Get your kit on!
Football equipment has been available in the UK since in the early eighties. As teams and leagues started to form, entrepenuerial individuals saw an opportunity to meet the demand. The first “shop” to emerge was an outlet called “Diamond Sports of Hampstead”. If you saw the glossy advert, you would expect to find an expansive showroom with copious amounts of equipment to choose from, in reality it was a guy in his three-story house surrounded by boxes of kit he had imported from the states! To be fair though, he did have everything the fledgling baller would need to get him on the field and playing. So what would be the cost of a full set of kit? I paid £167.35 for a helmet and all the mandatory pads, along with a practice shirt and pants. That would be an absolute steal today, but that was thirty-four years ago! More shops followed, Gridiron Sports (owned by Bob Coe and Paul Czeba of the London Ravens) opened in London, then franchised out in Nottingham, Manchester and Bournemouth. The driving force behind the Manchester Spartans, one Bernie McDerra opened up MB sports in Deansgate Manchester to help satisfy demand in the north, THE American Sports Centre was a big outlet in London.
In those early days, some Britballers either didn’t have “proper” kit available or didn’t want to spend their money on imported goods, so they made do with items that were available at the local store. There were even tales of a team in Derbyshire welding iron bars onto motorbike helmets to play! A lot of players came to Football from either Soccer or Rugby so they would be wearing either “Beckenbaur supers” or Mitre rugby boots on gameday, along with martial arts forearm pads and sparring mitts. The regular Britballer would have his shirt tucked in and his socks pulled up, almost like his mum had got him ready to play.
The Northampton Stormbringers chose a different route to secure their “equipment”. They contacted schools and colleges in and around Northampton Massachusetts, asking them if they had any old equipment that they didn’t need, that they could donate. Good from a cost point of view, but lots of different helmet colours, not fitted properly and not necessarily in the best state of repair!
As the game developed and import players (from US colleges and American airbases in the UK) started to arrive, the “field fashion” began to change. Shirts were cropped, socks were rolled down, towels hung from belts, and double length sweatbands were now available. The equipment shops were also stocking actual football “cleats” (Nike Sharks were a popular style), Pony and Roos also had football shoes available in the UK.
Over the years, the basic items of equipment have stayed the same, but technology has ensured that player safety is more to the fore in the design stage, this is particularly the case with Football helmets. In the eighties, the two main suppliers were Riddell (still the number one helmet) and Bike (no longer trading). My first (and only) helmet was the Riddell M155, it had individual air pockets to disperse impact, , that could be inflated to your own specifications, and strategically placed high density foam cushions .The Bike helmet was a bit like a hard-core Tupperware box with two tyre inner tubes inside. In 1984, my Riddell cost me £98.00 including the face cage, currently a top of the range Riddell could cost you around £430.00. Speaking to some of the serious current ballers, they assure me that it would be easy to spend over £1,000 on top of the range equipment and accessories.
Back in the day, a popular item (especially with linemen and linebackers, was the “neck roll”, effectively a foam collar to help stop the jarring of the head backwards. Nowadays this item has all but disappeared from the ballers kitbag, but it has been replaced by a number of items, favoured by those who wish to exhibit the very height of “Football Field Fashion”.
Compression wear, either tops, tights or arm sleeves are de-rigour for the baller seeking credibility. Tops can be sported in long or short sleeve mode, or for those wishing to “make a statement” they can be one sleeved, for maximum visual impact. Tights can be full length, or cropped to the calf. All compression wear needs to be colour co-ordinated with your teams uniform of course, or just plain understated white.
Gloves are a must have item for all positions. The glove of choice for receivers in the eighties was the “Neumann tackified”, now you would be best to go for one of the makes featuring a rubberised palm and fingers to ensure that “one hander” is pulled in to the delight of your team mates.
As essential items go, the “bicep band” gives you the most flexibility and the opportunity to express yourself artistically. It doesn’t really matter if your biceps aren’t developed to the point where they would stop the band slipping down your arm, as they can be deployed around your calves as well. You could go for the single band look, or maybe “double or triple band” for a more pleasing aesthetic.
Of late, I have noticed a worrying trend for players to roll up their game pants to “free the knee” and sport miniscule knee-pads, if any. “It gives me more freedom” they say when running. I would urge caution in this regard. A fractured patella is not good news. Whilst I’m in rant mode, can all players please wear belts to keep their pants “up”, saggy bottom pants and hairy bum cracks do not look good in the game photo’s. Also, could all players make sure they wear the same colour facemasks on their team, a different colour doesn’t make you look special. Rant over.
Clearly as a baller, there are a myriad of options available to you when deciding what equipment and accessories you need or want. The place to find everything you ever desired and more, is of course Football America UK, who boast the biggest range of in stock items, all conveniently housed in a large easily accessible showroom.
As you venture out onto the gridirons of the UK, make sure you are fully equipped and protected. Have your own range of “swag”, but put function before form, and don’t be a “Field Fashion” victim!