Football stars bullied for not wearing the right brands
Dr Graeme Law investigates the pressure to play keepy-uppy over designer gear
Premier League and other soccer players are being pressured by team-mates into buying expensive clothes and cars to demonstrate how successful they are. Some who turn up to practice sessions in the wrong type of gear are mocked by team-mates and even have their clothes cut to shreds, according to new research from York St John University academic Dr Graeme Law.
Dr Law, retired professional footballer and lecturer in the Sociology of Sports Coaching at York St John University, has been addressing the British Sociological Association’s annual conference. He told the audience in Glasgow that “if a player is not wearing what is considered to be the right brands of clothing, then their teammates will let them know with negative comments or even by damaging the offending clothes.” This has led some players to get into financial difficulties by buying clothing, cars, watches and other gear they cannot afford.
Dr Law interviewed 34 professional players, including 20 who had played in the English or Scottish Premier Leagues, and 11 internationally. Most told him about the pressures of dressing well or having the right kit. “Image plays an important role in establishing power and respect within the changing room – footballers are constrained to fit the image required by having to buy certain clothes and accessories to be accepted regardless of their actual income,” he said.
A former League 1 player told him what happened to players who turned up in clothes that were considered to be unacceptable. “Clothes would get hung up or soaked in the shower. I have heard at other clubs they get burnt, but the worst we did was tape it up outside.”
One who had played in all four top English divisions told Dr Law that, “Calvin Klein is the perceived pants for a footballer and if you’re not wearing it, I am afraid you are in trouble.”
One said that when he began playing for a Premier League club choosing what to wear was hard: “The decision on what to wear to training was awful. I’d stand in front of my wardrobe and think ‘what will I get away with?’ It was the biggest and hardest decision of the day.”
A Championship and international player told Dr Law that when he first moved to his club, “I was getting hammered for my clothes. Every day it was happening because I wasn’t wearing Gucci or Hugo Boss, designer gear. Then they say stuff like ‘can’t you afford it?’ So you end up changing your shopping habits. I know I did just to get them off my back. It is daft but it makes your life easier.”
This applied to cars and other equipment as well. A Premier League player said: “Image was quite big for me – I saw other lads wearing designer clothes and driving flash cars and thought ‘that’s what a footballer should do’. At times I really maxed out on what I spent – I bought a car that pushed me to the limit each month.”
Some players struggled to afford the gear. A Championship player said: “You get players who try and outdo each other – some sadly try and keep the image without being able to afford it, and when it [their career] does crumble that’s when they find themselves in serious trouble.”
Another Championship player said: “There have been times I spent way above my income to look the part. I felt it was the right thing to do.”
A former Premier League and Championship player told Dr Law: “There were certain things that as a footballer you have to have. You feel like you are not part of the group if you don’t – like a wash bag that is Gucci or Louis Vuitton.”
Dr Law said that while ridicule for wearing the wrong type of clothes had been common for decades, it was only since the launch of the Premier League in 1992 that players’ clothing was damaged.
“Although players who played prior to the introduction of the Premier League considered clothes as an appropriate area in which to mock other players, no punishments were ever discussed as having been used for not conforming. This is something that has changed more recently, with the players witnessing and taking part in the damage of clothes as a punishment for not conforming to the norm.
“Players with a greater amount of social status, who have more control within the dressing room, are those that decide what clothing is acceptable, or ‘safe’. This word was used by players who wanted to fit in and be seen to be wearing clothes that were acceptable and not standing out too much to avoid being a victim of banter. They purchased clothes that were not too flashy but at the same time had enough status to be accepted.”
Because players did not know how much each other earned, having expensive goods could be a way of signalling wealth and status. A former League 1 player said: “You would only hear rumours and you can’t believe them, that’s why there is so much put on gear. It acts as a symbol of what you earn, even if it’s false.”
For many players it was important to create the desired image of wealth and success not just inside the changing room but also within the wider society, said Dr Law.
A former Championship player said: “Let’s be honest, everyone thinks footballers are loaded, so if you don’t look loaded, it suggests you’re not great at football, because if you were good, you would have the money.”