A colorful evolution of the football boot

Back in my day everyone wore black boots. When watching football on TV at the beginning of the 90s you barely ever saw a player with boots other than the color black. When you did, that player stood out like a sore thumb. White boots running around a field just looked so unnatural. They screamed… look at me! It took a certain type of arrogance to make the decision to wear them.

To show how uncommon the trend was - look at this photo from the 1995 Champions League Final. In the AC Milan team photo you can see Marco Simone wearing white boots. A couple of the other players have flashes of red, and green which I think would even have came across a tad garish back then.

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I can’t emphasize how much white boots stood out when watching football back then. When just one player out of 11, or 22 decides to go with a white boot, you notice.

Jumping forward to last years Champions League Final - in this photo of Liverpool lifting the cup, it’s hard to spot one player wearing black boots.

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Funnily enough when watching football now, I personally notice the colors much less now everyone is wearing different colors. They don’t pop like that one player who went rogue wearing a pair of white boots.

What’s the point? Times change. Trends change. Individuality is in. Perceived individuality certainly. In a time when you can pick your color iphone, or Nintendo Switch, I suppose it makes sense that you can pick your color boots.

In saying that, if its a team game, where it is good to represent yourself as a team, is there something to be said for uniform? Lets talk about uniforms.

When I went to school in Dublin, we had to wear a uniform. Grey trousers, grey socks, grey shirt, grey jumper, black shoes, blue tie. Exciting right? I hated it, but in hindsight at least it gave you one less thing to think about in the morning. Also and pretty crucially kids couldn’t actually compete with each-other over who had the best grey shirt. Nobody cared. We all got our grey shirt from the same place.

Individuality in my school years was when a kid decided to go for the bleach blonde look. That was The Beatles mop top of my era. The individual trend didn’t last long, as pretty soon every kid started bleaching their hair blonde. I always found that a bit odd and slightly ironic that the way you end up being an individual is to not go along with a trend.

Attempting to mitigate peer pressure in school is surely a good thing? It puts huge pressure on parents when kids come home complaining that the others have the latest video game or the like.

What is clear is that the changing face of football boot color is less to do with us craving to express ourselves as we may like to think, but rather a clever way for manufacturers to market to kids. Where once upon a time a standard pair of black boots would have been adequate, I suppose a kid these days will want the exact boots worn by their hero. And if that hero changes his boot color every year/ every month, then it only follows that said kid will want the new boots too.

But why don’t people gravitate towards the classic black anymore? Outside of the fact that we are not being marketed black boots...it it because people no longer like black as a boot color? In what other situations might you choose illuminous orange over black? Would you wear an neon green suit over a classic black suit or dress?

Most people wouldn’t wear a striped pink outfit if they wanted to be taken seriously. Can you imagine James Bond in anything other than a classic dark suit?

It’s a matter of taste I suppose. Have we become tasteless?

Let’s look again at the classic black boot...

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What does this say about me? Am I destined to become a crusty conservative - watching on as the kids go out of control with their freckled hair styles, sparkly iPhones and neon orange Pumas.

The legendary football manager Alex Ferguson was known for being a strict disciplinarian. He didn’t want individuality getting out of control. But towards the end of the 90s superstardom of certain players began to go into over drive. There was the mercurial talent of Eric Cantona. His flamboyant style trend was to play with his shirt collar up. It seems harmless enough, but it stood out at the time.

But Cantona's collar was nothing compared to the constantly changing hair styles of David Beckham. I kid you not when I say a new David Beckham's barnet became front page fodder in the UK.

Ferguson eventually had enough with Beckham’s celebrity. Ferguson wanted players main focus to be on the game. And so in one of the last great examples of true managerial power Ferguson offloaded Becks - but not before ironically kicking boot at him as he made his way to the exit door.

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We now live in an age of unparalleled player power. Using Manchester United as an example of where this has lead, see the example of Paul Pogba. A talented player who seems to have something different going on with his hair style every time you see him. Pogba, despite his 100 million price tag has been accused of not caring as he should. His characterful persona is perfect for a marketing man to latch onto. Pogba appears to be a better player in FIFA video game than in reality.

Here is an interesting video showcasing Pogba’s changing boots over the years.

You may notice in this video that in the early days Pogba went often with a classic black look. But as the years passed and his fame grew that the colors became more outlandish. I suppose it only makes sense from a marketing perspective that if you want to sell some boots, you need to stick the players in boots that stick out. But perhaps more it speaks of the time we are in. Perceived individuality is in. But is it any wonder with all this individuality that Manchester United have not been able to get it together?

This is becoming an Esquire article. Hope you enjoy this weeks video.