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Steph Morris is an artist from Manchester currently living in London. Using the traditional combination of pencil on paper, her work showcases the perfect union of skill and heart to create timeless classics. Her love for football and sneakers started when she was a kid and she tells about how the football classics are part of her work today.
Follow Steph @stephfmorris
Can you tell us a little about who you are and where you are from?
My name is Steph Morris and I am an artist from a small place called Chorley, just outside Manchester. To be honest, I never really took drawing very seriously as a young child growing up. It was mostly just something I did as a hobby. Of course I enjoyed it. It was fun for me, it was a way to release, but yeah, it was all very accidental how I got into it.
I was kind of stuck around my 20s, didn’t really know what to do with my life. So I nearly dropped out of uni, but one of my tutors asked me ‘Why don’t you try drawing?Because we can see, you know, that you are interested in that’. So I was like, I’ll give it a go, see what happens. And that really sparked the idea that I could maybe do this for a living.
Before that time I had no idea that you can actually make money from drawing, which is crazy. Lots and lots of young people don’t know that and I think that’s really sad. So I’d love to go and visit some local schools and talk about career pathways as it’s such a shame that young people who are creative and love drawing think that they need to give up on that dream. I’m quite passionate about that.
When you started what were you drawing?
It wasn’t sneakers. I started drawing portraits and really weird things like messed up teeth andinjuries on hands. It was always very detailed though, so that was always my style. I’d love to capture as much detail as possible. Through that process I kind of learned how to make something come to life on the page. It was through that process of hours and hours of practice and drawing that helped me learn and develop my own style. And that’s pretty how I got to where I am now.
When was your first published work?
Oh, good question. After I graduated from uni, I graduated within a graphic design course, I started working at size? at their head office doing graphic design work. They knew I could draw because when I had the interview, I supported my application with the drawing side. They had me do an illustrated campaign for Reebok. That was my first major gig and I was so excited about that. I think I ended up doing four drawings for them in the campaign that supported the release of the shoes. So yeah, I was really stoked about that. They supported me in that aspect. They always allowed me to explore my illustration side so that was really cool of them.
Such a great story so far, really nice to hear how you got started. So how did your connection to football start?
I actually love football. I used to play for the Blackburn Rovers girls when I was younger, so I would always be playing matches every Sunday. and kicking a ball around with the boys. I think football and football culture has had an influence on my work as well.
How would you describe that?
It’s all about the fans, the people who are so passionate about their team. There’s a huge nod towards fashion within football as well. And that nostalgic feeling that you get with football and following a team. That’s something that I always try to tap in on really.
I love looking back and remembering iconic moments in football that takes me back to being a child. That’s why I drew the 98 World Cup jersey from David Beckham, because I remember that like it was yesterday. I think that football has the power to do that… it can connect an audience as well, because it’s a great conversational starter and everyone appreciates those iconic moments in football. So I think it’s a really special sport. It’s why it’s definitely my favorite sport.
What inspires your style when it comes to football? Or is it tied to to those big football moments like England playing the Euro’s?
I think it’s more to do with looking back, because I unfortunately can’t play football anymore. I’ve had many knee surgeries, so I stopped. But when I think back to playing football I just feel this nostalgia about my worn out World Cup series boots that I used to wear. I remember the shin pads and the battered up goalie gloves. You know, the kind of things that you can almost smell. It’s the memory that sparks when you see something visual and that’s what I try and tap into. And that’s why I love to draw special objects that you will look at and think, oh wow, I remember that.
Which players and maybe his style was remarkable to you?
Good question. I think one of the biggest is probably David Beckham. I was always a massive fan of classic iconic players really, not just English. I admired Henry, Zidane, Ronaldo. Those players kind of molded my memories of football and I always remember admiring their fancy footwork on TV. And obviously David Beckham is a huge, huge style icon, even today.
Who are your favorite teams?
Uh, well, my team is Blackburn Rovers. Been supporting them since I was a kid. I also have a massive soft spot for Arsenal. I always liked watching players such as Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. Great and classic players who I used to admire back in the days.
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As a black man born and raised in Italy, my life, identity, culture, and influence were something I had to fully commit myself to. Being raised by Ghanaian parents and knowing my origins kept me grounded though. Most of the influence I got from outside of my home was from stars on the pitch that looked like me. Players like George Weah, Marcel Desailly, Edgar Davids, Stephen Appiah, and Lilly Thuram just to name a few. The rest of my inspiration flowed through music and what I considered stylish as an adolescent. All these helped me connect and move in confidence in a place where people of my background had to make things happen without handouts. Some made it happen with a ball that afforded them a platform highlighting their culture, while others like the Sabajo brothers Edson & Tim — leaders of the Patta streetwear brand — gradually connected the dots and grew from success to success until they reached where they are today. After interviewing Edson & Tim, there was so much to share that I think will connect dots for people to see the game of soccer, hip hop, and culture itself as a greater gift than what it is portrayed to be in the past.
If you’ve never made the connection between football and streetwear culture or thought about hip hop having an influence on the global sport you have been missing out on some highlights. No worries though, the experience isn’t a limited edition sneaker, there is more room to be filled. This movement has been documented in the form of threads that tell stories through collaborations by your favorite brands, crafted by the culture mavens at Patta.
Patta—the Dutch street brand created by Edson Sabajo and Guillaume ‘Gee’ Schmidt, is more than what meets the eye. The brand has been able to do something that not many can. They have nurtured and remained true to their roots and foundation while simultaneously being leaders of creative innovation in streetwear culture.
What makes Patta so special is the stories that live within their creations. This value they stand on pays homage to their roots of Surinam (the country in South America where their parents migrated from), life experiences from street football, music, and sneakers. It doesn’t just end there though. Patta thrives as a story of neighborhood heroes claiming their territory and living what they considered cool in their neck of the woods. Edson and his brother Tim Sabajo, represent what it means to be trendsetters and the notion that holding your own in a world where proving yourself gives you a pass in your neighborhood. Sounds pretty familiar right?
