Fashion

How young Scousers created a look that shook the world.

August 21st, 1977. Middlesbrough v Liverpool, Ayresome Park. It's the opening day of the new season, Kenny Dalglish's league debut and Liverpool are defending champions at home and in Europe. But to dedicated followers of street fashion the world over, this is the day that changed everything. This was the first time a football mob turned up en masse looking like androgynous urchins. It was the away debut of Liverpool's Anny Road crew - the first major youth cult to start outside of London. So underground was the movement, so particular to its time and place that with no Malcolm Maclaren, no gimlet-eyed svengali to guide its commercial growth, for years it didn't even have a name. But it had an attitude and it had a look - Adidas Samba, tight Lois or Jesus jeans, Fred Perry t-shirt under a Slazenger v-neck all topped off with the sweeping gay fringe of the outrageous wedge haircut. Liverpool's hardest lads on the ordinary to Boro - and they looked like a gang of rent boys.

I'd seen the signs in and around town for a while. Right through the 76-77 season, most of Liverpool's match-going lads looked like the Bee Gees; big, centre-parted hair, wide, flapping Brutus or Falmers jeans, with the Homepride Man cropping up on (collared) t-shirts and jumpers. But there was a little crew that started congregating by the central walkway in the Anfield Road End, and these boys looked and acted differently to the boot boys on the Kop. For a start they were boys. They were dead young, most of them slight of build like a latter-day Fagin's ragging team. They wore suedies, straight-leg Wrangler jeans and plain, round-neck Adidas t-shirts, their hair short and side-parted. These were the Boys, no back answers. Anyone else was a divvy or, if they came from outside the city limits, a "woolyback". They were also ruthless with any away fans who ventured onto the Anny Road (aka the Road End). March 1977 in the 6th Round of the F.A Cup I'd looked on spellbound as what looked like a load of Liverpool kids got stuck into a horde of Middlesbrough men. The scrapping was the usual football thing of one side running in, the other stumbling down the terraces but what fascinated me - what seemed so subversive - was the visual clash of all these baby-faced assassins legging a load of men in donkey jackets.

Too young to get into clubs in 1977, I thought of these young match lads as Liverpool's Mods and if one band summed up their combination of stylishness and threat it was The Jam. Their 1978 smash hit Down In The Tube Station At Midnight became an anthem for young Liverpudlians, as after-match hangouts like The Sportsman, Maxwell's Plum and Scarlet's Bar echoed to its chorus. But by then there was a whole new scene going on too, in clubs like Cagneys, Checkmate and the Harrington Bar that revolved around a stripped-down electronic soundtrack of Bowie's Berlin phase and Kraftwerk, mixed with the eclectic, arty end of punk - Talking Heads, Wire, Suicide and the early, metronomic Ultravox of John Foxx. That music, weird and slightly dangerous, was perfect for the Liverpool look that was emerging, pieced together from here and there. Bowie's fawn duffel coat and dangling fringe from The Man Who Fell To Earth (recreated in pop-art form for the front cover of Low in February 77); punk's drainpipe jeans, given a smoothie makeover; the Fred Perrys came from small, cult shops like Patches, All Mankind and, sorry, Sexy Rexy. (Sexy Rexy cottoned onto the movement very early, flagging up 'must haves' like gold Lois jumbo cords. The shop window would attach little cardboard signs with things like:

"In for one week only! Dig that putrid mustard!"

And, cocking a snook at the ultimate Woolyback fashion statement:

"Why go cold? Three-star jumpers, only £1!!"

There was a handful of quirky, family-owned shops like Manns, Neil's Corner and Jonathon Silver, formerly gentlemens' outfitters who were bang onto what was happening too, feeding the voracious demand of the new breed with some brand new, essential fashion tic every week. 81a was another goldmine - corduroy shoes with galvanized rubber soles; trappers' hats; gloves with no fingers; balaclavas; collarless Granddad shirts. And hardly a logo to be seen.

