In praise of the hooped sock

IT IS easy to be critical about some of the football shirts being created these days, but when you talk about socks, there is one underused element of hosiery the game should never discard – the hooped stocking.

There’s something a little jaunty about the hooped sock. It is more interesting than the plain version, more durable than a white sock and has the air of the cavalier about it. While we tend to salivate over a decent striped shirt (defined stripes, not trailing blood or Jackson Pollock type splashes), we often overlook the sock. In fact, going back in time, when books and directories used to list a club’s colours, it was “Blue shirts, White shorts”, rarely, if ever were the last pieces of the uniform referred to.

And yet, these socks would complement a striped or hooped shirt perfectly. Take, for example, Newcastle United’s socks from the mid-1970s, Supermac’s bandy legs encased in some very continental-looking hosiery. Did they not look better than black with white tops? And go back to the pioneering days of football and look at how the kit of the Royal Engineers, Queens Park and others displayed shorts and socks that mirrored each other.

But logistics played their part in the plethora of hooped jerseys of the late 19th century, quite simply the looms were often in short supply that could produce vertical stripes.

Arsenal toyed with hoops in the late 1960s, their classy red and white shirts were finished off with navy blue (thin) banded socks. They looked good, but why blue? And why were they dropped in favour of red socks? Their reintroduction was a throwback to the Chapman era.

One of the best designs has to be Barcelona’s socks in 1974, the red and blue hoops adorned by Johan Cruyff. You only need to glance at the images of Cruyff at that time to know this was a cosmopolitan team making full use of its visual identity. These glamorous creations probably did more than most to link hooped legwear to the continental club.

There is something a little “rugby” about a hooped sock, rather like the shirts that seem to be more prevalent in the oval-balled game. Horizontal stripes certainly make players look bigger, both their torsos and lower limbs. Hence, rugby may feel more comfortable wearing socks that are more “dandy”. Vertical stripes are more common in football, maybe to make the players seem fit, agile and a little aerodynamic. While rugby clubs were happy to retain the traditional jerseys that emphasised physique and power, football clubs probably wanted to differentiate themselves from the competing code.

There are some kits that could have done with a little styling. Wouldn’t Celtic and QPR’s hoops look better finished off with some matching socks? Or how about Brazil having some very vivid recolouring? But we don’t want everyone to have a hooped sock, otherwise their presence becomes “everyday”. The fact that not everyone likes or uses them makes them noticeable when a team runs out wearing something a little different. Long live the hooped sock, in all its glory!

Lyon: The foodie capital prepares to feast

OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (OL) are on the brink of being taken over, possibly by American businessman, John Textor. What will this mean for French football, which desperately needs a credible opponent to Paris Saint-Germain to make Ligue 1 more competitive? From the perspective of the people of Lyon, what will this do for a club that is already one of the better supported in France?

Lyon is a pleasing city with an old quarter – Vieux Lyon – which attracts plenty of tourists. They come for the atmosphere of quaint old streets and alleyways and the food. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France, or at least that’s what local restaurants will proudly tell you. Actually, the food is really quite superb.

As for football, Lyon is effectively a one-club city, although there is a small club called Lyon La Duchère which is no competition for OL, who can draw almost 50,000 in normal times. Lyon La Duchère are lucky to get 500 and frequently get far less through their turnstiles at the multi-purpose Stade de Balmont.

If you were Bill Shankly, you would say the best side in Lyon are OL and the second best team in the city is Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, the current women’s European champions. In recent times, Les Fenottes have won more prizes than the men’s team. They have been French champions 15 times in 16 years, 2021 was the exception when PSG won the title by a single point. They’ve won the women’s Coupe de France nine times and they have lifted the UEFA Champions League on a record eight occasions. In 2022, they beat holders Barcelona 3-1 in the final in Turin. It’s fair to say OL have been at the forefront of the women’s game in Europe for some time. They are undoubtedly the best supported women’s team in France, with an average gate of around 4,000.

It is a city that likes its sport. The local rugby club, Lyon OU, play in the oddly-named Top 14 but haven’t been champions since 1933, but they did win the Challenge Cup for the first time in May 2022. Lyon also has a top basketball team, AVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne, and cycling, unsurprisingly, is tremendously popular. The city is also plagued by e-scooters at the moment, some of whom cruise up behind pedestrians and impatiently wait for an opportunity to pass them. And given two rivers run through Lyon, the Rhône and the Saône, rowing is also on the agenda for some folk.

OL used to reside at Stade de Gerland, where Lyon OU play, but in 2015, moved to a new stadium, the Groupama, an eye-catching arena that can hold more than 59,000 people. Designed by Populous, the Groupama cost € 480 million to build. It’s not in the city centre, however, but some 10 kilometres east of town, in the Décines neighbourhood, and is accessible via a tram journey. OL actually own the stadium and their training facilities, an unusual situation in France.