In America, you’ll find a basketball court close to every neighborhood where legends were made. But none compare to the Mecca aka Rucker Park where you can’t step foot on the court to compete unless you got game or a superb sense of style. Well—imagine that same type of culture and pressure, but in Europe. The sport being football and the game being played by people who don’t all look like you—yet coming from the same struggle as immigrants. There was too much happening in their world to sit still. Edson and his brother Tim grew up in Holland as Ajax fans and were heavily involved in soccer, but not just friendly matches. Instead, they were entrenched in street football where you would play against some of the most skilled, toughest, and flashiest players.
“So you play outside and every hood, every block has like a basketball court, but it’s a football court and you come together and we all play football. Then you went from one court to another court to play the other guys. So you know each other, but then you see each other on the pitch. So on the field you will see each other and then you look at each other like what do you wear.”
The top performers became mavericks and mostly built their reputation on the pitch by being top players, which then transcended into the streets. There was no love for the ones who could not hold their own in the game of soccer or lacked style while playing it. The Sabajo brothers quickly figured something out about getting a rep and the culture they loved so much. So they took advantage of it by meshing their love for the game with music and making sure that they stayed fresh in the latest gear.
“Sometimes you end up seeing guys you see in the club, but you also know them from the pitch would say oh, he is nice with the ball. He was a nice football player. He was nice with that. Plus he had style, you know, that’s how you connect.“
The hunger and grind are just different. The Sabajo brothers had to be playing for something bigger than themselves. Being raised black in Europe is already an experience of its own, but adding the pressure of carrying the torch and leaving a mark is a whole different ball game. Imagine living in the Netherlands, facing the challenges that come with being black and trying to craft and lead a culture. The challenges they might have faced had to have been tougher than what others deal with today, but backing down was never an option.
I remember many challenges faced as a black child growing up in Italy. Though happy moments outlive the bad moments, I was always reminded that I was black. I recall one day after playing outside with friends, most likely soccer, I decided to go to the store and buy a snack. As I stood there, a child about my age walked up to me staring and then rubbed her hand on my arm and looked down at her hand to see if my skin rubbed off. I walked out of the store that day realizing how different I was. Yet the only place where I felt like I belonged or wasn’t being judged was on the pitch, where all worries left my mind and my dreams along with friendships came alive.
The brothers credit street football as the inspiration for their fashion while admiring some of the guys in their neighborhood. Some who would construct and customize their own shoes or even rock fresh jerseys. But that fashion sense was only a part of their overall style. Hip hop sounds from the likes of Public Enemy to Whodini blasted through their boomboxes, affording them the opportunity to connect with people from other crews. Hip hop sounds connected their community as one and empowered the young people to represent where they were from. The brothers who have always identified with black culture saw the movement that took place in the United States. They admired it, studied it, mastered it, and eventually made it their own.
Edson and Tim capitalized on the opportunity to craft their brand after the culture they had been part of by creating their own soccer jersey repping their home team Ajax in collaboration with Umbro. The Patta brand wasn’t just born when the brothers were flying abroad to America or Japan to buy exclusive sneakers to resell in Amsterdam. It instead came to life when they decided to involve people in their community who they knew and admired and who understood their vision. A vision bridging the gap for people who want to relive their prime, while connecting with the present culture of streetwear.
We now are in present day where Patta is a well-respected streetwear brand having collaborated with brands like Nike, ASICS, adidas, Converse, and Reebok. The future of connecting football, hip hop, and streetwear is in good hands if you leave it up to Patta. They’ve been able to connect the dots, while educating all of us on why their designs mean so much. Having a similar background as me, they have personally inspired me to use my experiences, challenges, culture, and dreams to share stories that empower communities and its people. So if you’ve never understood the correlation between the sport of soccer, hip hop and style—Patta is a great place to start.
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Aneesha “Neesh” Dewshi is a self-proclaimed jack of all trades. A creative based in London she has been working in the fashion PR industry for more than 8 years. Born and raised in the UK, football and sneakers have been a part of her life since primary school. Neesh also is a co-founder of the creative football collective called Romance FC. The collective located in Hackney, East London is a female football club created out of the love of the beautiful game and a desire to find like-minded womxn.
Tell us a little about where you are from and you and your family’s background.
I grew up in a city called Nottingham, which is located in the heart of the East Midlands in the UK. Although my parents are Indian, they like many others were born and raised in East Africa and came to the UK in the late 1970s when my grandparents decided to make the move.
Where, when, and how did your connection with the game of football begin?
I was first introduced to football through my dad, as he’d always have it on the TV. Whether it was MOTD (Match Of the Day) or the Champions League, it would always be on in the house. We were quite a sporty family growing up, so football was always a game we’d be playing at family gatherings.
When I went to primary school, my parents used to have a car share system in place with a couple of other families. Which meant that each parent took it, in turn, to drop and collect the kids from school. So I’d play with the boys during school breaks and then after school on the street in between parked cars, whilst we were waiting to be picked up.
Talk to us a little about what you do for work.
I’ve been working as a Fashion & Lifestyle PR for the past 8 years across a number of global clients. It can be quite demanding at times but every day is different. I always say to work in the PR, you must be a jack of all trades because you never know where certain projects will take you.
When did your love for sneakers and streetwear begin?
I would say my earliest memories of my love story with sneakers started at primary school. We had to wear a school uniform but there was no rule for footwear, which meant we could wear sneakers. So from my early years, I was stunting on the playground in the freshest kicks – the other kids didn’t know what hit them!
The first pair of kicks that I recall I had were a pair of Fila basketball high tops, they were all white with the iconic navy and red branding. After that I had a pair of adidas Galaxy with pops of orange and navy, I think this is where my love for running silhouettes came from. Then came the most memorable sneaker of my younger years, mainly because I had to really work the charm on my parents for them. It was my first pair of Nikes, so it was a big moment and also a big shock to my parents when they had to part ways with their hard earned cash. As soon as I saw the Nike Air More Uptempo in the store, I knew I had to have them. They were the OG black/white colourway with the big “AIR” across each side panel side, they were big, brash and bold—and I wanted them more than anything. I have so many fond memories stomping around the playground and attempting to run around in those chunky basketball sneakers. So much so, that when the retro came out a few years ago, I had to cop.
