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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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The people say...

  • Chris Waddles Perm

    Nice trip down memory lane. From the age of 9 I was obsessed with adidas. First visited wade smiths on a trip to cousins from Newcastle in 1983. The closest we had in the toon was monument sports. Down stairs was an Aladdin cave of gear. A wall of colour, torsion pegs and three stripes. We also had Dixon sports in Eldon Square and just sport up by the central station ( still there). It was our thing, most of the kids at school were skinheads, punks or heavy metal freaks. They took the piss out of us!!! It took some balls to wear a pink Pringle on a school bus in 1984 Newcastle. Remember visiting the underground market in Manchester to buy hooded cord jackets. I loved how it was our thing and how each region had slight regional variations. I am 49 and I am so glad that I grew up then. It was a blast.

  • Simon

    Here in Norwich we had WORLD OF SPORT, TOM STEVENSONS and PILCH , happy days …

  • Andy Barraclough

    Went many a time to Manchester from Huddersfield in mid Eighties to source rare Adidas trainers.Underground Shoes in the Market was top place for the City Series & great for leather & suede coats.Hurleys was a top place for Lacoste.Top days!

  • Kenny

    Lets not forget Dunlop Green Flash, as much worn as any of the adidas or nike trainers, a canvas version IMO of the classic Stan Smith .

  • Matt

    This is a great blog. I make no excuses for being a Londoner but we had cracking sports shops in my neck of the woods. Bizarre though it sounds they had a smell of their own. I set my heart on a pair of Hi-Tec Trans Ams.

  • BL

    Good times but glad it’s over. My mum made running shorts for Ron Hill. Hurleys. We used to (quite regularly in Winter) do the window of the place after the match. Sorry guys. #mcfc

  • Martin

    Noel Gill Sports in Marple. What a trove that was for a young lad with no expendable income.

  • Phil Wilkinson

    Us lads from Hull where such good customer’s for Sport Box. That my mate Harry ran a Sport Box in Hull’s Kings Market for them .

  • Keith fallon

    Many a weekend coming up to Manchester from Barrow in Furness to watch City, I’d stop and buy something from Hurleys or MC Sports in the Arndale ( Think it’s the Apple shop now ) the underground market as you came down the escalator turn right was great for jeans and the little trainer stall was a gem. But for me the concession shop in Top Shop for trainers was excellent I remember getting my Trimm Trab, Columbia, Munchen and ZX250 from there. I remember going on the train from Barrow in an old pair of work shoes, just so I could buy and wear my new Trimm Trab to the match. Same coming in January in just a shirt and jumper so I could get my grey Burberry Golfer and wear it to the game it was a bargain as well in the sale at £15.00
    Good ole days of yore. I hate being 53 and wish I could go back and do it all again

  • Made In The North

    I remember going to Prem Sports in Hull early 80’s for gear, and a place in Carnaby Street owned by an Indian geezer who had one leg that dragged behind him when he walked. Hence we called it Draggy Sports. He had all the top gear.

  • Sam - Oi Polloi

    The photo at the top was scanned from the 1983 Face article on the subject of sportswear. “A gang of 14-15 year olds in an East London park.”

  • Dan

    I don’t know if it was just my age, but if you are under 45 then you really did miss out, no period has every come close to that, it was like the world went from black and white to colour. Are those photos of the young lads out of an old Face magazine and does anyone know where they were taken, I thought they were of lads on Wanstead flats London

  • JeffH

    I’ve had some mega conversations with Nigel regarding the phenomenon of the Perry boy/Boys – living in Oldham we were close enough to Manchester to be part of the ‘scene’ that was in its infancy in late ’77 /early ’78 – Hurleys was the destination for adidas and the exotic foreign designer gear from Lacoste, Fila, Ellesse etc plus Oasis for good gear, snide gear, Lois cords and Jeans and the more exotic Adidas trainers like the original city series brought in from continental trips by the footie lads. Great times. Wedge haircuts and flicker fringes. We looked the dogs danglies and it was great to travel to away matches and notice all the locals wanting to see what the Manchester lads were wearing, cockneys included.

  • Bigjeffbigfeet

    It was watching starsky on the car roof in Adidas that made me make my mum go to every sports shop in Birmingham to find them – happy days

  • Kenny

    Mr Twatty

    Suede hooded jackets from C&A that weighed a ton, remember them?

  • Mr Twatty HIlton

    Was that on the wall in Hurley s not from an article in FACE magazine, C&A for ski jackets and sallopettes

  • Bill Mather

    My Mum bought me a pair of Adidas Kick from Cooper Sports in Sale in 1975 she took them back as the thin layered sole had worn through so she thought they were rubbish so they were sent off somewhere for repairing – never saw them again always remember the man serving pronounced them as ADI-DAS but we all called them ADEE-DAS – I ended up getting a pair of Puma King football boots as a replacement ! Attack Sports in Stretford Precinct was a good shop too in mid-late 1970’s

  • Bainesy

    Harry Parkes. Top of Corporation St…..

