Tuesday, January 17, 2012

If the boot fits...

Apparently the first recorded example of football boots were owned by Henry VIII.

Football boots: worn by oversexed egomaniacs since 1526.

The description of Hank's boots - heavy, leather, ankle high - actually chimes with the general principles of the humble boot through much of the last 150 years or so.

Not now. There have been many changes in recent years, perhaps most noticeably the race to chuck technology at the humble boot started by a permed Australian and his Adidas Predator.

Thanks to Craig Johnston, the football boot is now an all-singing, all-dancing work of scientific and technological advancement.

With the floodgates opened, nothing was off limits. Even the colours changed. Out went the traditional black. Boot rooms across the country are now a kaleidoscope of bad taste.

I suspect there are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly adding colour to football boots is a marketing gift: add colour, add individuality.

And there's nothing footballers and football fans love more than being trendsetters. Especially if those trends allow them to express their individuality by doing exactly what everyone else is doing.

The second reason is more sinister: to reinvent football boots as a more trainer-like product and so accelerate the conspiracy between governments and purveyors of leisurewear to have every citizen dressing like an American teenager and sharing the consumerist ennui of that demographic. Possibly.

Thankfully I largely bypassed these trends during what we might humorously call my own "playing career."

Partly this was because personality and popularity classifications based on the logo you sported on your feet weren't as rampant then as they are now. Or, if they were, I was too unpopular to notice.

Partly it's because, both then and now, I could boast the fashion sensibilities of a Greenwoods' mannequin.

And partly it's because I've got astonishingly wide feet. Almost square plates of meat. So my childhood and teenage boot buying expeditions were limited to whatever I could squeeze into.

Fair to say that the boots of my childhood, no matter how well shod I was, don't retain much of a place in my heart.

The earliest example I could find in the family archives date, I suspect, from the late 1970s. That would make them my brother's first boots and also, in the "new to you" recycling scheme pioneered by younger brothers everywhere, my first boots in the early 1980s.

I've got a feeling I was wearing Adidas astroturf shoes/boots the day I led Hibs out at Easter Road, the lucky mascot marching the condemned men to humiliation at the hands of St Mirren.

That's about it though. I can't remember the boots I wore as I lifted the village gala seven-a-side trophy, the dubbin-ed beauties I was sporting as I saved two penalties in a nine goal drubbing at Inverleith are a mystery lost in time and the boots that were abruptly separated as I did the splits under a scrum on a Murrayfield back pitch are gone forever (they had to be multi-functional, my sporting clogs).

In recent years the need to own a pair of boots has gradually receded.

No longer are Sunday afternoons spent at the Meadows in search of a game.

Football, like wearing lycra and dancing, is a pursuit better left to the less amply bellied.

And then I got the chance to roll back the years by testing out some boots.

Intrigued, and no doubt subconsciously egged on by the opportunity to recapture a glorious youth that never existed, I agreed.

None of your fancy-dan fluorescent nonsense.

Sensible football boots. Boots that look like boots. Screw in studs. Black. White and red trim.

The Adidas World Cup boot. Part, fittingly for an ageing Scotland fan, of their Heritage range.

Kangaroo leather. That's a double bonus - pleasantly soft and supple from the start. Plus the offer of added bounce.

And I could get my feet in them. Always a positive, that.

So I've got the boots, I can put them on without any of the eye-watering pinching consequences I remember from yesteryear. Time to test them.

I choose a pitch I well remember from my childhood, a pitch with a gentle incline and a weakness for wind. Or at least that's the excuse I used when I once put a bye-kick out for a corner.

Willing volunteers are rounded up. I reaquaint myself with the idea of sportswear. And we're good to go.

You know when you're a kid and you run and you run and you run until you lose all sense of space and co-ordination and fall over in an exhilariting heap?

Well I did that after running five yards. It was an unpromising start.

Thankfully fears of Labyrintitis were soon eased. Once I'd put down the cigarette, the balance problems were all but forgotten.

A couple of decades on and the pitch still suffers from the same drainage problems. Which just goes to show that, amazing as it may seem, our local sporting facilities will not improve themselves if we ignore them and squander absolutely zero investment on them.

But the boots held up a treat. I stopped falling over - and even, after a while, stopped coughing - and rediscovered the old soccer wizadry.

By the end I was pinging in free kicks with either foot, an outcome that made the decision to use one of those Greenwoods' mannequins as a goalkeeper look inspired.

The boots were a treat, their lightweight resilience a lesson in the occasional benefits of progress.

They even came through unscathed when I displayed an oddly nimble - if not amazingly contortionistic - ability to stamp on my own foot whilst flying through the air like an airborne cask of real ale.

The boots fitted. The magic was back. You never lose it.

Maybe I'll get myself a pair of those fluorescent ones next...