Working with clothing, footwear and fashion how do you see those three things merging with the game of football on or off the pitch?
I think fashion, footwear, and football have always gone hand in hand from the early days of terrace culture with people consciously seeking premium Italian fashion brands such as Stone Island and CP Company to team up with their Adidas to now, where you see many fashion brands adopting football culture and style such as the last Off White x Nike football collaboration, which saw a range of shirts and even boots adorned with the unmistakeable Off White branding.
Another example of this is when Nike launched the Nigeria kit last Summer ahead of the World cup, there was so much hype built around the launch, similar to that of a sneaker release and of course the kit was straight up fire, so unsurprisingly it sold out within seconds.
So, I have to ask, what professional team do you support in the UK? If that team is not your hometown team, then why?
My team has always been and always will be the Red Devils aka Manchester United. Now, I know what you may be thinking.. but she’s not from Manchester! Well, my love for United started when I was a young girl watching United play in the early/mid-’90s. It was Eric Cantona who really drew me to the team, I loved his energy on the pitch, always creating chances, scoring goals with such flair and creativity, it had me in awe. I always thought that there was certain arrogance to the way he played, obviously, he did get into a bit of trouble but I liked that bad boy streak in him.
We had a good run when Cantona joined and had other young top class players on board like; David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, and Andy Cole who all made watching United play so mesmerizing.
I want to talk about Romance FC. For those that don’t know, give us a little background.
Romance FC is a creative football collective that we built in Hackney, East London out of the love and frustration of the beautiful game and the lack of spaces where you find like-minded womxn. When we started the team in 2012 we were originally called Boiler Room Ladies FC where we met at the early Boiler Room nights, shared a love of music and trained alongside the guy’s team. When we first started playing, we noticed that there weren’t many other casual womxn’s grassroots football teams around London and we struggled for a few years to even find any that we could play friendlies against. Then over the years, we started to see more womxn’s teams cropping up in London and were playing against them in tournaments, which was fantastic. However, we were left consistently frustrated in the way these tournaments were executed as we always came across misogyny and tokenism, which left us feeling pretty deflated.
So in 2016, we decided that enough was enough and we hosted our own womxn’s football tournament called—Playing For Kicks. We created a safe space for womxn and non-binary folk to come to play and enjoy a day of great football and music all designed and executed by ourselves.
Now coming into its fourth year, we’ve seen the tournament grow from strength to strength, with teams participating from key cities in the UK and even France. Each year we take on more teams, splitting them into groups based on their ability levels to ensure that all teams feel confident and encouraged in their groups. We want to lead by example and encourage young womxn and girls to take up spaces and continue to play sport, therefore we always include a junior football match within the programming of the tournament where they can experience all the elements surrounding the game. Football is there for everyone.
In the lead up to the World Cup, we will be hosting a very special Spring Kicks womxn’s tournament on 11th May in London—this will be our biggest tournament to date as we will have a total of 28 teams participating. Expect some amazing football, DJ sets from some of the best womxn in London and strictly good energy only. Head over HERE for more details.
What was the process like working with Nike to create the capsule collection?
Nike has followed our journey from the early days of Romance FC. At the end of 2017, we were contacted and asked if we wanted to design a kit for the team. This had been a dream of ours since the beginning of Romance FC’s journey. Before getting overly keen on the idea, we asked how much creative freedom we would have—we think big and create with the heart so it was key to know where we stood.
Luckily we were given complete freedom to design what we wanted, excluding the cut of the top. Founding Manager Trisha Lewis and Design Artist Aimee Capstick designed the kit and typography, which took inspiration from classic geometric print football shirts of the 80s/90s and a gradient colour fade to recreate the evening sunset over our favourite park to play in during the summer evenings in Hackney.
Following the submission of our design, we were approached with an opportunity to then work on a global project with Nike Football for the Nike By You program. This would be the only womxn’s jersey included in the launch, which would then be sold on their site.
From the get-go, we expressed that in order for this to work and be authentic, we would have to have creative control to tell our own story. This was a lengthy process, communicating with multiple teams within the company but finally, we got the sign-off and the rest is history.
We then honed all our skills and fields of expertise together to create our own shoot photographed by Striker Stephanie Sian Smith. This imagery was then used by Nike to accompany the product being sold online.It was a great opportunity to work collaboratively with a global brand in this way, whilst still retaining autonomy. As I am sure you can see, we are really happy with the outcome and proud to wear our kit on and off the pitch.
From your perspective, is the perception of women’s football changing in the UK and Europe and do you think projects like the one with Romance FC and Nike are helping?
Football is the most watched sport in the UK, with the Premier League being the most prestigious league in Europe. Growing up all I would see on TV and hear would be men playing football. I had played football at primary school with my friends and briefly picked it back up again in Secondary school when we had a women’s team, which lasted all of three games. Unfortunately, that’s where my experience playing football stopped until I picked it back up again in 2012.
I believe that the perception is changing, slowly but it is changing. We see more coverage in the media of the women’s games, the level of the professional women’s teams has propelled due to financial backing enabling these players to solely focus on football like their male counterparts.
I feel that projects like the Romance FC collaboration with Nike Football helped to generate awareness but it is the hands-on approach of local communities, grassroots projects and local initiatives like Hackney Laces #lacesfamily and East London Ladies that are really making a difference.
What are 3 go to sneakers for you right now?
Converse x Brain Dead (can’t take these off!)
Mizuno Wave Rider OG
Nike Air Max 95 x Atmos
What are you listening music wise at the moment?
I listen to a wide cross-section of music across a number of genres, but it if I look through my most recently played we have; Noname—who I recently saw on her Room 25 tour, Slowthai—one of the best sounds coming out of the UK right now, Koffee—because the Rapture EP is sensational and Rosalia—whose voice is so unusual and captivating that I forget that I actually can’t understand Spanish!
Who are you rooting for in the world cup this summer?
England of course, the Lionesses are on really good form!
