Guest Post

The Order of the Boot - Part 4

Guest Post by Chicken Run Boy

Boots have continued to get lighter and lighter and by 2006, lace-less too. Players have always struggled to cope with the effect laces have on their contact with the ball. Lotto solved the problem by completely removing laces from the equation with the world’s first lace-less football boot. Their Zhero Gravity boots also came with a 360 degree rotating stud designed to give players an edge in acceleration – finally getting right what the UK’s Tufspin boot attempted to pull off way back in 1971 but only succeeded in ripping up lots of ankle ligaments before being withdrawn.

Picture: Italian company Lotto produced the first lace-less boot in 2006

Amongst all the innovations, one that came closest to blowing my mind (not in a good way) was another Adidas offering (incidentally, they also claimed the world’s first lace-less boots about 10 years after Lotto). In 2011 their adiZero F50 miCoach featured a built-in sensor chip that could measure average speed, maximum speed, number of sprints, and distance covered.

I know Messi has worn these boots but on the basis that pro clubs already have those stats to hand, I’m left wondering whom are these boots intended for? What self respecting Sunday morning player with a hangover is going want their lack of speed and stamina available as data? My son told me recently that Adidas have taken this to another level. Your performance data being collected from a real game can now be linked to your digital FIFA gaming. While that’s one development I don’t even want to understand, I’m delighted that the boot ideas keep flowing and kids can keep dreaming.

So, what does the future hold? Certainly new materials, computer data and 3-D technology will play a huge part as manufacturers continue to strive for the next big thing. Of course, with the long search for a boot lighter than air, one of the trade offs for players has been less protection for their highly pampered and valuable feet.

I’m convinced no one outside the medical profession in the UK had heard of a metatarsal until England fans held collective breath awaiting news on Beckham’s injury ahead of the 2002 World Cup. Rooney and Gerrard suffered similarly but Beck’s was the front-page headline grabber that alerted us to the fragility of small toe bones when playing in slippers. After sleeping in oxygen tents and wearing surgical boots, Beckham made it to the World Cup but metatarsal injury had been added a long list of anxieties to trouble England’s supporters. Since then, football footwear has progressively got even more Cinderella like but answers are being sought.

I read a nice article (Inside the secret adidas lab where designers are making football boots of the future) on the impressive research effort at Adidas. 1,700 people in a seven-story building dedicated to advances in football boot design. There’s robotic ‘footballers’ that can kick the ball a whole lot harder than a Dicks penalty, a climate chamber and Hawkeye tracking technology. They measure everything including how feet move inside boots and by extrapolating from the data, designers get an understanding of the forces and influences that affect joints and the musculoskeletal system.

Knowing exactly where the boot needs stability and flexibility led the Adidas boffins to produce a fusible yarn called Primeknit – that’s digitally printed into a boot that fits an individual’s foot while remaining rigid at specific points – like a hardened piece of leather. So, it seems the football stars of the future will be wearing individually designed and fully customisable outsoles that mirror the foot’s contours and along with revolutionary snap off studs, protecting their metatarsals from misery.

On the back of the arms race like pursuit of breakthroughs in boot design, it’s easy to imagine a very different buying experience for today’s young players. They already have the opportunity to customise aspects of the boot like colour and text. My online effort below shows exactly why design should be left to designers, although it’s easy to see how much fun there is to be had.

Picture: My classy, customised WHTID Nike Phantom Academy boot.

Beyond picking from a few colour options, today’s boot buyers could even become a more involved co-designer with bespoke, personalised fitting including 3D laser scanning of feet and legs and biometric data from running tests to provide the perfect outsole shape before being fully customised with colours and design touches of choice. Players will be running out onto the pitch looking and feeling like a pampered superstar, just with one less excuse for that misplaced pass or their shocking ball control.

Although I sometimes laugh or cry at the hyperbole that goes into the marketing, I love the continuing advances in boot design and await with interest the latest innovation. But perhaps the most cheering aspect of the article was this quote from Holger Kraetschmer, Adidas’s Head of Football Future:

“It’s not always about making a shoe five per cent better here and there. Rather it comes down to the question: how do we trigger emotional reactions?”

