Football boots, you've got to love 'em. But who is your brand, and what if you get it wrong? Gulp. Jeff Livingstone looks at Sporting endorsements and faces a wet towel.....Thwack!
Concave. Curving inward. Opposite of convex. Mr. Geddes’ Physics lessons told me all about that lot, around a hundred years ago. Or maybe it was Mr. Jaines’ in Maths? Hmmm. Anyway. What place does concave have on this here footbally site then? It’s a long story. But please, dear reader, allow me to explain.
I stumbled across an ad recently for a company called Concave, who have developed what they believe to be a revolution in the design of football boots.
I’m always very sceptical of a footwear manufacturer that doesn’t have ‘form’ in the field, with no pun intended and it’s not the first time a firm has cropped up with the ‘revolution’ word either. Despite all the general corporate unpleasantness they possess, I prefer to see your modern day player donning boots manufactured by the usual suspects; Nike, Adidas, Puma etc, if you know what I mean. A legacy from my childhood perhaps. Snobbery is hard to wash out.
However, Concave sport quite a pitch - no pun again - on their product, and insist that their boot offers a ‘sweet spot’ four times larger than anyone else’s. Sounds a bit too Tiger Woods for this pilgrim, but the Concave folk reckon this means 15% more accuracy and 30% more power for your average Joe footballer. Quite what effect this has when coupled with the much maligned Jabulani is anyone’s guess, but I’m thinking the equivalent of strapping a big Toblerone box to your foot and hitting a beach ball.
So when do we see the Concave in action? We have already, apparently.
Manchester United and Eiré full back John O’Shea is the player that has been selected as providing the sportsmans endorsement for Concave’s product, and he’s been sporting said boots since February. Now I can’t say that I’ve watched O’Shea or Manchester United regularly enough to notice whether his displays have improved by thirty percent or whatever, but he did strike me as an odd choice for boot endorsement in a market that’s seen its share of false prophets down the years. Surely you have to employ the very best….and then hope your target market is up for it.
The whole footwear/sporting endorsement thing began in 1923 when Charles ‘Chuck’ Taylor, a basketball player with the Akron Firestones in the US, joined the sales team of footwear company Converse, and did quite well. The Converse ‘Chuck’ is still one of the biggest selling items of footwear on this here planet in 2010.
This sort of link up became all the more common in the 1960’s and 70’s when sporting greats - such as tennis ace Stan Smith and basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar - had their images portrayed on the tongues of sports shoes manufactured by Adidas. The Nadir of sporting endorsements is unquestionably the tie up between Nike and another basketball player, Michael Jordan, which began in 1985 and has netted both parties large royalties from worldwide sales of several million pairs of the Nike Air Jordan, in all of its incarnations.
For football, the first big links came in the 1960’s when the feuding Dassler dynasties from Herzogenaurach in Germany – that’s Adidas and Puma to the layman - reeled in the names of Beckenbauer and Pelé respectively to endorse their products. Successful players, successful brands.
These days there are boots with Cristian Ronaldo’s name on, Wayne Rooney too and we’ve had Ronaldinho among many others adding their moniker or scribble to certain items of footwear….to be honest there haven’t been many of the world’s top players that haven’t saddled up to either Nike or Adidas in the last few years. However, there’s always a curve ball in this market; a company with no pedigree that reels a big name in and then, well, disappears up its own arse.
O’Shea’s tie up with Concave might appear strange, but it will no doubt be worth a few bob for the Irishman. The boots aren’t aimed at the cost conscious end of the market, but it does appear that the defender has at least known the people behind the company for a few years. Which is probably a lot more than can be said for some of the other links.
As a kid, I can recall a nicely made pair of football boots turning up at my local branch of Dixon Sports. They did not include a swoosh, trefoil or anything else that I was familiar with. They had a big purple Q on the side. Quasars. ‘Who are they?’ was the question on the lips of many a brand conscious fourteen year old at the time. Before we mocked this heathen brand in amongst the gods that were Adidas and Puma, we noticed a tag, not a price tag, but a tag with a picture of England striker Gary Lineker on the side. That’s alright then.