For someone visiting London for the first time and that wants a more “lifestyle” tourist experience, give us your must dos/visits for:
Too many to list but below are some of my all time favs:
Sneaker Shop: Sneakers n Stuff and Pam Pam (great selection of women’s kicks in both)
Food:Troy Bar (Shoreditch) for some of the best Jamaican food in East London, BBQ Dreamz(various locations). incredible Filipino inspired street food in London and The Shoreditch Stop, which is an unassuming off license that sells delicious homemade curries to take away and is always mad busy.
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We had the enviable opportunity to peruse the colors and crests on the racks of the Classic Football Shirts warehouse. Nestled in the shadows of Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, the aisles upon aisles of shirts and gear worn on the hallowed football pitches all over the world spark vivid memories tied to these historic pieces.
Each strip from the classic patterns down to the blood stains bring to mind moments cherished by footy fanatics far and wide. Moments that evoke a simpler time before every football fan had virtually every match from every corner of the globe streaming in their hands.
For Gary Bierton, preserving the moments and history before cell phones filled the stands, has been the mission for the passion project that first began in 2006 with the inception of Classic Football Shirts, founded by his older brother, Doug and friend Matthew Dale.
“It takes you back instantly, you know,” recounts Bierton as he sits in a warehouse with over twenty thousand kits ranging from the most loved to the most loathed, from well-known to the most unknown clubs around the world. “I’m looking at that France ’98 shirt. I can remember where I was when I watched the World Cup final in ’98. It puts you back in the room instantly.”
With Classic Football Shirts, Gary has been instrumental in buying, documenting, and providing the biggest collection of football shirts online in the world for fans and teams alike.
Looking for the 1999 kit worn by the treble-winning Manchester United squad? Take your pick: David Beckham. Paul Scholes. Roy Keane. It’s all there on their website.
The digital gatekeeper of football relics began in student housing his brother Doug and his partner, Matt, finished university studies in Manchester. More so a clubhouse with a few rails carrying product for passers-by, with the first pop-up shop happening in 2018.
Not long after starting Doug and Matt got things started, Gary found himself working holidays cataloging shirts as he followed his own path at the Manchester Business School.
“I don’t think any of us expected to be here in 2019,” laughs Bierton as he recalls moments from the store’s infancy.
As the de-facto leader of marketing and brand growth, he has leveraged the collection into pop-up stores across the UK and exhibitions showcasing kits from brands such as Nike, adidas, Umbro and Kappa.
Classic Football Shirts created their first exhibits under the brand ‘Fabric of Football’. The cataloging the shirts online had already started years before and the catalog just kept growing.
Around the same time the team at Classic Football Shirts was expanding their online presence they got ready to dive into retail pop-ups.
Bierton’s mother raised concerns about the uncertainty of a career choice as a glorified second-hand merchant. Friends too wondered about the sustainability of the idea and where this side project would take them next.
Bierton continued to see the growth even those around him questioned the career choice. The doubters turned into believers when they saw the hundreds of people clamoring to get a chance to purchase a shirt at a London pop-up.
“A lot of my friends live in London and they come to see what you’re doing. Then they’re like, ‘Why are people queuing down the street to look at this stuff,’”
His friends might have been slow to catch his vision but it did not take long for them to realize the influence Classic Football Shirts has on the culture.
The impact of companies like Bierton’s has been far-reaching. Today tastemakers and fashion-centric individuals outside of the game and culture are choosing to rock classic football kits with growing frequency. Players have cross-pollinated their influence into different avenues. Seeing Drake or Kylie Jenner showoff their favorite football shirts on the ‘Gram is commonplace.
Brands like adidas and Nike have geared their campaigns and collections to fuse fashion with sports as a way to be more inclusive of the audience they are marketing to.
From the avid fan to the casual enthusiast of the game entrenched in everything fashion, leveraging the influence of designer juggernauts such as Virgil Abloh and Gosha Rubchinksiy has blurred the lines of ready-to-wear runway designs for the pitch.
That wasn’t always the case. Bierton recalls the moment that his type of inventory transcended the hardcore football fans. “Not until maybe 2013, 2014 did it become a fashionable thing,” he says. “The moment we realized it had gone a little beyond from what we thought, was a post with Kendall Jenner wearing a Juve ’98 Kappa jacket.”
Celebrity influence has turned shirts that might otherwise be forgettable into hype-fueled items. The aforementioned Italian club Juventus donned rose pink Adidas kits for the 2015-2016 campaign. As soon as Drake and Snoop Dogg were captured wearing the shirts across social media, fans pillaged retailers to ride the trend.
But for Bierton, the affinity and passion for shirts will never fade. Beyond the trends and influence driven by the who’s who of music and design, he knows there’s someone looking for that vintage kit from his beloved Manchester United or the local Macclesfield Town football club shirt.
Regardless of the buyer, he’s thankful to play a part in connecting with fans and new aficionados.“It’s bigger than football. And we’ve come from the perspective as football fans, but then it becomes more than that. You can keep it quite rigid or open up to anybody.”
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About six months ago I wrote a piece on the website where I stated that lifestyle and soccer had come to a peak with the collaboration of PSG and the Jordan Brand. When I first learned about the range, I was just a fanboy searching through all the press releases and images of the collection online and getting my wallet ready to buy the entire collection. The collection that represented, so perfectly, everything that we’ve been talking about at KTTP for the past four years.
At that time it was a far-fetched notion of mine to shoot the iconic collection in action on the pitch. But just like a lot of my great notions in recent years, far-fetched isn’t always so far off. On the back of 2 and a half weeks of bouncing around cities in the UK and Europe fate would have it that PSG and Man U were meeting in the Champions League at the same time we were in Paris.
The football gods smiled on me and the far-fetched idea became reality. I was blessed with the opportunity to shoot the second leg of PSG’s Champions League quarterfinal with Manchester United in Paris. The stage was set, and thanks to the homies at PSG, my photographer credential was set as well.
The day before the match, I visited the PSG training facility to shoot the first 15 minutes of training. I got an up-close look at the training outfits. Bold red mixed with black pants spoke to that iconic “BRED” colorway that Jordan Brand has made infamous. Mbappe broke out the special edition Jordan Vapors. In the corner of the trainging ground stood two basketball hoops next to a soccer goal, painting a quite literal picture of the combination of two worlds.
