The way we wore – Neal Heard takes a retrospective look at PUMA on the ’80s Terraces
With this year's release of one of my favourite ever shoes as part of the excellent PUMA heritage range exclusively at size? I find myself wistfully wandering down memory lane back to the era of the early ’80s when I and many many others fell for the appeal of the leaping cat.
But it’s these memories which put me in mind of the famous phrase from L.P Hartley, “The past is like a foreign country; they do things differently there”.
This famous old quote succinctly sums up the preponderance of popular misconceptions or urban myths which permeate popular culture, especially popular culture from days gone past.
PUMA MCFC Collection - 2019
It’s a funny old world, some myths seem to stick and gather traction, especially amongst those not in the know. One is that most Mancunians follow City, not Utd. Or try trainer obsession in the UK started with hip hop. Another is that there was only one trainer brand worn on the football terraces in the 1980s – all utter rubbish.
For those of us who were there in the 1980s, especially the early '80s (even the late ’70s in those forward-looking big cities of Liverpool, London and Manchester) then you know for a fact that in those early heady days of sporting shoe appropriation there was certainly more than one brand of shoe being worn by the new youth cult sweeping the terraces of Britain, a cult which came to be known as the casuals.
For those of you too young or uninformed to know, trainer culture is beholden in the UK thanks to the casuals, just don’t call them ‘sneakerheads’, that’s an Americanism which some people gladly grab hold of. I’m against homogeneity, Britain is a country with vast annals of youth tribe creation and it should be celebrated.
Today, terrace fashion has swaggered out of the stands and into the mainstream. Brands that once had heavy links to football violence have shaken off those negative connotations and become more accessible. It’s the result of the casual look moving beyond its sports-tribe roots and becoming a lifestyle for style-conscious men.
At the time, this new cult of trainer appropriators moved fast; there was a whirlwind of changing looks and styles, and PUMA footwear played a substantial part in this burgeoning tribe.
Your first pair of trainers is a very important thing, and I don’t mean those bought by or with your mother, or those for P.E, I mean those you save or yearned for and bought as you ached to make a statement. They are almost like a rite of passage and like all first cuts; they leave a deep mark.
Back in 1983, my first pair – PUMA G.Vilas – sure left a mark with me. I can still remember sitting watching TV in the front room with the fam, where I am unashamed to admit also sat a small table on which I placed my new footwear – box and all – just so they were in my line of site as often as possible!
Quite a few of the shoes you often saw on the crews, mobs or firms at away train stations or on the terraces were PUMA Formstrip bedecked, and at this time, the models like said Vilas and other popular silhouettes like California and Argentina were the thing. Whichever ground you went to, whichever station you passed through on the way, you can bet that you were going to see these models being worn amongst the swimming shoals of trainer clad youths around you. The Argentina and California like the G.Vilas stood out due to the chunky PU sole unit. This epoch of chunky PU sole unit shoes stood out as they looked like cruisers. They also all came with a smooth perforated toe box and a small name tag which all added up to items of beauty.
In honesty, I can say that I had little or no idea who said Vilas was, but like a lot of the shoes appropriated by the terrace dressers of the time, they came from the tennis court. Appropriately for PUMA, a brand with a large back catalogue of rebel sporting endorsees, Argentinian Guillermo Vilas stood out off the court too, following in the proud line of Jesse Owens, Tommy Smith, Clyde Frazier and Maradona who sported the leaping cat logo and graced their shoes with their names and pizzazz. Like a lot of us back then, I wore mine to death.
It wasn’t only the PU cruisers you came across. Low-profile runners and tennis shoes also played a large part. Like a lot of others, I had also nabbed a pair of these styles, in my case the PUMA Firebird. Woah what a shoe that was. A real head-turner finished in the most gorgeous of blue and red colour combinations. But you often saw the PUMA Roma and the ubiquitous PUMA State, which – with the all-white leather models and their perforated hole Formstrips, like the Paris – were other models which often turned up on the terraces.
You couldn’t write a piece like this without mentioning a shoe from those times which can make grown men go dewy-eyed and weak at the knees. A shoe I remember my good pal and one of Newport’s top Dressers, Grunty sporting; a shoe which literally turned heads: the PUMA Dallas.
If you’re into trainers, do yourself a favour and get yourself a pair.
Amazingly a little too unknown in the grander trainer scene but revered by the original casuals, they are things of beauty. Made in PUMA's Italian factories to very high specs, they stood out with their plastic D-ring lacing system. So beloved by the casuals, the silhouette basically screams anything but basketball, too much technology or hype.
I’m lucky to have an OG boxed pair stashed away which I sometimes rock, but now with the impending size? re-issue along with other gorgeous PUMA models like the Oslo et al, then I guess it’s only fair that others can share the beauty. But if I’m honest, like a jealous hoarder, I kinda wish they had kept them a little underground, only purely I wanted them just to myself and other original lovers, but hey, life moves on. You can’t keep beauty under lock and key, I’ll just get used to it I guess...
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