There’s nothing quite like a new pair of football boots, the beautiful colours, the feel of the leather and the dreams of what you will accomplish wearing these magnificent bad boys. Even at the age of 28, I still get a little buzz of excitement when I open the lid of the shoebox to reveal my new footwear. That being said, this buzz cannot be compared to the exhilaration I felt as an adolescent boy about to go football boot shopping.
My upbringing was David Beckham and Zidane advertising the Predator, Ronaldo (the real one) jinking in and out in a pair of R9s and then a few years later a fresh faced Wayne Rooney bursting onto the scene in eye catching Total 90 boots (arguably the sexiest boots of all time). My heart would be set on these and they had to be the real deal. Unfortunately, the man with the wallet and the keys to my dreams was my dad.
There was nothing more heart breaking than going football boot shopping with Denholm senior. He had a particular liking to any boot that was black, thick and leather and he certainly would have approved of the Doc Martins that Iain “Yano” Campbell graces Links Park with. He also didn’t understand the concept of the fake and real versions. The fake versions would be half the price of the real ones and looked almost identical to the untrained eye. However those subtle differences were all that mattered in my boys’ club dressing room and you were facing some serious heat if you pulled a pair of Nike Total 30s, Adidas F10s or a pair of Adidas Fredators out your bag – character building I guess.
After years of fakies, I saved up my pocket money and bought a lovely pair of UEFA Champions League Predators. An absolute beauty of a boot. The champagne cream, the texture, the indentations for that extra bit of swerve and the fresh Champion’s League logo printed around the heel. I couldn’t wait to get them on… but I hadn’t bargained for the obstacle of my dad standing at the door blocking my path. I had once again forgotten to account for his love of the product Dubbin.
Dad: “Before you play in them you have to give them a good Dubbin” (the product had now became a verb in his head)
Me: “But they aren’t black”
Dad: “Doesn’t matter – Dubbin!”
Me: “But they aren’t leather
There I was scrubbing black mush all over their beautiful cream complexion, once again to be ridiculed by my peers.
Nowadays the boot game has become extremely diverse. Different studs, different colours, no laces, sock attachments and different insoles. This is without considering the many add ons that players use on game day; cut socks, blister proof socks, small shin pads, different tapes, tuba grip, cycling shorts, cooling under armour, warming up under armour and light weight gloves to name a few. The extent to which some of these additions are a fashion statement rather than a performance enhancer are up for debate. Nevertheless, if it lets the player concerned feel more confident and comfortable then I don’t see a problem.
Players can get attached to boots and I like to see that, there’s an aura of wholesomeness to it. They stick to what they like even when boot fashion comes and goes. I hear Derek Riordan used to seek out the Total 90s from the late noughties throughout his career, I watched Jack Grealish recently rip up the playoff final in a pair of battered boots and you will always see that old pro in most teams that will wear nothing but a Copa Mundial.
The Copa Mundial is certainly a divisive boot; It is lauded in some circles as a thing of beauty, the choice of the real football man. Personally I find it to be an eye sore of a football boot which isn’t even comfortable on the foot. It could probably withstand an atomic bomb and still come out looking just as ugly and as sturdy as ever. Even so, the black boots brigade are usually not be messed with. Try to nutmeg them and they will kick you into the stand, try to have a chat with them and they will glare at you in a steely silence and if you challenge them for a header there’s a good chance you will receive an “accidental” elbow to the skull.
On the opposite side to these Copa wearing traditionalists is the bright coloured mercurial/vapour wearing brigade with the sock attachment now a must for these individuals. This player will have all the extras; the high cut socks, the tape around the wrists (what does this do?) and the unoriginal tattooed sleeve to match. The cliché will state that he’s flash, has fancy feet and usually flatters to deceive. Suppose it’s a cliché for a reason. When this type of player is on the opposing team your manager will usually advise you to “hit him early and he’ll no fancy it”, or as a famous old manager of mine would say “He cannae run wae a sare leg”.
The majority of players at our level will be somewhere in the middle of these two stereotypes and buy any pair of boots that are on sale at Prodirect Soccer. Although some clubs at part time level contribute a small fee for 1 or 2 pairs of boots, these clubs are in the minority. With players going through 3 or 4 pairs of boots a season, it will usually set them back £400-500. It’s a difficult one to stomach for me; I’d compare it to a teacher having to buy their own blackboard, a fireman having to buy his own hose or a policeman having to buy his own handcuffs. Maybe we should go on strike by playing 90 minutes in our flip flops or maybe I should just stop complaining.
Despite the ever widening array of options I am yet to discover a football boot which fits my foot comfortably. From playing football for 23 years it’s fair to say the aesthetics of my feet could be easily compared to the face of the hunchback of Notre Dame. There’s more lumps and bumps on my feet than a links golf course and the piece de resistance comes in the form of my bunion – to the untrained eye it looks more like a sixth toe. All this without the added benefit of any more ball control.
I hope one day technology creates a boot for a man with a foot as inconsistent as mine. Technology has advanced the boot game and I’m looking forward to seeing what type of boot they produce in the years to come. That being said, there’s no chance it will provide the same level of giddiness inside me as watching Ronaldo weave his way through an airport in a pair of R9s.