On match day the energy was buzzing from the streets to the metro, this was no ordinary day. One thing that was different for me, was waiting until the evening for the match to start. In the US I’m accustomed to watching Champions League matches at lunchtime. That wait intensified my anticipation. The combination of it being my first Champions League match (as a photographer and/or spectator), my first match at Parc des Princes, the significance of the match, and the thought that this far-fetched drea, was actually happening made for a few nerves. And then it rained and continued to rain pretty much the entire match.
The rain set a unique frame for a match that held such significance. And while the result didn’t have PSG shining in the end, the Jumpman on the pitch definitely did. It wasn’t just the kits during the match. From the aforementioned “BRED” warmup/training fits to the all black coaching gear to bright white Flyknit pregame track tops to seeing fans rock both the home and the away kits in the stands (I didn’t see anyone with my coaches jacket though)–it was evident Jordan Brand and PSG came correct on all levels with this one. I even got a bonus snap of a fellow photographers fire on feet with his Jordan 1s.
Of course, the black “home” kits did not disappoint visually on the pitch. Whether it was the whole team huddled together in moments like the team photo and celebrating the first goal or an individual player coming over to the corner flag to take a corner, the black kits with white the Jumpman showed out. No lie, every time I put my camera to my eye I said to myself, “man those kits look good.” Down to the Jumpman over “Paris” on the socks, all the little details of this kit just work.
One thing I did notice was missing, was the Jumpman on the feet of Mbappe. Now, I know this was probably due to some contractual obligations and what not, but still, a match of this level and a player of Mbappe’s level, you want the potential man of the night rocking the Jumpman on feet. Regardless of that omission (and of course the outcome of the match),photographing the Jumpman on the pitch was well worth it. Jordan Brand set the bar high for themselves with this one, we are all waiting for next season. Too soon, too soon, I know.
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Kits Stories is a series in which we tell the uniques stories of individuals through the kits that have made an impact on their lives. This first installment of Kit Sotires features Ben Chi, the Manager of Brand and Community for LAFC, founder of the dope soccer lifestyle brand FC Dorsum and member of the KTTP family. Ben helped KTTP get off the ground and was integral in the vision of KTTP coming to life. Through the story of his kits we got to know more about where his passion for kits started and how he turned his passion for the beautiful game into a career.
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There is perhaps no one man greater at understanding the passion and intricacies of both soccer and skateboarding culture and their impact on the masses than Sandy Bodecker. When we started this feature, Bodecker was alive. You can imagine our shock when we learned–in the middle of writing this piece–that the legend passed away on October 2nd, 2018 from a battle against throat cancer. Not only does this affect the tone of the piece, inevitably turning it into a homage to his legacy, but more importantly it affects the world of both soccer and skateboarding as a whole.
For those unfamiliar with the Nike veteran, Bodecker was the architect responsible for instigating both the Nike Football and Nike Skateboarding divisions. Through his own passion and deep-rooted understanding of just how important these two sports are within their respective worlds, Bodecker put it best, “if Nike was going to truly be a global sports brand then we had to be great at soccer…It was sort of a cultural imperative.” Knowing his impact on both these worlds, because let’s be honest, Nike dominates when it comes to sports–yes even skateboarding ripe with vital-to-the-culture DIY brands–it becomes our duty to share our interview with the man conducted only weeks prior to his passing.
Going through his answers, it becomes blatantly apparent that Bodecker was the perfect vessel for channeling the importance of spreading both soccer and skateboarding culture to an audience the size of Nike’s. While it is safe to say that both sports ran strong the world over prior to Nike’s involvement, it is equally as notable just how much the brand has influenced and educated the general public since. And while this intro now seems to sound a little like its sponsored by Nike, I’m only emphasizing the scale of Nike’s influence on the two sports to help emphasize just how important Sandy Bodecker was as the man behind the scenes.
But before we delve into what made Bodecker so integral to soccer and skateboarding, it’s worth looking at how he got there. Bodecker’s last position at Nike was its VP of Special Projects, his first was footwear test coordinator when he joined the then running orientated brand back in 1982. Since then, Bodecker has held titles such as VP of Sports Culture, VP of Design, VP of Action Sports and more. Having moved internally throughout the company, Bodecker was able to fully understand, perhaps more than most, what Nike’s ethos stood for. While it’s easier to bring that ethos to the masses, the challenge is bringing what the masses has to say back to the brand. Bodecker was an expert at this. “Sandy aimed to visit a series of local skateshops to listen, learn and hopefully get a chance to inspire the skate industry with a newly reinvented Nike SB Dunk,” Nike states in an article on Nike News last year.
This is what made Bodecker so important to not just Nike, but to the people who followed and appreciated what Nike offered. You’ll be hard pressed to find a true SB Dunk head who doesn’t at least recognize his name. “With its focus on artistic individuality, creative collaboration, and epic limited edition product drops, Nike SB ruled and defined the sneaker game for close to a decade. None of it would have been possible without Sandy’s genuine passion and appreciation for both skateboarding and what would later become known as sneaker culture,” writes Woody from Sneaker Freaker mag in his own homage article.
And then there’s Nike Football, a now world-leading sponsor for the sport with many of its top players under its roster, and a major part of what soccer is within America, with Nike being the sponsor for half of the MLS in its inception. Soccer has been a part of Bodeckers life since even before his formative years, having “played soccer since I was old enough to walk,” he tells us. Bodecker saw just how important soccer was to the world, and if Nike wanted to be the biggest sports brand in the world, it had to get involved with soccer. Bodecker made that happen, and we thank him everyday for it. But not only is he passionate about soccer and skateboarding and having the rare ability to professionally connect the dots within their culture, he’s also a comedable human being. When asked what he would like to see more of in soccer culture, his answer couldn’t have been more dignified, “it would be to become a loud voice of positive social change, whether that’s to fight racism, poverty, classism, environmental challenges.”
