JONNY OWEN: Liverpool kickstarted British football fans’ love affair with trainers in the late 70s… Adidas footwear was king in a uniform still worn by half the country – not too many people affected late 20th century fashion quite like it
- The Reds brought back exotic clothes and footwear to a city in economic decline
- Man United supporters were soon trying to match their rivals off the pitch
- Adidas has remained footwear choice of football fans in the last half century
It’s now become urban legend that the British football fans love affair with trainers began in Liverpool in the late 70’s.
Dominating Europe the returning Reds brought back exotic clothes and footwear to a city in economic decline. It was a splash of much needed colour peacocked by the Annie Road boys on the smaller terrace behind the goals at Anfield (they were way too cool to go into a Kop full of wools).
King in this new uniform was your trainers or trainies and they had to be Adidas.
This was the first rule in the casuals (I’ll use the modern word) commandments tablet that had been decreed in places like Scarlets Bar and Checkmate, a club hugely important to the story as they did what was unthinkable then, let football fans in with trainers on.
Soon a game of one-upmanship spread like wildfire across Merseyside as the quest to find more and more rare pairs became paramount. A young Pete Hooton and Kevin Sampson were part of this new wave that led to the owner of the Wade Smith clothing store (Robert) driving a mini van himself to Germany to load it with adidas trainers. They sold out almost as soon as he put them in the window.
Liverpool dominated European football in the late 70s – while bringing back exotic clothes and footwear to a city in economic decline
They provided a splash of much-needed colour at the time, and rivals Man United followed suit
British football fans’ long-running love affair with trainers began in Liverpool during that era
Adidas’ Samba, Gazelles and Stan Smith (pictured) trainers are still worn today
With away travel now central to English football it didn’t take long to follow a path down the East Lancs road to their new rivals Manchester United. There are wonderful stories of Mancunians watching the Liverpool escort arriving into Manchester and looking to see what the younger visiting fans had on their feet.
They were soon trying to compete with the scousers off the pitch as bitterly as on it. Some of these designs are still very much sort after to this very day. Samba, Gazelles and Stan Smiths are worn with pride by people who wore them originally and now their grandchildren.
I genuinely don’t think too many people affected late 20th century fashion more than these young football fans from the late 70s. It’s sounds a big statement but bear me out. They wore smart jeans. A nice pair of adidas trainers. A Lacoste shirt and cagoule. It’s pretty much the uniform of half the country these days. My Father would have worn slacks, shoes and a suit at my age. I don’t.
The Adidas trainer phenomenon is probably the most long lasting of it. People like Gary Aspden who collaborates with the brand, has been brilliant in telling them at the company (when they were obsessed with chasing Nike into the basketball shoe market) that there was this whole other world in the UK where Adidas was, and always will, be the holy grail for the training shoe aficionado.
Icons like the Gallaghers and Ian Brown are collectors and have even had trainers named after them.
Talking of Nike they did have their fans on the terraces. I remember the Nike Wimbledon, Internationalist and Omega flame.
They were handsome and I still see them worn but they were with New Balance or Diadora as being a bit more niche and never got close to Adidas as the choice of footwear for fans for what will be soon almost half a century.
Exhibitions of trainer ranges spring up across Europe and are packed out with fans and there seems to be no end to the appetite to find long lost originals. They often swap hands for serious money.
During one gathering in Manchester a few years back something my own brother had once said for a magazine article was emblazoned over the entrance as you walked in. ‘There were many different trainers but Adidas were the mother superior for us growing up’. Amen to that, they still are.
Liverpool star Kevin Keegan goes through the gears in a ‘flared’ Adidas tracksuit back in 1977
Jonny Owen’s fee for this article will be donated to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign