It is a long time since I last wore studded football boots – we’re probably talking 1982, as by taking the Oxford Entrance Exam I managed to avoid games during my 6th form years (which was most of my motivation, if I’m honest). For the small portion of the eighties where I was still required to chase a ball around a field, I didn’t even play football but rather hockey (or field hockey as those from colder climes might call it) which I much preferred. This had the major advantage – from my perspective – that I was issued with a weapon (I believe it was technically called a stick) and no-one (sane) expected you to control the ball using your head. The stick somewhat levelled the (literal) playing field between myself and my more skilled classmates (which would be most of them). The school-issued plastic sticks were also rather more durable in a tackle than the posher, wooden sticks used by those with some technical mastery – which was occasionally beneficial.
What I most remember about those winter Wednesday afternoons playing hockey in north Kent was the school’s perennial shortage of bibs. This meant that to distinguish one team from another, when both would otherwise be wearing identical uniforms, one team had to play in “skins” – i.e. naked from the waist up. I don’t recall this practise ceasing in rain or however low the temperature fell. I suspect the children of today are not battle-hardened in the same way – but I guess I should thank my games masters, as I can now get through many a winter without recourse to the central heating.
Why, I hear you cry, is the old fool banging on about sports footwear of the 1970s? Let me assure you that there is a reason – I’m not claiming it’s a good reason, merely that it exists.
Whilst I have almost entirely managed to avoid watching the World Cup, I have caught a few glimpses of play as a videoed BBC4 documentary came to an end (or some such). On each occasion I was forcibly struck by the footwear on display. This seems largely to borrow from the colour palette of the highlighter pen. As I recall, in my youth boots were generally black – well, briefly black and then caked in thick Kentish mud for the remainder of their life. Now fluorescent yellow or orange seems to be the first choice – perhaps in case of failure of the stadium floodlighting? However, a small minority of players have gone further with different coloured boots for each foot – generally fluorescent pink and blue. I know the modern footballer is often not considered the sharpest tool in the box, but do they really need this much help to match the correct boot to each foot? In my day, a simple L and R (or local language equivalent) was enough for even the most intellectually bereft of students – have literacy standards really fallen so low?