With the below interview being perhaps one of his last, we urge you to read through what Sandy Bodecker has to say about the current state of soccer and skateboarding, his thoughts on where both worlds are heading towards, how his time at Nike really looked like, and much more. In addition to our exclusive interview, we also had the privilege of documenting Sandy’s own archive of footwear which you can enjoy below. Sandy, here’s to you, and may you Rest in Power.
Having been with Nike for so many years, you must have seen a lot of development within the brand outside of just running. Talking specifically about soccer, how would you word Nike’s approach towards the beautiful game? What is its ethos behind soccer? I think the first word I would choose is “committed”… in the same way that we have been committed to running and the entire running community, we do the same with soccer. It starts with being connected to and fully understanding the game at all levels, and continually exploring innovative ways to enable players and teams as the game continues to evolve. Having personally experienced the game on every continent with the exception of Antarctica, you see and feel the passion the world has for the game and we use that passion to help fuel our innovation.
You’ve been integral in pushing soccer culture within Nike. Why was/is this important to you? I’ve played soccer since I was old enough to walk. My father was Danish and I had as much a European upbringing as American, and being from the east coast (NYC/New England) I played from middle school on in both organized as well as pick-up games. Being aware of the importance of this as the biggest global team sport, if Nike was going to truly be a global sports brand then we had to be great at soccer… It was sort of a cultural imperative.
What do you look to for inspiration when it comes to soccer at Nike? The inspiration comes from the athletes, the teams, the coaches and of course the fans. They all provide many nuanced layers of inspiration for Nike and me personally. We value their insights to the game and how we can help them perform at the highest level and to meet or exceed their individual or collective potential.
Can you highlight some of the main challenges you’ve found within soccer culture from a global standpoint? I don’t really view the cultural differences as challenges but more as opportunities to deepen and broaden our understanding and connection to the game. The rich and diverse cultural views and approaches are what make it the “Beautiful Game.”
Being a soccer-orientated media platform, we see a lot of marriage between soccer and other forms of creativity, be it art, music, other sports, etc. What’s been the most obvious marriage for you and why? I think social media has provided a platform and given a shared voice to athletes and fans. Due to the global nature of the game and the size of the global fan base soccer stars have a bigger social media base than any other sport. This combined with much higher level of outside interests by many of the biggest players and the money they’re making, make it a natural melting pot of the different cultures of art, music, design, entertainment…it’s analogous to basketball in the US but on a global scale. If I had to pick one for soccer, I would pick music as that is the true universal language that has no boarders.
Seeing as we’re enjoying the World Cup right now, is there a country that you’re rooting for? (while we’re passed this period now, we decided to leave this in to keep the interview in its original form) Well, with the US out, I’m “doubling up.” One side of me is barracking for Denmark (obvious reason) and the other side is for Australia, my adopted home. Not much chance here but I value loyalty.
While the future is hard to predict, where do you see the sport of soccer going in the far future in terms of product innovation? Soccer like any sport has a unique set of demands and in general players want to do more with less, you couple that with how the game itself continues to evolve and future environmental factors, there are lots of areas to explore from an innovation standpoint. As technology and material science improve, these will also provide new paths to explore and apply.
What would you like to see more of within soccer culture? If I had one thing I would personally love soccer culture do more of, it would be to become a loud voice of positive social change, whether that’s to fight racism, poverty, classism, environmental challenges…basically to rally globally and collectively to enable positive change.
What’s your personal favorite soccer shoe? Ahhh this will show my age but I’m partial to the original Ronaldo Mercurial
Given your involvement and influence on Nike SB, what were your thoughts on the Skateboarding division before you got involved, and where did you want to take it to – and why? There were certainly some parallels that I considered when I accepted the Nike SB challenge. The main ones were, in both cases we were outsiders looking in and neither the skate or the soccer community were asking or looking for us to join in. It was really the opposite to that. The second, what we needed to do to gain a foothold was not going to happen overnight and we needed to be willing to commit 100% over an extended period of time before we could judge if we were going to be successful or not. With SB we wanted to be considered over time as a real and committed part of the core skate community but do it in a way the was unapologetically Nike. Essentially we wanted and needed to earn the respect, not buy it, as many expected us to do.
There are a lot of connection between soccer and skateboarding in terms of their cultures, such as borrowing designs when it comes to fashion and shoes. Being involved in both, how would you describe the connection in your own words? There are definitely parallels from a cultural perspective and you see that where ever you travel to. I think the connection to the art community is a little stronger in skate due to board and T-shirt graphics playing such an important role and probably is pretty equal when it comes to music. But it does depend on where you are in the world. As an example, if you go to Brasil the top 2 sports for boys are skate and soccer and the girls are catching up… the creative community in general is deeply immersed with both so there it’s pretty equal. While is the US, skate is definitively ahead on the creative connectivity due how the sports have developed. From a footwear perspective both sports have their sort “ah ha” moments that sort of launched them into the collab mode. For soccer it was the 98 World Cup and the original Ronaldo Mercurial in silver/blue/yellow. Prior to that it’s was primarily black/White and that opened the flood gates to where we’ve evolved to today. For skate it was the SB Dunk collab’s we did with our original skaters Gino, Reece, Richie and Danny, along with early work on the AF1 that helped launch what is now the sneaker collector culture. Today you see those connections evolve with collab’s like the Neymar/Jordan collab on and off pitch.
What are some of your favorite soccer silhouette’s that you’ve pulled inspiration from specifically for Nike SB? The two that stand out are the early Tiempo indoor and the first Mercurial Flyknit Hi both were leveraged into skate shoes that core skaters would use every day. The Tiempo SB has had 3 different iterations over the years.
Where do you see the connection between soccer and skateboarding going in the future? I think as the popularity of soccer grows in the US and skateboarding grows outside the US, you’ll see more and more connectivity both sports rely on and are built around what you can do with your feet, are very democratic in nature and physical size doesn’t become an inhibitor to achievement at the highest level. Also in many parts of the world where access and cost become factors, there is a broader level of access for more kids so again back to the democratic nature of both sports. With skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport and the continued excitement around big tournaments like the World Cup or Champions League the future is bright and exciting for both.