It may be nothing more than PR spin, but it leaves me with a little hope that passion can continue to play a part alongside the science in delivering beauty in size ten form.

So, if you’re one of the relative lucky ones that can stay home in some form of lockdown, I have a couple of suggestions for you to help pass some time. First, just look at boot pictures, enjoy their magnificence, maybe some memories and think about your favourites. What’s your top 5 list? Here’s mine.

My top 5 boot list

  1. Adidas Copa Mundial – Simply the best ever. The Kaiser and World Cup were decent alternatives but if you knew, you knew.
  2. Puma Kings – I always found Puma boots a bit narrow for my trotters but Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona all did their best work in a pair of these majestic looking boots – hard to argue with that line up.
  3. Adidas Predator – The revolutionary boot that came to define a whole era of the game.
  4. Hummel Alan Ball – Jaw droppingly different, the first and only must have item of my pre teen years.
  5. Nike Tiempo Ronaldinho – Apparently the great Brazilian played a part in the design which features textured studs to help control the ball. I just think it’s a stunning mix of modern boot tech and classic design.

Second, consider searching the garage, loft or store cupboard and digging out your dirty old boots. Once found, cleaned and dried (never by a radiator of course!) you’re ready for the important next stage that takes us back to where this story begun in Tudor England.

As we have seen, for centuries, the football boot has been changing in line with changes to the style of the game, new ideas and technology breakthroughs. In all that time, from the day King Henry pulled on his new boots in 1525 to the present day, the only constant (other than boot envy) has been the use of Dubbin to waterproof, condition and soften the boots ready for playing.

So, make yourself comfortable grab that tin and get rubbing the Dubbin. You know you want to. What you may not know is Dubbin is made with beeswax, fish oil and lard, and on that note – time for me to go shopping.

May you, your friends and loved ones stay well. Be lucky.


Guest Post

The Order of the Boot - Part 3

Guest Post by Chicken Run Boy

Another player looking to jump on the endorsement bandwagon was England hero Alan Ball. While his remuneration was very modest compared to Pele’s, his boots has a far bigger impact on the life of 10 year old me. Ball heard that Danish manufacturer Hummel, was prepared to pay £2,000 to a professional for wearing their new white boots. He famously showcased his special white football boots in the Charity Shield at the beginning of the 1970-71 season.

Now, the rumour mill says his actual boots were actually Adidas painted white with the Hummel chevrons stitched over the top because Ball didn’t much like the early Hummel version. Almost certainly true, but it really doesn’t matter. Hummel’s sales doubled overnight and non-black boots had arrived. Football would never be the same.

To convey some sense of the impact these boots caused, glance at Bally’s stats -World Cup winner at 21, League winner, over 800 career appearances, League Record transfer. That’s some career. So, what was the title of his biography? The Man Who Played in White Boots. For those too young to remember Alan Ball or the 70s, you’ll just have to trust me – this was the very definition of excitement for young dreamers like me.

Picture: Hummel boots (not mine) for sale on Ebay for £500 + postage

If the seventies opened with a challenge to Adidas in the form of the stylish Puma Kings and Hummel’s white revolution, the end of the decade saw the Adidas team responded like champions with the introduction of the Copa Mundial. Launched in 1979 ahead of the 1982 World Cup, it featured tough kangaroo leather, moulded studs, and a foam-cushioned instep. For many good reasons it went on to become the most successful boot of all time, still selling 40 years later. Can’t argue with the Adidas PR team on this one:

“Every time you lay eyes on its instantly recognisable silhouette, the adidas Copa Mundial evokes visceral feelings about the beautiful game.”

The first half of the 1980s saw more makers enter the crowded market including English company Umbro, Italy’s Lotto and Spain’s Kelme, but it wasn’t a big manufacturer that made the next breakthrough, but an ex-player turned inventor. Liverpool’s Aussie midfielder Craig Johnston had retired early from the game to care for his ill sister. While doing some coaching he hit upon an idea to attach rubber strips from a table tennis bat to the forefoot of his boots, instantly improving the amount of swerve and power that could be applied to the ball.

