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The Blog from Oi Polloi presents: by Nigel Lawson •

For this article, O.P. boss man sat down to scribe us a humble homage to the sports shop. Take it away Nigel… 

There was jeans shops, there was record shops, there was military surplus, there was boutiques — and then… there was sports shops.

Ron Hill’s Running Wild

I remember when I was ten I was saving up for a pair of trainers called adidas Leaders, which were like a white leather version of the adidas Kick. Every single kid at school had adidas Kick, because they were cheap and they were astro-turf football shoes, and because they were black, you could wear them with a snorkel parka and your school kecks.


If you had a pair of adidas Kick, you weren’t a ‘casual’ or a ‘Perry’ or anything — punks had them on, rockers had them on, even regular scruffy Herberts had them on — everyone had them on. If you had cheaper shoes in your sports kit, there wasn’t any point in turning up.

But then, that summer, I went on holiday to Weston Super Mare, and at the swimming pool there was a cabinet advertising a sports shop. Inside there was a tennis racket, a squash racket and this pair of Nike Wally Waffles — and suddenly my obsession for this white adidas shoe with the green stripes flipped to a royal blue nylon running shoe with a yellow swoosh. It was the perfect design.

And then I went to school, and somebody walked across the playground in this pair of Wally Waffles that he got from Ron Hill’s Running Wild in Hyde.

At that time there wasn’t that thing like there is now where mums will buy their kids a pair of Nike TNs from Footlocker for £190 that they’ll grow out of them in ten minutes. I remember begging my mum for these trainers, and she just couldn’t get her head around why I wanted running trainers. In the end I decided I was going to run for Stockport Harriers – the running club – as that was the only way I could explain needing these trainers.

“I’ve tried to go back into my memory and look and see what else was in the shop at the time.”

Eventually, on a Saturday we got in my mum’s Mini and trundled from Hazel Grove to Hyde. I went in to the shop and there was a wall full of running shoes. Up until then I’d only seen three or four trainers in sports shops – but this was one of the best specialist shops in the country.

All I can think about are these Nike trainers – and there they were. I tried them on and they felt like the most technologically advanced things in the world. On the way out I felt like Indiana Jones, getting something out of the crypt. I’ve tried to go back into my memory and look and see what else was in the shop at the time. It’s still probably the ultimate thing I’d want to go back to if I could.

Hurley’s

Hurley’s was a sport shop that started out in Eccles in 1955. By the early 70s, it had moved to Piccadilly Gardens in the centre of Manchester – right under where Burger King is now, but no one has any clue about this.

I only know about this because a man called Mark Prestage told me he would buy his adidas Sambas from there back in 1973. He was wearing Wranglers and a Fred Perry t-shirt with Sambas, which is a very early example of people wearing trainers outside of sport. It sounds strange, but in the mid-60s, mods were wearing bowling shoes with stripes down them, so wearing Sambas wasn’t much of a leap.

But by the late 70s, Hurley’s had moved to Piccadilly Approach, near the train station, and that’s the one everyone remembers. My mum used to work at the university, so we’d always get the train from Hazel Grove, and sometimes we’d walk into town past Hurley’s. They had a sports shop, and they had a golf shop.

Inside the golf shop you had all these Lacoste golf jackets hung up, Lyle and Scott jumpers, loads of roll necks, loads of weird brands we’d never heard of — and then they started having the really, really expensive tracksuits in there from brands like Fila, Tacchini and Cerruti. And that seems to be when it all went bananas.

You don’t get many golf shops in city centres, but because Hurley’s was in the centre, you’d get this really weird mix of people going in. I think tennis and golf were the sports that had the most items borrowed from them — it was all about looking like you were going golfing. And everyone had the same haircut as Seve Ballesteros — that side-parting basin cut.

I think Hurley’s knew what was going on. From 1978 to 1979, things had quadrupled. At one point in 1979, every single adidas trainer in Manchester had sold out. It had gone crazy, and this sportswear thing was a commodity that there wasn’t enough off.

Another interesting thing about Hurley’s was that it was the place that Wade Smith came over from Liverpool to look at before he opened his shop…

Wade Smith

Wade Smith opened in 1982. He was a lad who worked in Topshop in Liverpool, and he knew there was a market for these rare, expensive trainers as he’d just diverted all the adidas Forest Hills from Lillywhites – a sports shop in London – up to Topshop, because they couldn’t sell them down there.