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Christian Tresser has quite the resumé. A very abbreviated work history reads like this: he started designing footwear with an independent footwear design company that did work for Reebok. He later was hired by Reebok in their heyday when they were seriously threatening Nike; vying to become the top dog in the sneaker game. After a few years at Reebok which included him designing some classic runners and helping to launch Reebok’s football category, he got a job with Nike where he designed a number of iconic silos in both the running and soccer categories. Later he worked as the head of soccer innovation at adidas.
Before he ever picked up a pencil to doodle sneaker designs, Christian was immersed in his first passion, soccer. He can remember wanting to play ever since he was little and as a young man was on the California State Select team. Eventually he played at Foothill College in Northern California for legendary American Soccer figure, George Avakian. In the days of Christian’s soccer career there were not many options to pursue after college. So after a year of playing college soccer Christian decided to enroll at The Academy of Arts in San Francisco. His artistic talent would later be the vehicle for him to connect with football as a designer for performance soccer footwear.
Christian Tresser has always been ahead of time. As a young designer working at a shoe design consultancy in the Bay Area of California, Christian was designing athleisure shoes, with the Reebok sublabel Boks, before they even had a name for that category of footwear. Later as the lead designer of Reebok’s football product he was incorporating cutting edge technology like Instapump, Graphlite, and carbon fiber foot plates into performance soccer shoes when the entire industry was pushing out virtually the same boots—stitched K leather uppers on rigid plastic sole plates—that they had been producing for decades. Tresser even designed laceless Reebok boots that were worn by players in the 1994 World Cup.
The innovation and groundbreaking designs didn’t stop with his work at Reebok. After taking a job with Nike, Christian was tasked with designing the first high end synthetic football boot, the game changing Nike Mercurial. The synthetic upper provided a level of freedom for a designer not possible with traditional kangaroo leather which is only available in small hides that had to be stitched together.
“Things changed when it came to the Mercurial. That was the big moment where…soccer footwear changed. Because [of] the synthetic materials you could do a lot more with treatments on those materials than you can with…natural leathers. So it opened the door for design possibilities. Most of the soccer shoes leading up to that point were cut and sew…Weirdly enough the low end shoes were all synthetic. They were all synthetic and they had way more [options]. You could mold onto it, you could HF(high frequency) weld onto it, you could add color, you could print on it.
“It was sort of a weird moment because when we did the Mercurial I was conflicted with it, in that we always did soccer shoes out of K leather or leathers and those are high end shoes. And the low [price point] shoes were all synthetic—it was a low end thing…When the Mercurial came along and they wanted to do this synthetic shoe at a [high end price point] I was conflicted as a player. I was like, ‘O, God, I’m not sure if that’s gonna work,’ because synthetics didn’t really have…the fit and feel that K leather would and I didn’t know if the players would accept it. But as a designer I was really open to the idea because it allowed me to more expressive.”
Taking a departure from traditional football boots Tresser designed the Mercurial from a single piece of material.
“When I realized…I could do that then I could think about adding more design element to it. And one of my ideas—and this [goes back to when] I worked at my dad’s [auto] body shop—I wanted to put a little bit of a light textural grip on the upper. And I had this idea that I could spray on, and I did, the material that you would spray on the under side of cars…So I took this upper and I taped…off the areas, and the pattern didn’t even change from [the] sample that I [made] to what came out in the market that…literally…didn’t change. So where you see the silver…3M reflective…on the Mercurial…originally I sprayed that with the [textured] spray material…And then I took a silver pen. I needed to highlight it because I wanted to show it off and I wanted it reflective because I wanted the cameras to see it…[when] there was a moment that light would hit it and it would show it off…in a very…clean and subtle way.”
At the same time Christian was experimenting with his high end synthetic boot Nike was setting up there now legendary facility in Montebelluna, Italy where they to this day craft all of their high performance soccer footwear. He hand carried his sample to the Italian factory and shared his vision for the Mercurial.
“These guys were amazing. They said, ‘okay we know what to do.’ And ultimately what we did is we took that upper…to the Aprilia factory somewhere in and around Montebelluna…to go look at this spraying process…We went over there and they showed us some of the motorcycle parts in the factory line and the showed me this spraying stuff and ultimately [we used] this clear spray…a very thin, light…material that was sprayed on to the synthetic. And when the shoes came back they were just beautiful, man. It was a new thing. It was totally new…I couldn’t even believe it myself…how great it came out.”
Even though Christian is complicit in changing the landscape of soccer footwear forever it wasn’t something he did intentionally.
“I don’t think too much ahead of myself at all. I do have a strange vision, that somehow…works for me. I start to create, and I go on a creative journey and I don’t think too much about what the future is and what it is going to be. I only get in the moment, what is inspiring me. The first Mercurial is that moment that changed it. I didn’t know it would do that, but it did…and that’s pretty cool. Where it goes from here, I don’t know, I just don’t. I don’t have that answer, I do know that I can do it.”
With all of the incredible work Christian has done up until this point there is no reason to doubt that he will continue to shape the future of footwear. Besides almost single handedly designing the entire Reebok football range, including signature boots for Ryan Giggs, and creating the some of the most iconic boots in Nike’s catalogue; Christian has also left an indelible mark on the sneaker game. In his time at Reebok Tresser was responsible for the Aztrek and DMX Daytona runners which have both been revisited with retro editions recently.
In his five to six months working as a designer in the runner space at Nike he produced nothing but classic. To name a few he designed the Footscape, the Spiridon, and what is perhaps his most widely known and beloved silhouette, the Air Max 97. His work is still as impactful today as it has ever been. You can always find a Tresser silo, that he designed in the 90s, on a shelf at any sneaker shop today.
The former youth standout soccer player and designer responsible for some of the most iconic sneakers ever, has now seen the worlds of football and sneakers blend. Two worlds where he made such an enormous impact are now more intertwined than ever. From the custom Air Max 97s designed for Cristiano Ronaldo to the Air Max 97 Mercurials released on Air Max day in 2017 Christian continues to be relevant to the culture in new and unexpected ways.
