The Art of Football
Football, a sport, an art a religion. Engrained in our culture, whether you’re a red or a blue, you will have your allegiances and whether you wear your scarf, shirt or badge with pride — there’s more to the colours your wear.
The latest exhibition at Walker Art Gallery, the Art of Football, highlights this incredible and intrinsic relationship between fashion and football and its evolving nature among fans. As a football fan, if you’re attending the game, a sense of unity, comradery and companionship among fans is evident through chants, shared songs and matching colours among the crowds. But, as the exhibition highlights, it’s just not the colour of your scarf that helps you find a fellow fan but the fashions which you wear — known as ‘football casuals’ which form part of an integral part of the subculture and group identity of ‘goin’ the game’.
Today, the line between football and fashion has blurred as players from the pitch have lent their identities to famous fashion brands — from the high street to the high end, footballers and fashionistas can both be seen sporting the latest attire in a cross-cultural blend of styles and faces. The celebrity endorsement of a footballer on a brand in its desirability by fans and match going fans is evident in the plethora of sporting faces signed up to labels but as, the Art of Football exhibition explains, football fashion among fans is a whole different fashion ball game.
Saturday afternoons, a time for escapism, passionate elation or crushing disappointment — either way you are not alone as a football fan and your fashion attire celebrated this shared emotion, togetherness, and group identity. The exhibition explains how through the clothing fans wore and choose to wear, they are able to identify their own subculture and group identity. Going to the game suddenly becomes about being able to see and be seen, that through your fashion attire you can and could symbolise your shared values and beliefs, your unity and togetherness and this would only be possible by being at the game.
So where did it all start from? As a Scouser, it’s easy to claim that, as a fashion forward city we started it all in Liverpool but it’s actually quite true. In the early 1970s and 80s it was a grim time for the North of the country and industrial cities like Liverpool struggled through the economic decline. But much like the Copa Cabana, music and passion were always in fashion and through these desperate times, fashion, sport and music provided a release to many residents of Northern cities — a form of release, enjoyment and a respite from the gloom. Going to the game, with fellow fans and being a part of a shared group of values provided an opportunity for togetherness. Wearing the right clothing and footwear meant you were part of it so you had to have the latest football casuals and soon the terraces became the catwalk of fashion brands, styles and colour that wouldn’t look amiss among models on their own multi-million-pound runways.
Whether you’re a left footer or right, however you kick a ball or walk to the match you’ll need the latest treads to be part of ‘our gang’. As the 1980s progressed, no longer did football fans wear any type of footwear, rather now fans in Liverpool and surrounding cities were turning sports shoes into leisure wear — something that entrepreneur Robert Wade Smith was only too aware of. Readers of a certain age (author included) may remember the iconic Wade Smith store in Liverpool City Centre (next to what is now the Met Quarter) as the place to go on a Saturday to get your new “trainees”. From Adidas to Puma to Nike and Diadora the brands were plenty and, thanks to the entrepreneurial owner, Scousers were the first to display the latest imported fashions.
So, onto the terraces, across the platforms and streets on the way to the game at home and away, football fans from Liverpool were able to take their fashionable wear across the UK and abroad, uniting fans with their fashions in what has become a shared sense of identity, a religion you could say. But, saying that, is football fashion still a safe united space? It’s a sacred space the exhibition notes, that fans are able to congregate together and feel safe through an instant glance at the fashions of others, a shared knowing and unity. However positive the power of football casuals is, there is a potential dark side that must be considered. As the success of football as a sport and business has grown, so has the attractiveness of the sport and big-name brands, broadcasters and sponsors have, some may say, corrupted the “beautiful game” creating such an increase in pricing that many fans cannot afford to go the game, to wear the colours of their team and to live this shared experience so will this potentially be the end of football fashion?
Just like when football casuals started, the idea of a shared look, feel and community through fashion will not change. This terrace culture has, today, ingratiated itself into society — from everything to footwear to fashion to gaming and art. As analogue Subbuteo gave way to a digital FIFA the football casuals adapted and changed along with it. The brands may have diversified, the styles may have been updated, but the culture of football fashion, of sporting casuals as the go to choice of unifying fashion has not changed. Today, if anything, football casuals have engrained themselves further into society, not just for the football fan, but rather help identify a group of like-minded individuals, fellow followers of fashion who also have a shared set of beliefs and values.
So, football and fashion…who would have thought two such different genres would be so intrinsically linked. When you delve deeper, it’s obvious, your team colours don’t change, they’re your colours so why wouldn’t your fashion be the same? Football casuals might have started as a way for fans to show allegiances and to buck societal norms during times of despair, but it has developed into so much more. Today it is a movement, it is an enduring attitude, a lasting legacy to the terrace culture born out of a shared community and something that has transcended age, gender and location in unifying us all at a time when we can become lost in laptops, mobiles, singular digital moments.
With that in mind…. “you goin’ the game?”
Jennifer Caine, Marketing Manager, Culture Liverpool