No style magazine worthy of the name would go to press without at least one feature about supermodels, Britpop, Hollywood hunks and... Liverpool players. John Williams got past the security on the door to ask a few questions
More years ago than you would care, or want, to remember, the great Merseyside net-buster, Bill ‘Dixie’ Dean, visited Pathé News in Soho to be interviewed for some football cinema coverage. Dixie once jumped into the crowd at White Hart Lane to smack a local racist and, after a serious road accident, was also popularly thought in the city to have had a steel plate inserted into his head, thus accounting for his thunderbolt headers that started out somewhere near Garston.
He was, in short, not a fellah to be trifled with. He reported his clash with the silver screen accordingly: “I was greeted by a right cissy of a bloke who was talking in a high-pitched voice with a bloody great plum in his mouth. ‘Oh, Mr Dean,’ he said, ‘would you mind sitting here while I make up your face – only some powder and rouge – just to take the shine off, for the film?’” Dixie was not amused. “I told him that if he attempted to powder me up to take the shine of my face I’d put a bloody shine on his!”
Yeah, yeah, a time when men were men and boats were made of wood; or, as a footy feature in Sky magazine put it recently, “There was a time when studs were found on boots, shots were something soccer players did with a ball . . .” But it does make you wonder how the great man, Dean, and his equivalents across the park might have coped with the very different stresses of today’s Merseyside ‘scene’.
You may have noticed recently, for example, that the Fab Four are doing great business again out of the city – I’m talking here, of course, not of the morbidly resuscitated moptops, but about those babe magnet, fashion gurus Macca, Robbie, Jamie and Babbsy; and then there’s the trailer crew, Scalesy, Colly, Razor, Jace and Jamesy. The way things are heading, even Harky and Jonesy will soon end up on some fashion shoot somewhere, maybe for Man at C&A.
And then, of course, there’s ‘The Godfather’, Barnesey, a man who certainly lets his clothes do the talking. Blimey, even the manager’s middle name, used by the ‘lads’, of course, is Quentin! Maybe the Reds only sign ‘lads’ with looks these days, as some sort of deal with major sponsors? (‘No, I couldn’t be photographed with him – can’t you get someone dusky who looks good in a tux?’) Wrighty’s still around, mind you, and looks like he could do baked bean ads, but that’s just not quite there, is it?
All this fashion exposure and overt laddishness in the Reds’ dressing room is also a bit of a slap in the face for the exponents of the ‘Evans has gone back to the Liverpool tradition’ thesis. Sure, on the pitch the players pass to each other a little more regularly now (though Stan still fancies his own ball, or else is out on pigeon watch) and no one walks back out at half time picking pieces of crockery out of their hair these days à la the Souness pogrom.
But the great Reds’ teams – and the club – were utterly focussed on playing the game. On the Kop we used to be perversely proud of the complete absence of real executive boxes or facilities of any kind (into the early 1990s); the club’s utter lack of concern for any kind of marketing or PR strategy – foreign visitors were often left outside the ground; the impossibility of ever getting through on the phone, of course; and the portakabin desert that was the (ha, ha) souvenir shop.
We (mythically) never trained, just played five-a-side; Liverpool players (mythically) had no distracting endorsements – that was sad, and unsuccessful, Man U territory; and, bliss, Kenny ‘I’m off home to the Missus’ Dalglish made monkeys of the press (“Good performance, Kenny.” “Was it?”).
Ian Rush and Peter Beardsley were the perfect Liverpool players for the boot room; out of their kit, they were men with no lives. Hansen was the same once he learned the nuances of beach wear and discovered (yawn) golf. Beyond the green, Liverpool were the original invisible club.
And now this. It is not too difficult, of course, to explain the current obsession of the fashion and associated industries with the game itself – or at least with the Premier League end of it. Football is big money, celebrity territory these days and, lets face it, there is a hell of a lot of newsprint around to fill.
The gross marketspeak for this kind of branding relationship doesn’t beat about the bush. As Top Man (Jamie Redknapp territory) puts it: “80% of the Top Man target market identifies, understands and follows football. Footballers are non-alienatory, whilst remaining aspirational. They also appeal to women who either accompany men or buy a lot of men’s clothing.” So now you know. And just tell yourself that ‘non-alienatory’ bit when Wisey next fouls your favourite clothes horse.
With Reebok recently paying £25 million for a five-year kit deal with the Reds, expect even more style pressure on the suits and on Diadora’s mysterious new ‘Stan the Man’ leisure range. Leisure? Well, they’ve certainly got the right man there.
But why is it Liverpool players who have cornered this end of the fashion/media output? Well, we have had a bit of a ‘lads’ fest on the transfer exchange, and for all segments of the market: Scalesy for the handsome commodity dealer look; Babb and Stan for that ‘global’ street edge; Jamesy for his space cadet uncertainty, a must for the Armani underpants campaign with its large gay market; and also Robbie and Macca for the man/child, Toxteth and Bootle street urchin ‘have you still got your old mates and what do you spend your ten grand a week on?’ angle.
And Jamie for, well, sex. The stories about Jamie in Liverpool reflect perfectly the fantasy/anxiety projections which now work around the younger Liverpool players in the city. He’s either wildly gay, or else running through every nurses block in town, whilst being urged on by the back three who are conveniently secreted in some nearby bushes. (Where would we be without the local football rumour factories?)
I suspect, in fact, there’s actually a lot of cheek-sucking admiration for all this in the city. Also, the local competition for glossy coverage just now is either gagged or just not interesting enough. Ferguson’s Mancunian babes are out of a dull mould and seem ruled with rod-like Calvinist ferocity.
Quentin, by contrast, hangs loose and, schoolmasterly, pulls Robbie in every few weeks for ‘are you doing your homework?’ sessions. And Giggs and Sharpe, the alleged Madchester rave freaks, seem more and more like devoted young businessmen. (Why is that nice Giggs so serious when he plays? Is he absentmindedly contemplating major takeover bids?)
The real business around Old Trafford is still avowedly corporate in a way which is not quite yet Anfield. And, how, exactly, would you sell the current Goodison crop of Parkinson, Horne, Ebbrell and Druncan – the ‘Dogs of War’ range to the Army and Navy Stores?
In the end, of course, despite the sniggering asides about girls and drugs and prematch ejaculation, the ‘lads’ are almost always rescued from the sort of real dangerousness which might mess up the endorsements. When Loaded visits Jamie there’s even a palpable sense of relief that he’s in no “swanky penthouse apartment, supping on a slow screw and being attended by a posse of voluptuous dollybirds”. Instead, he’s properly landladied in a semi and everyone’s round to play Cluedo.
Robbie has had a few problems, “but nothing serious” according to the-patience-of-Job Quentin. Macca’s sartorial quirkiness is limited to “a braided bangle round his wrist” and Razor wasn’t even in that Porsche when it went belly up, for God’s sake.
In fact, the really outlandish stuff comes from Stan, who else. Sky magazine finds the Cannock loner almost suicidally introverted and Cantona-like. And then, this: “I’m a socialist in the broadest sense of the word. Like, just simply from a tax point of view, I would never worry about paying more taxes if I knew they were going to be used for things like public services and the wider benefits for all. I voted Labour at the last two elections, and I daresay I’ll vote for them again.”
Stan, what can I say? I’ll never again wonder why you bothered to get changed. Does Armani have an angle on this?; after all, this is new Labour.
From WSC 109 March 1996. What was happening this month