And then, of course, there were the training shoes. As that 77-78 season progressed and the Road End crew got bigger, everyone got into trainies in a big way. The theory is that this was fuelled by Liverpool's excursions into mainland Europe through the mid-to-late 70s, and it's a fact that a lot of the lads found rich pickings in countries like Switzerland where the shoes were displayed in pairs. But the bottom line is that training shoes, the black and white Samba and Mamba in particular, just looked right. More so than Pod, Kickers, Kios or any of the other myriad footwear to claim its fifteen seconds, Adidas trainies were embraced with the same kind of passion you'd reserve for a band or a record. A good pair of trainies was somehow part of the bigger picture. With that outfit, that hair style, that attitude and particularly that lifestyle, Liverpool's love affair with the training shoe was simply meant to be.

A young buyer at Adidas thought so, too. Robert Wade Smith ran the Adidas concession in Liverpool's Church Street and noticed the super-fast turnover. Whatever came in - Stan Smiths, Nastase, Wimbledon, whatever - it sold out, almost immediately. He scrutinised the company's figures and saw that, where training shoes were concerned, Liverpool was outselling the whole country, London's Regent Street included. A football-driven fashion was turning into a way of life. He served his notice and opened the eponymous footwear outlet, initially sourcing stock from well-travelled match lads. But Wade Smith really made his name by taking an almighty gamble on a consignment of Adidas Forest Hills. A thing of beauty in white leather, gold stripes and a yellow sole, only 400 pairs were earmarked for the U.K. Wade Smith took the lot - and sold them in 3 days. It said everything that needed to be said about Liverpool's sharp-dressed crew.

It seems a far cry from today's world of supposed 'sneaker' obsession. Kids in Nagoya paying a thousand bucks on eBay for retro shoes that nobody ever wore, back in the day. Fashion stylists dressing gamine models 'scally' style, and runners on Hollywood film sets kitted out in old nylon trackie tops, skinny jeans and Rod Lavers. It's a look that, perhaps more than other since the Teddy Boy, has truly gone Global. Everyone, everywhere wears training shoes as a fashion statement, so much so that an industry and folklore has sprung from Old Skool. According to this urban myth, the look has its origins in the New York hip-hop scene. Yet hip-hop's classic Old Skool look in 1979 can best be summed up by The Sugarhill Gang on the cover of their first L.P - all muzzies, bandanas and sad leather kung-fu jackets. And what about Run DMC whose paean to the gruesome shell-toe 'My Adidas' was a worldwide hit - in 1986! In August 1977 the Middlesbrough mob laughed their heads off as Liverpool's 'homos' got off the train, but not one of them would have been seen dead in shell-toes.

For that season, 1977-78, the Scousers had the look pretty much all to themselves. Some of the London teams, and Manchester United in particular find it hard to come to terms with that core fact, but anyone who was around in those days knows the score. There are three keynote games right at the start of 78 where fans are divided by steel barricades, Liverpool's wedge heads and duffel coats one side, opposition boot boys on the other. There's Chelsea v Liverpool in the Cup, January 78 - Liverpool's floppy fringes fighting across the divide with Chelsea's punks and boneheads. Liverpool v Arsenal, League Cup Semi Final, first leg, January 78 - 300 duffel coats pushed up against the walkway in the South Side, 5,000 Arsenal Harrington jackets chomping to get at them. Liverpool v Man United, February 1978, a Man.U fan being led out with a dart in his nose, blood streaking his fashionable United away shirt, along with a knotted scarf and wiry centre-part to make up an unholy trinity. As late as 1981, West Ham were a mob of skins in Lonsdale tee-shirts and green MA1 flying jackets. It was only when London finally latched on bigtime around 1982 that this Merseyside enigma was given a name - and even then they got it woefully wrong. How can a look that's defined by its followers' minute attention to detail be called Casual? Obviously it can't be called the Meticulously Thought-Throughs, but Casual!! Try again.

In a world without Youtube - in fact, let's face it, in a world that pre-dated The Face, the style media, Channel Four and any other cultural forum for the youth - the earliest manifestations of Liverpool look were quite literally a fashion show that was taken out on the road (and railway) and spread by word of mouth. By April '79, identically-dressed Liverpool and Man.United lads were scrapping at the two F.A Cup semi-finals. As the ripples spread, every city, every team in the country got onto it, and everyone from Lincoln to Leicester had their mob of dressed-up scallywags. But it was that original forty or fifty boys on the train to Boro who kicked it all off. Self-styled, self-labelled, completely without leadership or business motivation this went beyond counter-culture. The Liverpool lads who got off that train didn't know they were going to change the world. But they did.

Credits / © Red Union Films 2008