It took several years of further development and was eventually licensed by Adidas. The Predator boot was launched in 1994 also featuring Johnston’s pioneering Traxion soles – a hybrid of traditional studs and blade grips, which enabled a player to turn in tight spaces and at high speed. Worn by the likes of David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, unsurprisingly, the Predator became an instant and lasting success. A game changer, in fact.

One potential game changer that never quite happened was being developed in the unlikely setting of Malaysia (home of the trees from which the rubber-like ‘Gutta Percha’ is derived). Rumours began circulating about a revolutionary new boot from small newcomer to the market, Knotso. Apparently, the new boots had a form of liquid rubber in the sole plate. This was released from the sole if the force used in a tackle was potentially dangerous (based on a complicated formula) to an opponent and would instantly seal the wound inflicted – thereby protecting the player from threat of infection. The prototype had a initial sponsorship deal lined up with Man U’s Roy Keane but the new boot sadly never made it into the shops. What happened to The Knotso Keane – Red Mist 97 remains one of football’s great mysteries.

While The Predator may have cemented Adidas’s place at the top of the football boot market approaching the new millennium they weren’t without a new challengers. Emerging out of the pack came one of the companies that only entered the market in the 1970s. Named, after the Greek goddess of victory Nike has gone on to become a significant name in the football world. Their success was kick started when supplying Brazil’s kit, with the latest superstar, Ronaldo wearing the brand’s first classic boot during the 1998 World Cup. According to Nike, The Mercurial brought innovations such as lightweight ‘synthetic leather’ (that’s plastic isn’t it?) and a sticky outer layer adapted from racing motorcycles tire materials to enhance the touch of the ball for players.

I decided to have a look for the latest Nike Mercurial. On one UK website I found them at £240 along with another 25 pairs of boots in the same price range (if you are tempted to scoff at the cost, please wait until you hear what they can do). “For players demanding lightweight lockdown for pure speed and devasting rapid cuts (see, you’re interested now) the Nike Mercurial Superfly V11 Elite SG-PRO Anti-Clog football boots have a Flyknit upper to create a close, secure feel on the foot as Anti-Clog tech helps prevent mud from sticking to the soleplate.“ Wow. Just wow.

My life to this point can be divided evenly between playing and non-playing days. So, it follows I haven’t bought a pair of boots for myself for a long time but I can still get how a kid might get feel when gazing at the Mercurial or a similarly iconic boot. In Black Boots and Football Pinks Daniel Gray wrote:

“With a likely purchase identified, and a shoebox’s rustling promise unleashed, came the time to trial the boots and check whether they could harness a season’s growth. Big-toe test passed, it was a happy kid who left a shop with new boots in a carrier bag.”

Happy? Happy was an extra sausage at school lunch. To a football mad kid like me, getting my hands on a new pair of Hummel Alan Ball boots took me beyond happy, closer to euphoria or rapture. I have a single photograph of my school team – displaying 3 trophies (back in the day, when doing the Triple meant something) and I’m grinning away and my boots are standing out, in a sea of dull black boots, as white as a Bobby Moore smile. Looking at the photo I’m transported back 50 years to the sports shop opposite Barking station and the moment my infatuation with football boots first began.

From that awakening to the idea that the football boot was worthy of my attention, my teenage years were marked first by the realisation that Hummel and me was no longer a good fit and we had to part. I spent several years fumbling around with several alternatives, experimenting with the different names but never feeling that special moment. It took me ten years of searching before the spark reignited. For me, seeing my first pair of Copa Mundial was love at first sight and even in this cynical, commercial, over-hyped world, there is still a little room for that magical feeling when you find your perfect boot, whatever the price or brand. Sure, my head frequently got turned my younger, flashier models as I got older, but the Copa Mundial was my boot for life.

Picture credit: Adidas. The Copa Mundial. The most popular boot ever.


