Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard

 In Features, Interviews

Neal Heard is a true sneaker culture pioneer. He’s been a fan of both football and footwear for more than three decades, an “80s casual” in the truest sense of the world. Because he’s witnessed the movement from its humble beginnings, he already published books about his passion at a time when most people didn’t know such a thing existed.

“Trainers” came out in 2003, and although a follow-up was titled “sneakers”, he always insists on using the original British term “trainers” whenever he can. His recent projects include his own brand “Lover’s F.C.” a book on football shirts and a Youtube series – plenty of reasons to meet Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard in London for this interview.  

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard“I’m wearing the St.Etienne 1981 shirt. It’s one of my personal favorites and seems so exotic in design, style and team name – big Le Coq flock logo and oversized French branding.”

Neal, please give us a brief introduction.

My name is Neal Heard and I‘m the author of one of the very first books on trainers/sneakers – Trainers, which was published by Carlton Books in 2003. I was an 80’s Terrace Casual and was lucky enough to trade in vintage sneakers in the mid-90’s. Currently, I consult for Le Coq Sportif, amongst others, and have a football streetwear label, Lover’s F.C.

What was your first point of contact with trainer culture?

Being an 80’s Casual, we were the first people in Europe to get into sneakers and we did so, interestingly, from our own point of view – not in the hip-hop sense of the style.

What’s it like to be in it for such a long time and see how it has evolved into the mainstream?

You have to remember, I am old enough to be very near to the scene’s humble beginnings. In the early 80’s, lads from Liverpool decided to wear sporting items as a fashion statement. No brands hyped it, no campaigns told them to! They just decided to appropriate the shoes they found on trips to Europe and to wear these items as street style. A movement and style was born.

Across the pond, Americans in NY were doing the same thing – different models of shoes mostly, but the same thing – using sports shoes to express who and what they were. Now, it’s so hyped up and has such a massive industry, it’s beyond belief. I do have an issue with the homogenization of all our cultures, into whatever guise. I hate the fact that looks have become universal across the globe. Sneakers were an antidote to that and now, too often, they’re part of the story of it.

How did you get into collecting football shirts? Was it “all teams” in the beginning or did it start with your local team?

It was always all teams from day one. To be honest, it wasn’t cool in the UK – especially amongst the casual dressers – to wear your own team’s shirts, so I was always drawn to the exoticness of overseas teams.

What’s your favorite team today and do you still visit games?


For my sins (because they perennial underachievers), I am a season‘s ticketholder of Newport County F.C. But really, for me, I believe you should always support your hometown club.

Collecting sneakers and shirts – how would you compare the two scenes?

For me, the football shirts scene is like the sneaker scene 20 years ago – It’s more pure and less hijacked by hype and homogenization. Funny enough, it’s only just now that shirts are having their moment as a form of streetwear; they’re linked to fashion like never before, but they have a lot of catching up to do with the overarching reach of trainers.

Casual culture seems to be growing all around the world and you’re doing your best to spread the word. How do you see it evolving?

Well, you’re right and it’s interesting that the casual style of trainers has swept across the globe. In one way, I‘m happy because it helps spread the gospel – it’s an antidote to the all-consuming‚ urban/B Boy/basketball style of the culture. So, it’s good that others have adopted the look and are into it. But also, I think it has become a little too clone-like; originally the movement was all about obscure and one-upmanship, so it’s kind of sad to see it become so much of a look from “off the shelf” now.

Having written a book about collecting shirts, what are your favorite ones?

I have about 100, but they are super rare and obscure. Again, it’s tough to say a favorite, but I always go back the 1981-83 Super Tele shirt by Le Coq Sportif. For St Etienne, Sampdoria’s shirts are always great. I also love the defunct N.A.S.L and Brazilian-manufactured shirts, and I always like Dortmund’s Yellow.

Favorite sneaker models?

Tough question. Tastes change, and there are always emotional ties to shoes, etc. Although I still love the shoes I first came across in the 80’s like Trim Trab, Munchen, etc., I also like to always be different, so I’ll try to get something everyone else isn’t wearing. When sneakers exploded, I actually did the opposite and wore plain rubber-soled canvas, non-branded shoes. I still wear the classics like Stan Smith’s and Chuck Taylors and obscure ones like the adidas Spirit of the Games. I also love 70’s Nike runners – if obscure – think LDV and Daybreak.

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heardadidas Spirit of the Games trainer from 1984

We know much more about the hunt for sneakers than about the hunt for shirts. Where do you get yours?