OL have won Ligue 1 seven times and they all came between 2002 and 2008. There was nothing before and nothing since. In the past decade, they have finished runners-up twice and have finished in the top four seven times. In 2021-22, they had a poor campaign, finishing eighth. They also reached the quarter-final of the UEFA Europa League, but were easily beaten by West Ham United. The Lyon fans were generally discontented throughout the season and the club had to deal with outbreaks of violence, including pitch invasions. When West Ham won 3-0 at the Groupama, the fans threatened to run onto the pitch in protest.

Despite their size and potential support, OL are way behind PSG in their financial clout. In 2020-21, for example, OL’s revenues only totalled € 118.2 million compared to PSG’s € 569 million. Furthermore, OL’s wages amounted to € 134 million versus the PSG bill of € 503 million. In a nutshell, that illustrates the imbalances within French football.

After PSG, Lyon have been the next biggest spender in the transfer market in France over the past 10 years. But Lyon’s gross outlay of € 375 million is a fraction of the € 1.3 billion spent by PSG. Lyon have received the highest income from transfers, around € 624 million from the sale of players almost on a conveyer-belt, including Alexandre Lacazette, Samuel Umtiti, Tanguy Ndombele, Bruno Guimarães, Ferland Mendy and Bertrand Traoré. Karim Benzema, who enjoyed something of an Indian Summer at Real Madrid in 2021-22, started out at Lyon before joining the Spanish giants in 2009.

The future could be exciting for OL, based on the hope that a new owner will provide fresh impetus and resources to make the club successful once more. Certainly it sounds as though John Textor is another who has seen multi-club ownership as the way ahead for clubs outside the elite. “My plan is to create an eco-system of cooperating top-tier clubs that will benefit from the sharing of a global footprint of talent identification,” he said. Corporate speak, maybe, but in there is a message in there and it is one that is increasingly being telegraphed around Europe by eager sports investors from the US. People are looking at ways to create value out of football.

Textor is co-owner of Crystal Palace and also controls Brazilian club Botafogo and Belgium’s Molenbeek. Like many others, he doesn’t like projects like the PSG model. The deal for OL has been reported to be € 800 million, which includes debt, which would give Textor and his associates 80% of OL, who are listed on the Paris stock market. Apparently, 19% owner Pathé – Lyon has a rich history in the film industry – and private equity firm IDG will both offload their holdings.

Lyon is a big city with a population of 1.7 million. The football club has many of the ingredients needed to be successful. If the deal goes through, PSG may find it has some stiff competition in the years ahead, although the chasm is extremely challenging. Monaco and Lille both demonstrated it can be done, but it is surely about time that France’s bigger clubs put the Parisians under pressure.

Book Review: Pat Nevin’s happy accident

PAT NEVIN was a terrific player in his prime; skilful, cheeky and determined, and he also seemed to have a great attitude. He was far from the stereotypical one-dimensional footballer and this made him very much a child of his time. He was an 80s man if ever there was one, in his dress sense, his interests and his awareness.

Nevin’s autobiography, The Accidental Footballer, underlines what a fascinating and curious character he has always been. He wasn’t like any of his peers, he was eclectic in his tastes, notably his music, and dressed at the cutting edge. He must have seemed strange to his team-mates, but he’s still around today – in demand, talking sense and always coming across with intelligent views.

His book highlights everything we might have expected about Nevin. He was relatively unknown when he signed for Chelsea, although for Clyde, he was obviously highly-prized. As it turned out, Ken Bates proved to be a tougher negotiator than the Glasgow club’s Mr Dunn and Chelsea paid just £ 90,000 when Clyde were looking for half a million.

Nevin effectively replaced a Chelsea favourite in Clive Walker, announcing his arrival in a 4-0 drubbing of much-fancied Newcastle United, leaving half their team sprawling as he slalomed his way from one end of the Stamford Bridge pitch to the other.

You get the feeling Nevin’s Chelsea career might have produced more, but something went wrong across a decent squad in the mid-to-late 1980s and when, in 1988, Chelsea were relegated, he had already decided it was time to move on. It seemed the club also felt it was right to monetise their asset. It was nothing short of criminal that he did not get included in the 1986 Scotland World Cup squad, unfortunate that he never did win a major trophy, but Nevin rarely failed to entertain. Ironically, his greatest thrill seemed to be been making friends with John Peel, the legendary DJ, demonstrating that football may not have been the most compelling aspect of his life.

Football biographies are invariably disappointing, but Pat Nevin’s story is somewhat unique, refreshing and revealing. It’s an absolute must read.

The Accidental Footballer by Pat Nevin is published by Monoray.