Guest Post

The Order of the Boot - Part 2

Guest Post by Chicken Run Boy

Another company to enter the boot market at this time was the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. Already known for athletics wear (their spikes were worn by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games), by the 1940s they’d become one of the leading makers of football boots. But a disagreement between brothers Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf in 1948 saw them break up the company, with the pair setting up rival brands. For his new company Adolf went the name route – Adi Das and Rudi a more inventive choice with Puma (I would’ve gone with ‘Bobby Dassler’s’ as a brand, but that’s just me). The two companies would go on to dominate the football boot market with that ill-feeling still smouldering in the 21st century.

In the Adidas version of history a crucial reason the Germans won their first World Cup in 1954 was their invention of their screw-in stud. Just before the 1954 World Cup Final in Switzerland, a downpour made the pitch slippery. The poor Hungarians could barely stand up but Adidas had kitted the German side out with the ‘Argentina’ – a boot with long screw in studs. They went on to record a 3-2 victory.

Remarkably, Rudi’s gang were issuing a press statement in 2005 rubbishing the old claim of Adidas, stating they have documents that prove that they were developing screw in studs as early as 1948. They say they made the first boot with interchangeable studs and a year before the World Cup triumph FC Kaiserslautern won the German Championship with seven of its players wearing their ‘Super Atom’ boots.

Picture credit: Puma

As a fan/worshipper of Adidas my natural inclination is to side with the three stripes, but as a supporter of Saracens and The New England Patriots I have ‘previous’ when it comes to backing those too economical with the truth. So, I continued my extensive research and can confirm Kaiserslautern did indeed win the league in 1953 and several of their players in the photos appear to be wearing the Puma ‘Super Atom’. Glad to clear that up.

Of course, the only important fact for football was that the design of boots was progressing at a pace. Around the time the Dassler’s were falling out, the growing trend among high-profile players was away from the heavy, protection-focused ankle boot, towards lightweight, low cut boots as preferred by South American stars, which improved control as well as speed.

One such star was Manuel Francisco dos Santos, best known simply as Garrincha (Little Bird). The Brazilian winger, whose career began in 1953, is widely regarded as one of the greatest dribblers the game’s ever seen and watching old footage, it’s easy to see how he gained that reputation. I was particularly struck by how ‘contemporary’ he appeared – the step overs and flicks would have Premiership crowds and Sky pundits jumping out their seats. I wanted to know whether there was a South American version of Puma that enabled Garrincha to torment left backs with such ease. Unfortunately, I found no such connection but what I discovered instead was a link to an Italian maker I’d never heard of.

Emidio Lazzarini was a wrestler who got upset with the terrible boots they give him to fight in. As he worked in his father’s cobblers in Ascoli in central Italy, he decided to make himself a pair of soft and comfortable boots to wear when in the ring. A footballer friend was impressed and complained about the hard leather boots he was forced to wear. This was Lazzarini’s light bulb moment and he was soon making boots out of soft calf leather and measuring the feet of every local Ascoli player for their individual pair.

Word spread and before long, news reaches King John. Perhaps the greatest all-round player the UK has produced, The Gentle Giant from Wales arrived in Turin in 1957 and became a superstar at Juventus. So when the great John Charles claimed the boots “were like wearing slippers” the world took notice. Inspired by Charles, the soft Pantofola D’Oro (Golden Slipper) was born and worn by Garrincha and Pukas amongst others greats.

Although Lazzarini’s company eventually went under (since revived), there are two things about this story that appeal. Lazzarini’s original success was quite opposite to the big manufacturing concerns. There was no big plan at the start, just a chance discovery and the artisanal skills taking the quality of boots to another level. The reaction of the players is interesting too – it also illustrates the crucial importance of the boot to the player and their desire to gain an edge. Give or take a pair of shin pads, the boots are all they have, kit wise. The boot is the single tool of their trade and they take it very seriously as a result.

Another legendary goalscorer from the 1950s made the same point in his autobiography, just with a different perspective. Coalminer and Centre Forward Jackie Milburn used to wear a new pair of boots down the pit where conditions were often wet. Even after he became a full-time professional footballer he still used this strategy. He rejected the lightweight boots given to him by the England management in 1950:

“I always wore a size-six football boot even though my feet were size eight, so I used to break in a new pair by wearing them without socks and soaking them in cold water to mould them to my feet. I always preferred heavier soles to put some clout in my shots. Those new lightweights weren’t for me.”

