Given the Boot: Reading the Ambiguities of British and Continental Football Boot Design




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The robust design of the mass-produced British football boot from the late nineteenth century onwards appeared to evolve rather slowly compared with subsequent lightweight, flexible ‘continental’ fabrication. However, with careful reading we can identify considerable overlap and influence between manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Boot and shoe manufacturing was an intensely competitive industry and it was in the interests of entrepreneurs to pioneer advances in order to promote a particular brand. In developing football boots for the mass market this may have included much pseudo-science but even small innovations sought to improve performance and market share. Design ambiguities were also inherent because footwear manufacturers routinely borrowed and appropriated successful design elements for their own products. With more choice and consumer demand, football boots became increasingly less adapted from other outdoor footwear owned by the participant, to specialised models manufactured as part of the flourishing sporting goods industry. The internationalisation of the mass market for football boots is here explored though the distinct but related case studies of two family firms; Manfield from Northamptonshire, England and Adidas from Herzogenaurach, Germany. Arguing that there was much continuity between the designs and manufacturing processes of the two firms, the article explores how the design of the football boot became increasingly influenced by the fashion industry as items of conspicuous consumption. By 1954 the launch of the training shoe saw sportswear become a style trend worn on the street, rather than on the pitch. This in turn, influenced football boot design as both a highly technical item of elite sportswear and an expensive, aspirational essential in an everyday kitbag.




Williams, J. (2015) Given the Boot: Reading the Ambiguities of British and Continental Football Boot Design. In: Jean Williams (ed.) Kit: Fashioning The Sporting Body, Routledge, pp. 81-108


Research Institute