He was the first person that was selling trainers out of something that wasn’t a ‘sports shop’. Yes, it was a shop designed to sell sportswear, but he knew that people weren’t going to be buying it for sports. He was meeting the demand, whilst all the other shops were lucky. Up until then, it had all been accidental.

All Sports had the same stock, but they were just following the market that appeared in front of them, whilst Wade Smith was inventing something new – he’d opened a casual shop – a scally shop.

The weird thing about Wade Smith is that when he opened a shop in Manchester it didn’t work - it completely bombed. It had good trainers, but no one went there.

 

Sports Box

Sports Box was doing the same thing as Wade Smith, but on a much smaller level. It was in the Underground Market in the centre of Manchester, and was kind of a folk-lore thing the kind of which was never really written about.

Whilst Wade Smith filled the demand for lads in Liverpool who wanted Trimm Trabs and chunky, fat soles, Sports Box filled the demand for lads in Manchester who wanted to wear flares and flat soled trainers. It was the other side of the coin. Because this thing had become so big, a certain element wanted to be different again – and that became the Manchester scruff look.

It’s a top boy thing. As the kids start to get into something, there’s always an older generation who wants to change things along. Things move on.

Chandlers

In and around acid house times, I was searching for Henri Lloyd coats. Everyone was wearing Berghaus, and I wanted to own a shop in Affleck’s selling sailing jackets.

When I figured out I was going to sell Henri Lloyd, someone said, “Oh, they sell Henri Lloyd in Eccles.” I was like, “Bollocks they do – I’m going to be the first to sell it.” So I went down there, and I found this yachting supplies shop called Chandlers that sold Guy Cotten, Henri Lloyd and yachting shoes.

Thinking about it now, it was a weird thing to find there… did people sail yachts down the ship canal?

The funny thing about it all this is that the reason I sold loads of Henri Lloyd coats was because everyone went to the Hacienda in them, but before the Hacienda was built in 1982, it was a place that sold yachts and yachting equipment. And that’s why it had high ceilings – because of all the masts.

All Sports (and the death of sports shops)

All Sports really capitalised on the obsession for trainers that seemingly everyone in the North of Europe was wanting in the late 70s and early 80s. They had footballs and tennis rackets, tracksuits and kagoules – but then upstairs they had all these trainers.

There was one in Manchester, one in Ashton, one in Chorlton, one in Stockport… to be honest, I don’t know how many there was – but they played a big part of things.

I remember going into All Sports in Altrincham in ’88 and buying a pair of navy adidas Gazelles, and the lad who served me said, “That’s the last pair – they’re going out of production.” And to me, that was the end of sports shops — I think it all finished for sports shops when All Sports shut in Manchester.

By the early 90s JD Sports had come up with this thing called Athleisure. Like Wade Smith, John and David at JD knew what they were doing – as kids, they were scallies or casuals or whatever you’d want to call it, and then when they were teenagers they wanted to open a shop. But they didn’t just want to be a sports shop – they wanted to sell things like Façonnable as well.

“It was outside of pop culture – you weren’t sold it on a plate.”

So they invented this thing called ‘Athleisure’, which was their ‘menswear’ experience, and that shut down all the sports shops. I know ‘Athleisure’ is now this big girl’s workout fashion thing with Beyonce and everything, but at that time it meant this ‘acid casual’ look. This was around the early 90s, and somewhere around then, sports shops just seemed to die off.

The reason you’d go to sports shops was to buy the trainers, but then suddenly this shop had opened which had the trainers you wanted, and the clothes and everything else – so there was no reason to go in the traditional sports shops anymore. All Sports was, for a lot of people, the first sports shop, and when it had gone, it was the last as well.

Thinking about it all now, this thing is only really remembered by the kids who were into it — it was outside of pop culture – you weren’t sold it on a plate.

Why did you want to buy this sports stuff? It was the pinnacle, it was expensive, it was designed for purpose, it was stylish, and it was aspirational. It was all about getting these expensive sports clothes, and wearing them in a dead specific way — it was showing off.

Article originally published in Pica~Post Issue 13.

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