Kevin Kilbane: White boots and sleeve tattoos... football's evolving trends

Off The Ball's Kevin Kilbane reminisces about changing styles among players

White boots, football, West Ham, Premier League

Detail of a West Ham United player wearing white Nike football boots. Picture by Daniel Hambury PA Archive/PA Images

Recently I heard the news that Major League Soccer side Philadelphia Union are planning on hiring their own tattoo artist.

I couldn't believe it and it got me thinking back to when I started out in football back in 1993 after leaving school.

Anyone using shampoo in those days was considered different, anyone brushing their hair was considered different, all these sort of things. 

And now you see just how far the game has evolved and the Philadelphia story was just an incredible one. I just couldn't believe it.

When I first started playing, there were very few players with a tattoo and anyone who wore anything other than black boots, well... they simply didn't exist. You couldn't buy them at that stage.

It was only then probably around the turn of the Millennium that you started to see slightly different colours on boots.

The first time I wore anything apart from black was at the 2002 World Cup where I wore silver and blue-black boots and they were the Nike ones at the time that were out around that World Cup. But they were hardly noticeable. Even when a game was being played, you could hardly notice them on the pitch.  

Kevin Kilbane of Ireland with the Nike boots and Luis Enrique of Spain, now manager of Barcelona ©INPHO/Andrew Paton

When the white boots started to come in, it was probably around that time between 2000 and 2003. The white boots were probably the turning point.

Alan Ball wore white boots in the '70s and that trend certainly didn't take on then. That quickly went out. But when it did change and white boots first started to come in, then everything changed.

I think manufacturers started to realise the strength of having different coloured pairs of boots or different style of boots.

Now all of a sudden we've got boots that are considered for power, boots that are considered for speed, boots that are considered for a defender, all these sort of things which I find totally amazing. It's amazing the way that it's developed over the years. Which brings me to the haircuts.

Arsenal's Alan Ball leads out the team. Picture by Don Morley EMPICS Sport

I remember when I was about 16, when basically shaving your head up the sides started to come in and there would be flat tops and things like that. At the time, that was considered an amazing thing. But it was almost as if everyone was conforming and everybody was following the same sort of trend. It wasn't necessarily that anyone was standing out. Then the skinhead started to come in around that sort of time and someone who was shaving their head or someone who had long hair would have been considered different.

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It was David Beckham that would have been the first player that other players would have started to stand up and take notice of when it came to hairstyles.

He certainly changed everything from a players' perspective. All of a sudden, lads started coming in with sleeve tattoos and started to design their hair on what Beckham was doing.

Robbie Fowler in August 1995. Picture by Steve Morton EMPICS Sport

But even before Beckham, when Robbie Fowler bleached his hair blonde around about 1995, I think football went a little bit mad for a while with that as well, and Gazza would have done the same around that time in 1996. So they changed things a little bit.

But you'd be asking the wrong man when it comes to my own hair. I've had some shockers in my time and it wouldn't have been necessarily out of choosing to have my hair that way. I genuinely just didn't give a crap.

It wasn't something I actually considered. It was usually out of the shower, run the fingers through the hair, flatten it to your head and away you go. That's the way my hair naturally fell.