Footballers have had a long and sometimes painful relationship with fashion. The default position has always been that they’re basically a bit of a joke when it comes to this kind of thing. The nature of the joke may have changed over time – from terrible slacks, bad hair and nylon blazers to the current blizzard of conspicuous consumption – but it’s never really gone away.
Until now, perhaps. Of late, footballers have been highly visible on the glossy pages doing their bit in the wider cause of flogging stuff. The Mail on Sunday devoted an entire issue of Live magazine (“SEE IT DO IT SPEND IT”) to the Premier League.
This kind of thing – football’s collision with lifestyle and glamour – can be toe-curlingly awful at times. Live opened with a piece by GQ editor Dylan Jones that was no more than a 900-word name drop (“We [Jones and David Beckham] colluded on a cover shoot… Victoria, Brooklyn and David Furnish… I saw him at a party in Giorgio Armani’s house… the delightful David James… I went over to Ince”). Scattered around this we had Rio Ferdinand on his favourite watch (and where we can buy it) the incredible roll-call of fancy gadgets in Jermain Defoe’s flat (and where we can buy them), radios we can listen to football on, beers to drink while watching football, boots to play football in and flashy‑looking footballers’ wives to aspire to.
The Sunday Times’s Style magazine came up with a similarly gushing photo piece about the shopping habits of six (six!) Chelsea players. Here we learnt that John Terry likes to match his shoes with his belt (“If I’m not happy with that, I start the outfit again from scratch”), that Didier Drogba’s look is “more street than neat” and that Andriy Shevchenko has very strong ideas about the amount of shirt that should protrude from inside his cuffs. And there was plenty more of this kind of thing throughout the month.
This isn’t anything new. But there has definitely been a shift in the way these kind of publications use footballers. We’re not just gawping, or laughing at them any more. We’re admiring their tailoring, coveting their shoes, taking tips on their preferred Japanese denim. There might still be a knowing little nudge now and then. Footballers, as working-class men with lots of money, will always be fair game for a bit of a sneer. But the non-football parts of the press have discovered something far more important about modern Premier League players. They’re very good at selling things.
From WSC 248 October 2007