3 Stripes Up The Side

Other than my family and United, the longest relationship I’ve managed to maintain throughout my life is with Adidas trainers. There’s nothing particularly unique about that, they remain the footwear brand of choice for right-thinking men of advancing years everywhere. And by right-thinking, obviously I’m referring to us traditionalists who tut-tut at Phil Jones’ highlights and who’d happily choose to go barefoot rather than support the current hipster fuckwit-led trend for Espadrilles. Anyway, as has been exhaustively documented elsewhere, there’s a definite kinship in existence between Adidas and us lot reared on the terraces of North West-based football clubs.

My relationship with die marke mit den 3 streifen began whilst in primary school, back in about 1980. Before the age of 7 or 8, you rarely question what you are wearing – it was shoes (Clarks if you were posh) for school and Woolies black pumps for PE. Trainers were something you would wear for playing out in on evenings and weekends – and trainers were just trainers, you had one pair and you’d wear them until they were knackered or you grew out of them. They were functional, not fashionable…until I first laid eyes on a pair of Adidas Kick.

I don’t recall who was wearing them, but once I’d clocked a pair they suddenly seemed ubiquitous. Everyone seemed to have them – everyone except me. Shiny black leather, black rubber toe bumper, gum sole and the classic three white stripes adorning the side of each shoe. Adidas…A-dee-das…even the name was cool – trainers soon became an obsession of sorts.

I was always a clumsy kid. Flat footed, no sense of balance, crap at football despite playing about 8 hours a day throughout my childhood – my speciality was walking into lamp-posts. The situation wasn’t help by the fact that from about 8-10, I’d routinely walk around with my eyes glued to peoples’ feet. I was a committed trainer spotter.

Unfortunately for me, the economic realities of the time meant I wasn’t able to join in the fun. Despite my protestations, the fact my dad was out of work for long periods during that era dictated that any household income was blown on trivial things such as bills, food and clothing as opposed to kitting out the adolescent first-born in expensive foreign footwear. I was still in no-name specials off the market whilst the rest of the world was proudly flaunting West Germany’s finest.

Enforced abstinence only fuelled my interest though, and all kinds of exotic sounding brands and names sprung up around that era. Instead of your basic Adidas, Patrick, Puma and (urrgh) Gola football-type shoes, suddenly it was all about the tennis. Minimalist-looking Stan Smiths had been around for a bit – though I could never get my head around them because they were Adidas yet they didn’t have stripes.

So Nike Wimbledon (as sported by McEnroe), Puma G.Vilas and Diadora Borg Elite briefly became chief objects of desire. It remained all about the Adidas for me though, whilst Ivan Lendl no doubt looks back with some frustration at his inability to win a Wimbledon title, in my eyes he was de-facto champion every year because he had the smartest footwear.

By the mid-80s my folks had split and as the dust settled, I was delighted to discover that ‘proper’ trainers were finally on offer as a means of consolation. I wasn’t complaining.  Sambas, TRX, Jeans, Gazelle…I even enjoyed a brief fling with Nike during that time. The overall look consisted of Lee cords, polo shirts and crew neck jumpers – wardrobe staples that still see me right a quarter of a century on. My hair is no longer permed though, thankfully.

Madchester came and went (we’ll gloss over that era as clothes and shoes became of secondary importance due to other umm…’interests’); as jeans returned to sensible widths it was time to consider footwear again. There were bargains to be had if you knew where to look. I can recall picking up deadstock pairs of Stan Smith and Puma States round then for the princely sum of £12 each – high street shops didn’t understand the enduring appeal of vintage designs, to them it was simply a case of moving on ageing stock.

To compete with the rise of Air Jordan and abominations on offer from the likes of British Knights, Troop and Travel Fox, Adidas rebranded themselves as Adidas Performance and the classic gear was now marketed separately under the Originals banner – so the classic trefoil logo lived on.

Adi had cottoned on to the fact they had a dedicated set of punters who weren’t interested in the buzzwords of the time like ‘innovation’ and ‘technology’ – they simply wanted suede in nice colours and a flat sole. In a market containing things like the Reebok Pump (a shoe you could literally ‘pump up’ – christ knows what for), trainers were re-released that hadn’t been seen in a decade or so. As I was now earning for the first time and, pre-kids and mortgage, had a fair bit of disposable income – I was free to indulge myself.

By the turn of the millennium, the internet had changed things again. Not only did it prove a valuable resource of information and archive material, websites and message boards enabled like-minded fetishists to communicate with each other for the first time. This, and attempts to cash-in on the ‘casuals’ scene (films like Awaydays and an endless stream of Hoolie literature of mostly lamentable quality) helped ramp up interest, and the growth of eBay led to prices rising to ridiculous levels on the second hand market. Yes, people happily pay exorbitant prices for 25 year old, pre-worn trainers.

The true extent of this interest was hammered home to me in May 2010, turning up outside Size in town for the long awaited re-release of the semi-legendary Adidas Manchester – originally brought out to coincide with 2002’s Commonwealth Games. I knew there would be plenty of others on the case, though I didn’t expect to see about 400 people ahead of me in the queue at 6am on a Saturday morning. Mental.

Stalwart Red Issue scribe Life of Smiley recently commented on the fact he’d clocked a sample pair of Adidas Noel Gallagher on the internet, and their very existence made him shudder to the extent he was questioning his brand allegiance – amen to that, brother. His words got me thinking though: how old is too old to be buying trainers? And more pertinently, am I too old now?

I don’t mean trainers for doing the garden in or nipping to the shop or playing sport, I’m talking about wearing trainers for going out. Over the years I’ve built up what’s turned out to be a collection of sorts – nothing too valuable or mega-rare, just stuff that I like. In recent times I’ve even kept the boxes too, mainly for storage purposes so they’re not filling up the bottom of wardrobes and getting crushed. I’ve probably got about 25 pairs in total, a number which some people may shrug at and others will find hilarious – but I find I’m wearing them less and less.

It’s always rained here, but these days I refuse to even contemplate wearing a pristine pair of Stockholm if there’s even the slightest possibility of a shower – it’d be an affront to a classic. More and more often I’ll put on a pair and just think ‘naaah, not right…need shoes’. Pairs in more ‘eccentric’ colourways have gradually been relegated to the back of my thinking, ditto white trainers. I’d never have thought it conceivable that Adidas might join the likes of Henri Lloyd, Burberry, Ralph and Lacoste in the ‘stuff I used to wear’ category…slowly but surely, that’s the way it’s going.

I’ve become increasingly conscious that I can be seen sporting similar footwear to lads 20 years younger – and that’s not a good look since my first grey hairs have started to appear. If I don’t change a habit of a lifetime, I’m in grave danger of falling into the same camp as these 50 year old balloons you see wearing baseball caps and Stone Island – still attempting to live out their Danny Dyer fantasies at an age they should know better.

So my dearest Adi, it’s time to suggest that our 30 year relationship has run it’s course and we should go our separate ways. We’ve had a great time together, you were my first love, but I’ve grown up and feel I’m looking for something different now. Out of respect for you, I want to be totally upfront and admit I’ve recently developed feelings for a pair of Native Craftworks Trail Shoes I’ve met on the internet…it’s not you, it’s me…honest…I won’t forget you x

Copyright Red News – October 2011


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