“I saw that and I was pretty blown away. The two worlds, the parallel paths are really starting to blend into each other…My nephew, who’s a soccer player, got a pair of those and was so excited to share those with me.”
Kicks to the Pitch, an outlet dedicated to the entanglement of sneakers and football, would probably not even exist if not for the work of Christian Tresser. His design DNA is in everything we talk about. His work and elements of his designs continually pop up both in the football space and the lifestyle space.
“I stay humble in it…I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t think it was cool. I don’t know, it’s flattering I guess, to have something I did so long ago still [be] relevant. And I get people saying that certain things I’ve done have been impactful in their lives. And I didn’t really think [of] it back then and it’s cool but it’s also scary at the same time…it’s like, wow, I guess I did do a little damage in the industry.”
So the hype around the PSG x Jordan Brand collab was more than real. What we fail to realize though, or at least what I did initially, was that this is not the first time a brand totally foreign to the world of soccer has come in to stake its own claim. While numerous brands have come and gone before the Jumpman, the overwhelming success of this PSG x Jordan Brand collab has proven that there is obviously more than enough room for other brands besides adidas and Nike. There is clearly and more importantly real opportunity for brands out there right now, especially those with a streetwear heritage, to reinsert themselves back into the spotlight.
What follows is a list of brands I consider prime for a comeback or that I’d simply love to see back in soccer.
I start off with what is perhaps the biggest longshot, and that is FILA. Here in the United States, FILA has not been hot since the Grant Hill sneaker line. The same can be said about its stint in soccer as its heyday came at about the same time in the late ’90s and early 2000’s. Though the brand is not totally out of soccer as it sponsored some lower league teams in recent years, you start to wonder what sort of splash FILA could make in this new context we now find ourselves in, as well as with a much higher profile club to back it.
Reebok, as we all know, is a Crossfit brand nowadays, but who could forget the fire kits they put out in the not so distant past. This away number worn by Javier Zanetti in the late ’90s is one of the best put out by the brand. I know I can’t be the only one who wouldn’t mind wearing something similar to this with a fresh pair of Reebok DMX’s.
Starter is another brand with a streetwear past to make a foray into soccer. Only a few years ago, the brand kitted out Oxford United, a team from the lower tiers of English football. While its design for the club’s home kit is not something that immediately grabs my attention, Starter still has an unshakeable nostalgia tied to it. There is definitely much for the brand to capitalize on, which is why I’d love to see some soccer club partner with Starter on some sort of apparel line at the very least.
Rounding out the list is Champion, the brand I consider to have the most potential of all. Unlike all of the brands profiled just now, Champion is the only brand to still have considerable cultural relevance in the present day. Most of us might remember Champion in its time outfitting Parma. As those kits are still very sought after, I can’t help but wonder why the brand has yet to stage a comeback in soccer.
I hold out hope that some, if not all, of these brands will make their triumphant return. The timing just seems right as soccer now has the type of consumer that appreciates the allure of a brand with both a sport and streetwear past. Make sure to let me know your own thoughts on this topic in the comments below.
We as soccer fans will take anything that draws positive and unique attention to the game, especially attention from those who may connect with fashion but need another outlet to love soccer. Collaborations between brands can open doors for new and exciting products in the fashion world, and collaborations in soccer fashion have taken the game to new heights, and perhaps, more importantly, has expanded fanbases.
Here is a list of some highlights of projects that stood out in recent years. Though I was going to rank them, that became far too difficult. So instead we can just appreciate each for its unique contribution.
LEVI’S X LIVERPOOL FC:
Levi’s recently teamed up with Liverpool FC to add subtle twists on old Levi classics. At the heart of the collection is the 511 slim fit jeans with a twist. The iconic back patch got an upgrade to Liverpool red and this is probably the most noticeable change of all the pieces. My personal favorite is the Sherpa trucker jacket with a small “You’ll Never Walk Alone” hang tag at the base of the neck collar. The entire collection screams classic minimalist – something Levi Strauss Company has built a successful brand around.
SOPHNET. x NIKE:
SOPHNET, the Japanese Streetwear brand, partnered with Nike to create FC Real Bristol. Real Bristol is one of the first imaginary soccer clubs with its own clothing line. The line, since its first drop in 1999, has grown to be quite extensive with over 1,000 items for sale on their website. FC Real Bristol was one of the first of its kind and headlined the imaginary club with “fans” being buyers of the product. Being so new and innovative, it was easy to appreciate.
SUPREME x UMBRO:
Would any collaboration conversation be complete without headmaster Supreme? Before you groan, let’s check out the Umbro and Supreme mashup from 2005. You know… prior to the small logo on a Hanes white T-shirt days. An NYC skateboard label and one of the most prominent soccer brands of all time – two powerhouses to say the least. In 2005, soccer wasn’t exactly on America’s radar but Supreme confirmed (yet again) that they can work with anyone.
YOHJI YAMAMOTO X ADIDAS FOR REAL MADRID:
Probably the most badass idea of all, Yohji Yamamoto, a fashion icon of Japanese streetwear who spearheaded adidas’ Y3 line, designed jerseys for Real Madrid. Prior to this release, there were multiple fashion designers working for soccer clubs but their products stopped at the locker room with sweat suits and club shirts; Yohji’s made it on to the pitch. The kit features a slate grey half bird-half dragon over a black silhouette. Likely the easiest kit to transition from pitch to streetwear.
VIRGIL ABLOH’S OOFF WHITE x NIKE
Rounding out the list with arguably the most prominent fashion collaboration is Virgil Abloh’s “Off White” with Nike. Simply put, taking on a major brand like Nike and recreating over 10 classic silhouettes is a beast in itself. Bring that into the soccer realm and you’ve got streetwear-meets soccer-meets the mainstream audience. Pretty bold move if you ask me. Virgil ran with it and the “Off White” theme has exploded. From foams to Airmaxes and Jordans, to the Mercurial Vapor 360, the signature quotation marks have taken over their own piece of Nike’s dynasty. A collaboration list wouldn’t be complete without it.