Milburn was displaying a professionalism and focus lacking elsewhere in an era of amateurish organisation. But despite ‘Wor Jackie’s’ preference, the game was going lightweight as technological developments continued into the 1960s with lower cut designs to allow players to move faster. The first half of the decade also saw several other football boot makers joining the market with their own brands and styling including Mitre (1960), Joma (1965) and Asics (1964).

Perhaps driven by the intense rivalry with Puma, it was Adidas leading the market and by the 1966 World Cup Final was supplying boots to an astonishing three quarters of all the players, including our own Sir Bobby who favoured the Adidas Diamant. Boot endorsement deals were becoming quite normal in an increasingly competitive market, as makers thought up strategies to test the might of Adidas. Puma may have lacked in overall player numbers but succeeded in tying up deals for several of the biggest names in the game including superstars Eusebio and Pele, with both players high profile wearers of the Puma Kings.

The boot endorsement really hit the big time during the 1970 World Cup Final when Pele trousered a $125,000 cheque for wearing the Kings. The Brazilian infamously asking the referee for a moment so he could tie his laces, guaranteeing that the TV cameras were pointed at his sponsored boots during his side’s stunning win over Italy. I’ve done the maths and in today’s money that’s roughly £670,515.28. Welcome to the modern game.

Picture: Pele advertising Puma Kings


Guest Post

Life, the universe and everything …… Part 1

Guest Post by Beniron

For those of you that don’t know, the title is a famous strap line from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a great radio series and book and OK film and TV series. I chose that title as this article is about life from my perspective and how growing up in East London (my universe at the time) and everything that’s happened to and around me; so join me, in what will be a ramble I’m sure, as we meander through the metaphorical streets of my life!

It began in January 1957 when I entered this world – a gorgeous bundle (my mum’s words) in the East London Maternity hospital on Commercial Road (gone now – you’ll hear that quite often through this tale I’m sure!).

Only remember snippets of my early life as we all do, but we lived with my Nan and Grandad in Stainsby Road until mum and dad managed to rent a one bedroom place in Ellerman Street (gone now), lived there until I was 2 and a half , me, my brother, mum and dad; but all my mum’s family were close by – my dad came from Wales and had the saddest start in life but that’s for another time.

We then moved to the Isle de Chien – Isle of Dogs to you lot! Into a two bedroom tenement block – but it was a council place! In those days in my area everyone was dirt poor, so nobody took any notice, but getting a council flat was what you aspired to! It comprised of two bedrooms, a toilet, a living room and a scullery.

There were 5 families on my landing and there was a communal bathroom that had one bath, one massive boiler that all the families washed their sheets etc in and a mangle. My mum, dad and older brother used to go to my aunt’s every Sunday (only once a week in those days) for a bath, I was in the butler sink!

The block was L shaped and we lived on the end corner of the short side, my best mate Pete lived on the corner at the other side. Every Friday we would have tea (not dinner) at each other’s houses, one week mine, next week his unless there was a family do somewhere (in those days there were always do’s going on). I remember in my house it was nearly always corned beef and chips; but one week at Pete’s I remembered his dad was home and had been all week, I got there and was invited in for tea and was given a bread and sugar sandwich, yes two slices of bread and butter with a layer of sugar. It was lovely, I asked my mum if we could have that and she explained that Pete’s dad had been laid off and they had no money – bear in mind the previous Monday I had to hide behind the settee with my mum when the rent man from the council knocked. So even with poor people there are those worse off.

In those days all my playgrounds were built by the Luftwaffe – being so close to the docks there were bomb sites everywhere; there were also loads of factories that had dumping grounds all over the place (nobody had heard of environmental issues back then), one of which my estate backed onto was known as Barney’s (Barnfield’s paint factory), the waste ground near that was always the colour of the latest best selling paint, I had pink plimsolls years before they were fashionable!