Well obviously, there is eBay, but I try not to be on a checklist or something; I like the fact there’s always something you don’t have. The market is burgeoning all the time and it truly is global. It was interesting how my book was loved across the world. The truly big money is in match worn – but that’s not my thing – and it’s more geeky vs. fashion sense. But shirts are moving more in that direction almost daily. Just last week, Everton unveiled a new jersey with Umbro with a concert in a night club… the times are changing!

Can you describe the appeal of a football shirt please?

Their appeal is universal. To be honest, it’s way beyond collectors. You find they touch a nerve in every country, take people back to certain times, places and events whenever a certain jersey is seen, and that’s something we all share and can relate to. Especially around World Cup shirts – they are connectors. Really, I love their design, their connotations with players, teams and moments.

What are some of the rarities of shirts that can be compared to grails in sneakers?

Well, the two scenes share the same reasoning: the hard-to-get become grails. In the 90’s to mid-00s, adidas Jeans and Diadora Gold Borg’s were grails in the UK, but now they are re-issued, so although iconic, they aren’t grails (unless OG). So, the obscurity factors into grail factor isn’t it? The Germany 1988-90 and Holland 88 jerseys are truly iconic, but as they’re re-issued again, they’re less grails. The away Blue and Green of both jerseys are still grails.

What are your grails – both sneaker and shirt?


Levis Mexico 74 Shirt, Bastia Club Med shirt, Chicago Sting and various NASL adidas jerseys from mid-late 70’s, Wales 1984, many, many shirts. Trainer-wise, again, it’s tougher as most have been re-issued and can be found, but I would love a pair of adidas Robert Haillet (pre-Stan Smith)…

We’ve seen you in a new Youtube series on trainers: Shoe Gaze. What is that about and how did you get from books to Youtube?

Shoe Gaze for me is a logical progression of my interests. Being lucky enough to be involved in both scenes, and with great access to amazing sites, it just seems odd that there isn’t a dedicated channel to sneakers and the culture around them, as well as other cultural interests like football shirts or searching for vintage or deadstock clothing.

So, chatting with my Gaze partner, Matt Burgandy Blood, at the Laces Out Sneakers festival in Liverpool, we agreed to create that very thing: a dedicated channel to record and share our access to all these ace places and share them with the world. Thus, the Shoe Gaze team was born. We started with amazing access to a Trainer/Shoe Museum, followed up with the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis club archives and next up are visits to some famous collectors and the New Balance factory – all exciting stuff. Go follow!

You are also publishing a new book. What is it about? Please fill us in. 


Again, being honored with amazing access to sites and people most people would love to delve into, I kind of thought there was room for another book to bring the story up-to-date. I am an historian at heart, and love to detail and analyze cultural interests, so it’s going to be the trainers book I always wanted to put together.

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard“This is my own Lover’s F.C. jersey, a homage to a luxe brand illustrating my interest of how streetwear is fusing with football style.”

There’s also something cooking with Le Coq Sportif. Can you tell us more?

To be honest, I am quite nervous about the fact that a brand I always admired, Le Coq Sportif, has honored me with the opportunity to produce a pair of collaboration trainers with them. It’s great, but nerve-wracking at the same time. Like I said, I always like to lead not follow, so it’s rather risky. I’m looking to produce something, which hopefully people dig, but which may not look quite like current trends.

Le Coq Sportif has very high production values, so I know they will be finished superbly; they will be a limited release run only available in certain high-end stores across Europe. There are also practicalities to the design process. You can’t just re-imagine a shoe, you have to work within certain constraints of sole units and materials… but that’s a focus in a way. I just hope I do them justice. They should be out later this year.

If there were two moments in the past that you could time travel to, what would that be and where?


The day the Romans left their legionary town Caerleon, near me. And to be in the room when Adi and Rudi Dassler actually argued and decided to split into two companies! Great question by the way!

This interview with Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard was initially printed in Sneakers Magazine #35 – find out more about this issue’s content here. You can also purchase it in our store!

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard“Wales shirt (1980-84). Being Welsh, this is a jersey close to my heart. It has a nice oversized adidas Trefoil logo finished off with “Made in Wales” in the neck label.”

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard“Napoli Away 1991 – I’m a sucker for all things NR or Ennerre, a now defunct Italian brand. Also, this style jersey was worn by Maradona in his Napoli pomp.”

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard“This shirt is a PSG (1992-94). It’s just a great design, I liked the way Nike came at jersey design with a fresh angle, the logo is purposefully placed high up and the design is loud and proud.”

Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard“Boca Juniors (Argentina) Away 1991 shirt. Boca are an iconic club and this shares the same template as the iconic Germany 1988-90 jersey – finished in Boca colours. It’s a design classic!”


Trainer and Football Shirt Collector Neal Heard“This is my own Lover’s F.C. jersey, a homage to a luxe brand illustrating my interest of how streetwear is fusing with football style.”

 

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