than your opposing fans. Writing in the The Way We Wore, Robert Elms recalled a particular trip to Coventry City in the 1980s.

‘Some of Coventry City’s top boys were sporting FILA, which had been the business, but had gone out of fashion in London at least a month before. Instead of launching ourselves at them, we were lambasting them for sartorial tardiness. As it dawned on them they’d been outdone in the style stakes, you could see the will for the contest wane. They’d been beaten and they knew it.’

Sneaker Hooligans 1980S

Barclay’s League Division One | Flashbak

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Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea | Flashbak

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FA Cup, Arsenal v Millwall | Flashbak

The Bird Call: the adidas Gazelle

With the adidas Superstar and Campus turning heads in the US, it wasn’t until a 1990s reissue that both sneakers became prominent over the pond.

Until then, kids in the UK were forced to find alternatives. For the casuals, it was the adidas Gazelle that offered the closest aesthetic relevance to the models making waves in the States.

With the scarce availability of the adi Superstar and Campus, it was the simple casual stylings of the Gazelle that was lauded in the terraces of England, the sneaker sitting somewhere between the nascent American hip hop of the 1980s, and simple sartorial getups of English hooligans.

The great Forrest Gump of the sneakersphere, the Gazelles were seen all throughout the 1960s Mod scene, and the rise of Britpop in the 1990s, but the sneaker will forever be inextricably tied to the grimy English football terraces in the 1980s.

Drake Stone Island Nike

@champagnepapi

The New Casual

Midway through the 1990s, the government had come down hard on football hooligans. Prompted by on-field disasters, on-screen absurdities (Hollywood had become infatuated with the idea of the British hooligan, resulting in a series of poorly made cinema later known as ‘hooli-porn’), and the advent of acid house (read: ecstasy), kids in England were finding new ways to spend their time.

Britpop would intermittently force the idea of the casual back into the limelight at times throughout the late 1990s, but the scene was largely sanitised, and it wasn’t until recently that we saw the revival of some of terracewear’s aesthetic hallmarks.

The ‘new casual’ scene has been punctuated by figures like Drake and his proclivity for Stone Island, Gosha Rubchinskiy’s recent love letter to Russian raves and football fields, and Jonah Hill’s perpetual adi Samba flex. Indeed, the new casual movement in 2019 may get even louder than the noise emanating from terraces spread throughout England during the 1980s.

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