We also had a massive area in front of the block where all the washing was hung out and the poles made great goal posts!

It was also at this time I had my first kiss, I wont tell her name in case she by some chance reads this but she was a year older than me and lived on my landing and it was behind the old bomb site.

They were innocent times back then but very insular as it was for all under 8’s I assume. Anyway playing football and supporting West Ham were my past times, but my dad worked Saturdays, and living where I did on the Island made it tough to get to see the family in Poplar unless I was accompanied, so I never got to see them live. Then in 1966 at the tender age of 9 two things happened, West Ham won the world cup and we moved closer to Poplar and the rest of the family, still on the Island but by the Blue bridge (won’t mean a lot to most of you but it was just a bridge that went across the docks).

My uncle knew I was into football as all kids were and asked me if I wanted to go to a match. I jumped at the chance and so we went. I remember the start of the day and being all excited, my mum took me on the 277 bus to Poplar, she and my aunt went to Chrisp Street market. My uncle took me in the bookies (he was a regular, so no questions asked) then finally we left for the match.

A number 15 bus from Poplar to Upton Park (stopped just before the Boleyn), it was summer (in my memory every day in the summer holidays was sunny and perfect!), there were loads of people, I was mesmerised, all a blur getting into the ground, just remember my uncle pushing me through the turnstiles with him, my first experience of buy one get one free! Next thing I know I was right at the front with loads of kids eating Percy Dalton’s finest. To be honest the occasion got to me, the match was going on as I was looking around the kid next to me was chatting, it was great, and I was hooked. I remember all the swearing and shouting at half time but in the second half the noise was unbelievable it seemed there was a goal every 5 minutes – anyway I know it was against Burnley, we won and I think all the goals were in the second half and the score was 4 – 2.

Going home I didn’t stop talking, my mum was waiting for me at my aunt’s and that was that. Next day I was with my mates and told them all about it and now we were 10 and used the buses ourselves we all agreed we’d go the next game – only problem was money none of us got pocket money in those days. We had all these plans etc. and were all now experts on football and West Ham (sound familiar?), next weekend we were all out on our bikes round Castalia Square (a parade of shops with a square that we could build ramps etc and do our jumps) when a fella came out with the Evening News (in those days in the stop press on the back of the paper it had the latest scores ). “How’s West Ham doing?” my mate shouted, “Got thrashed 5-0 “came the response. Suddenly all the enthusiasm died, kids are fickle, I know. We still wanted to go but the far-fetched plans and lack of money seemed unsurmountable.

So the rest of that late summer was spent playing football, riding bikes exploring London on a Red Rover keeping an eye on the scores – I don’t think we won again until we were all back at school.

All we had to look forward to was bonfire night, we had already been collecting wood all summer just had to build it and guard it from those toe rags from King’s Bridge, that year was going to be the biggest bonfire yet.

The next instalment (assuming this gets published and you want one of course) will be my first game with my mates.


Guest Post

The Order of the Boot - Part 1

Guest Post by Chicken Run Boy

Despite its title, this article is no ‘Brady Out’ plea. It’s actually about the boot, more precisely, the football boot.

The idea came from seeing a club video of Dean Ashton watching back his West Ham goals with sons, Ethan and Lucas. In between giving Dad some well- deserved praise, the lads also took Deano to task for both that blond hair-style and the colour of his boots. “Those red boots … they look terrible on you, Dad!” From enjoying the goals it was but a short hop to thinking about Shaun Wright-Phillips and then back to red football boots. So be grateful you’re not reading a long rant about the loss of, arguably, our best Centre Forward since Sir Geoff.

As well as having a ‘thing’ for Helena Christensen, I’d admit to having a ‘thing’ for football boots. Nothing like a fetish you understand, but certainly enough to get the rate of my old ticker up a notch when I see a classic pair. So I thought, in my isolation fever, I’d take a dive into the history and development of the boot, look at the successes, a few failures and re-live a few memories along the way.