  • Suzz

    A great article, evoking some ace memories of traipsing round town with our kid’s boyfriend at the time (83-90) being educated on the rules & regs. Growing up in Hattersley, I remember Ron Hill’s in Hyde & Jim Taylor sports in Denton well. Bought my first pair of New Balance from Ron Hill’s in 88, though not a running trainer! If I’m not mistaken, there were two Olympus Sports in town in the 80s. One in the Arndale not too far from Stolen from Ivor and one on Market Street somewhere between Tesco & Boots.
    What really compelled me to write though, was to establish what happened to the classic picture at the head of this article. This was resplendent in Hurley’s from my first visit circa 83 right through to it’s closure. Can anyone shed any light on it’s whereabouts now?
    I can only assume it’s fallen into a safe and worthy pair of hands but have often wondered given it’s place in Mancunian shopping folklore, at least in my opinion.

  • Pogo Patterson's French Blue Fila Terrinda

    To add, that Adidas Connection advert for the green Gazelles was in match day programmes – got it somewhere in one, think it’s at my parents house.

  • Pogo Patterson's French Blue Fila Terrinda

    Adidas Connection on Tottenham Court Road and they had one in Oxford if I recall correctly. Around ‘84 or ’85 they ran an advert for (lime) green Gazelles, something on lines of ’rare sighting’ as at the time it was just red or blue that were in circulation. My pal picked up a pair in Wade Smith for about £12 in the late 80s.

    David Rose and Wisdens, both in Brighton – David Rose gave 10% discount for any organisation – swear you could make one up and they’d still give it. MC Sports had a few branches I think. For years I had an advert I’d cut out of Shoot or Match with a picture of some trainers and tracksuit tops.

    Little sports shop in Thornton Heath, right by Selhurst Park had loads of Borg Elite and other 80s deadstock trainers in stock i small and big sizes in early 90s – reckon that was about early ’91, no demand for them then really though.

  • Rob Vearnals

    Gansgear in Stockport too, next to C & A

  • Dale Kelly

    1981/83 Coming from Burnley we came over to the City every Saturday on the bus to see what the older lads were wearing it changed so quick did the casual scene.
    One day you were wearing Fila bj to what you had swapped all your mates over & over again then coming over in fortnight and you looked a plum because the older manc lads were up and down market street in pale light jeans expensive 1881 jumpers with roll neck top & supporting a perm at the back of the head,I was walking round with a wedge blond on top black at the back 🤣 Great memories cheers for the read NL 👍

  • Andy Degg

    Ace! Great nostalgic read that. I remember a shop in Audenshaw/Denton called Jim Taylor sports. It was the biggest mess in the world with gear spilling out of cardboard boxes, the back room was like narnia and many a Saturday morning could be wasted digging out countless left Walsh fell running shoes in a bid to find the elusive right.

  • MR Twatty HIlton ,

    Gansgear was another one in the Arndale , used to get Levi’s semis from the stalls in the market , remember Phil Saxes stall _Somewhere . Sure there was another little sports shop where Rohan is now near Barton arcade , another one which may have been Tydsley and Albrook ?? facing Kendal’s ??. Olympus sports on Market st – the grey joggers and hoodies with the blue or red piping down the sleeve or the leg

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  • Kenny

    Ron Hill had a little shop just off St Anne ’s Square early 80s, I got a pair of “marathon 80s” cheap because one of the shoes was faded after being in the window. Oasis was the place to go for your adidas dublins/berlin ect, either there or off the lads who used to go abroad & " source " rare trainers /clothing out for us to wear ! Hurleys became a favourite shop not just for Manchester lads but lads from all over with it being close to Picadilly train st, it also had the pleasure of being visted by little mobs of football lads with no money, sure it had to shut up shop a few times on a Saturday afternoon or face being empted by gangs of lads after some new “cheap” gear.

  • SHaun

    Gary, the shop was m.c sports in the arndale, used to come up regularly from Nottingham in the 80s and have Still got one of those filas in the wardrobe ! Familiar with hurlers too, the hairs are up on the back of my neck…..

  • umi

    Happy memories frequented Hurleys on day trips to Manchester and Wade Smith since studying in Liverpool in the 80’s!!

  • Hackett-65

    Very good read! All Sports, Olympus Sports and Inter Sport were my life from the age of about 7.

  • Jason

    This is mad, was going to write I got a pair of omega flames from a gaff in Piccadilly plaza and someone has already mentioned it! I think it was opened by a lad who use to work in JD, I might be total wrong it was 33 years ago! Top article.

  • Michael

    Good read. The Wade Smith in Manchester. It was in Piccadilly Plaza wasn’t it? Bought* some Omega Flame from there about 87 (*my mum did tbh).

  • Neil

    Adidas VIP Kicks for kids with dosh 👍🏻

  • Gary

    Manchester Arndale. Can’t remember the name of the shop. Always remember how the Fila, and Sergio Tachinni tracksuit tops where hung from the ceiling. Used to look up in awe.

  • American Cheese

    Bracknell Sports in er……Bracknell. I’ve still got a pair of Made in Austria Gazelles that I picked up from there. French Stan Smiths, adidas Web etc. great shop.

  • Gregory

    Fantastic article. It brought back many happy memories of Jack Lee’s Sorts Show and Nichol and Brown in Halifax and Sports Shoes Unlimited in Bradford.

  • Andrew

    Really, enjoyed this. Thanks.

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