At that point Lineker's star was well into the ascendancy, but the swirling mists of time have made it impossible to put a date on the arrival of these boots at my local sports shop. I suspect Lineker was with Everton, but subsequent research on the internet has produced no details of this company, that, to my mind, simply sprang up and promptly disappeared. Presumably, someone lost a lot of money.
Quasar weren’t the first, or last. In the 1970’s, none other than Georgie Best adorned his winged feet with…..Stylo Matchmakers. Not a name that caught on in the sodden footballing arenas of the era, Stylo now make golf shoes.
In the late 1980’s, and just as his standing in world football was reaching its upper echelons, Paul Gascoigne signed a lucrative deal to wear boots made by Brooks, only to revert back to his trusted Hummel’s. Gazza’s contract was torn up by his sponsors after he was caught out having stuck a Brooks sticker on only one side of his truly favored footwear. Perry Groves at Arsenal signed a similar deal with Brooks, before doing something a little more advanced with a needle and thread, and a pair of Adidas. He described his Brooks boots as akin to ‘wearing bricks’. Presumably Gazza felt the same.
In the 1990’s it happened again. Doyenne of the budget brands Arrow filled the window of your local Shoefayre and Timpson with images of England’s David Platt, triumphantly wearing their boots. But the target market, mainly kids, was unimpressed….but parents enjoyed a few bob saved. They were Arrow's for flip's sake. How could you Platty? This must have made a trip to the shops easy for mum and caused changing room strife for many a kid at the time.
I’ve a lot of sympathy for anyone drawn into this marketing campaign too. My late father, bless him, was of an old school (notice the lack of a ‘k’ in that phrase) mentality that believed in mending rather than buying new; a legacy of his childhood spent in the wartime streets of West Newcastle.
Not one for being taken in by marketing campaigns, he didn’t believe in shelling out what he saw as ridiculous money for the latest fad. As a parent, I can see where he was coming from now, although I’d never recommend my own boys shove ‘Readers Digest’ down their socks to act as makeshift shinguards. It’s not pretty when it rains. Or when you get kicked.
Like many parents trying their best at the time, my father saw the price tag, not the impending doom that awaited their offspring with a bad choice. When all my pals were jumping on the BMX craze and arriving at my front door with their shiny new Raleigh Burners, I was all too pleased to roll out my somewhat less pricy Grifter. Until I rode it that is. The best analogy I can find for the Grifter comes from Ross Noble, the hirsute comedian also from my parish who, having gone through a similar experience to me, illustrated the bike perfectly. “It was like a BMX bike, completely like a BMX……had a BMX been constructed entirely from scaffolding poles”.
When the time came to buy new football boots for Livingstone junior, I could only watch as the bright lights of the big sports shops were left behind and my father led me to the Co-op. Maradona and Puma? No. Ian Rush and Nike? No. Not here. I could play, but no matter how good you were, the choice of your footwear would make or break you.
I can only praise the editors of ‘Shoot’ magazine in the early 1980’s for emblazing the back cover of their publication each week with an ad featuring Bruce Grobbelaar diving at full stretch, complete with his Dunlop boots. Grobbelaar just kept Dunlop, or ‘Danny’ Dunlop’s as they were unaffectionately referred to in schoolyards, a microscopic measurement above the ‘acceptable’ waterline during PE. Phew! Heaven help the kids sporting anything considered of a lower stature. They might well still be in the changing rooms now. Rocking. Slowly.
Do kids today face the same ridicule? Yes, but it’s possible to pick up good boots, and when I say good I mean ‘acceptable', for a reasonable sum. So if its carried on through the generations with kids, could the sense of impending ridicule at a bad choice of brand transmit itself to Premier League dressing rooms? Maybe.
Are Convex acceptable at Old Trafford? Again, maybe…….However, I can’t help thinking that somewhere in a changing room in the Salford area sits a tall Irishman weeping into his towel. The same damp towel that has left a stinging sensation across his back.
Like you, my money’s on that flash git Rooney in his Nike’s. Bastard.