The first recorded reference to a pair of boots dates back to 1525. The Tudors were sports fanatics and loved their football. However, their version of the game might have made even Julian Dicks think about taking up Archery or Bowls. Games of football would be played through the open countryside between rural villages, especially popular on occasions such as Ascension Day and Shrove Tuesday when entire villages would play each other in all-day encounters. The object of the game was to capture the ball (pig’s bladder) and bring it back to your own village, with little regard to how this was achieved. Philip Stubbs wrote in his Anatomy of Abuses of 1583:

“Sometimes their necks are broken, sometimes their backs, sometimes their legs, sometimes their arms, sometimes one part is thrust out of joint, sometimes the noses gush out with blood.”

Reading that, the first image that springs to my mind is of some old fella watching his village side getting mullered and muttering “Bloody game’s gone soft. Get stuck in you lazy ****.” Apparently, more people died playing football in Tudor England than when sword fighting. This may say more about the lack of our sword fighting ability or ambition, but with knives often used, mass crushes and brutal fighting, football was a long way from becoming the beautiful game.

But one player no one was going to mess with, of course, was big King Henry. Team owner, manager, star player and ref rolled into one. He had a reputation for being a keen and fit sportsman before he went all Razor Ruddock later in life and in 1525 ordered his personal shoemaker, Cornelius Johnson to make him a pair of boots just for football. For everyone that played there was no special kit involved (unless you count having a dagger sharpened for the big match) so Henry’s boots were a revelation and, at a mere 4 shillings, pretty reasonable too. Unfortunately, the CJ-Tudor Majestic 8 boots didn’t survive the next 500 years, but we do know they were made of strong leather, ankle high and heavier than the normal shoe of the time.

I’ve no idea whether Henry ever joined in the real mayhem of a village derby or restricted himself to a kick-about on the lawns of Hampton Court but I know whose side I’d want to be picked on. The one thing I can state with confidence is that 30 seconds after Henry strutted out in his new leather boots, Tudor England witnessed the world’s first moment of green-eyed boot envy as his Court looked on in awe.

“F**k me Cromwell, just look at those boots mate! I’m getting me a pair of them made.” “Don’t be a total arse Audley son, he’ll have your balls and your head” Not quite Hilary Mantel I grant you, but you get the point. Football boots are for the most part about the practicality of playing football but from day one they have also been a little bit about the aesthetics and the desire of those ‘special’ boots.

We now leap forward several centuries to the time when football as we know it was developing and gaining popularity throughout Britain. Here in the mid 19th century the game was an unstructured and informal pastime, with teams representing local factories and towns in an expanding industrial landscape. Players would wear their work boots, which were long laced and steel toe-capped. Then, to give themselves a better grip and stability, some players started nailing bits of leather and tacks into the soles of their boots. Better for balance maybe, for not of much benefit to the poor opponent on the end of a crunching off the ground two footer.

When the Football Association was formed in 1863 to bring some order to the chaos of the game its 13th rule, was meant to improve player safety. It stated:

“No one wearing projecting nails, iron plates or gutta percha (rubber) on the soles of his boots is allowed to play.”

Picture credit: The National Football Museum – Late 19th century boots.

Two years before the Football League got underway in 1888 the first boots with proper studs appeared. Ellis Patent Boot Studs advertised their product with a letter from a footballer who claimed that they were “a wonderful improvement in making football boots suitable for any weather.” It took another 5 years however before the FA would allow this breakthrough to be introduced to the game, stipulating that studs had to be “made of leather and did not project more than half an inch, and they had their fastenings driven in flush with the leather.”

So by the turn of the century boots had become specialist kit for football, made of thick, hard leather (that would double in weight when wet) with a toe cap of steel or hardened leather as that’s how the ball was kicked back then, not with the instep and six studs set into the sole. With a body that reached above the ankle the designs were crude but the focus was squarely on much needed protection for a game that hadn’t completely shed its feisty medieval roots.

And to be honest, not much of note happened in a football boot sense for several decades, excepting the emergence of some brand names still manufacturing today including Gola in 1905 and Hummel in 1923 (now Danish, originally German). In part two, we’ll pick up the thread with another German company and the story two brothers who just couldn’t play nice.


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