adidas and Merseyside is a story of love that doesn’t need delving into within these pages. For decades The Brand With The Three Stripes has been a by-word for style, substance and all things scally in the North West of England. But you already knew that. When a Liverpool trainer collector has a pair of shoes bestowed with his own surname though, it’s probably time to dig a little deeper.
We sat down with Bobby McCarten - perhaps better known as Bobby MacDassler - to figure out how he fell in love with a brand that would eventually repay his loyalty with the SPEZIAL McCarten this Autumn…
“I have over 600 pairs now but if I’d kept every pair I’d found over the years I’d have well over a thousand pairs” explains McCarten, “The first pair of adidas I had were called Cosmos from Jack Sharps on Whitechapel, they were like Stan Smith but with blue and red stripes, I’d forgotten about them until I’d seen the in a vintage catalogue a while back
Then when I got a Saturday job I bought a pair of Brisbane from Howard Sports in Bootle, an all white cricket trainer with the same little studs as Los Angeles. They were class, very well made, they looked good and no one else wanted them, so that made me like them more. In 1987 I was working a lot more even though I was still In school, I was in the Quadrant Park market and a stall had a pair I had to have straight away, they were adidas Sydney, they were spot on, a classic wedge shape in red and grey with subtle gold stripes.”
McCarten’s encyclopaedic knowledge when it comes to adidas is immediately apparent, it’s his personality however that sets him aside from other would-be adidas aficionados. In a time before so-called sneakerheads existed, and before trainer collecting was widely acknowledged as a pursuit enjoyed by the mainstream, it was his love of the adidas design language that drew Bobby to begin building what would become his huge collection of footwear and adidas paraphernalia.
“From 1999 I lived down south for a second time” he says, “and I was in Southampton city centre one Saturday in 2001 shopping and noticed some runners that I’d seen someone jogging in in 1979/80 in Maghull. Back then I didn’t know they were adidas Formel 1 but I recognised them straight away from their unique design and colourway, I bought three pairs then each time a decent reissue would come out I’d buy more than one pair.
I didn’t think of it as collecting back then but a pair to wear, a back up pair and a pair to keep box fresh. Of a weekend I’d go to places like the New Forest, Cambridge and Windsor looking for vintage shops, second hand and charity shops and the odd car boot picking up anything with a trefoil on, old Nastase rackets, racket covers and the odd pair of trainers but nothing to write home about.
The first pair of vintage adidas that I was really happy with were a pair of Oregon, a simple grey and maroon runner on a web midsole, quite popular around 84/5 here. I was contacted by a Scouse lad living in Warrington, when I went to pick them up they were my size, boxed, deadstock and Argentinian I couldn’t believe it. It was the best £50 I’ve spent.
That was just good luck, I have found some nice stuff over the years but a lot of time and effort has gone into finding it. It wasn’t until I saw a few Trainer books around the time of that Formel 1 release or just after that I realised there were others into the same thing. My mates though would wear their trainers for the game and the pub then kill them on holiday then bin them and get a new pair, I’d be brushing mine, cleaning the soles and putting them back in the box. they must of thought I was a crank.”
Worried glances from his pals aside, McCarten’s collection continued to grow. Whilst other collectors flitted between brands, and sneaker culture grew into a global phenomenon, he stayed loyal to adidas.
“I have always been fascinated with the 3 stripes, there is just something about seeing them that Puma, Nike and other brand’s lack. It was watching the likes of Grandstand, the Olympics, the World Cup and Match of the day as a little kid in the late 70’s, everyone seemed to win in adidas, from Table-Tennis to Weightlifting and Athletics to Football, the three stripes and the Trefoil became a symbol of success, the winners brand.
Over the years my affinity with adidas grew more so than with any other brand. Whenever I saw the three serrated stripes on a pair of trainers or footy boots or the Trefoil on a t-shirt or a football I knew it was quality stuff, it looked bold, strong even and for me it became this label that you could just buy without much thought, Lacoste is the only other label like that, the two brands have never gone away, especially with this part of the North West.
There definitely has been a connection between adidas and both Liverpool and Everton supporters since the late 70s, its in our DNA, going back to when I was a kid there were older lads here that were travelling into Europe and bringing all kinds of gear back amongst which were obscure tennis trainers like the Nasa approved Forest Hills, Grand Slam, Trimm Trab and Kegler Super they were way ahead of their time compared to the black and white Kick and Samba the kids were wearing by ours.”
A childhood obsession turned lifelong affinity has lead the brand itself to delve into Bobby’s collection for inspiration, and to re-pay his decades of loyalty with a knowing nod every now and again.
I first met Gary Aspden just after he’d done the adidas Spezial exhibition in London. He came to ours with Mike Chetcuti and Gaz Watson to meet me and see my stuff. the Manchester exhibition was still just an idea then and the initial SPZL range was at the sample stage, I was shown the Topanga amongst other stuff and I was gobsmacked at the quality of them plus the fact that the very rare California were being reissued, it felt like the start of something really good at adidas.
It was adidas Germany that first started using my collection to reissue classics trainers like Suisse, Hawaii and Gazelle Super but it was a little later that Gary started using my collection to reissue the Hochelga SPZL (West German Montreal) Atlanta, Trainer Indoor Super and so on, My date of birth is on the Indoor Super tongue and our eldest boys is on the Atlanta. Recently I was given the great honour of having a SPZL leisure shoe named after me, it was a nice touch and something i’ll be grateful for forever.
A year ago I was invited to the adidas headquarters at Herzogenaurach Germany and I held the actual first shoe that the third stripe was added to, you could see that the middle stripe was a different shade to the other two and that shoe was the very start of Die Marke Mit Den 3 Riemen. When I was there I was shown the great lengths Adi Dassler would go to to try and produce the best footwear that he could to give the wearer the best chance of winning. In a display case was an old soap powder box and a sole of a shoe with hundreds of tiny suction cups on it. Adi had wanted to suction cups on it. Adi had wanted to design a track shoe that would keep the wearer upright when the track was very slippy so he spread the soap powder all over his tennis court and soaked it to test the prototype shoes out and it worked! Its this kind of thing that I find really interesting always striving for continuous improvement the ethos at adidas were Listen, test and obey and its still at the core of the brand today.
I still feel the same about adidas as I did when I was a nipper wanting Kick like my mates had all them years before. I’ve never not thought about adidas for a day, that’ll sound sad to some people but you don’t get the trainers I’ve got by doing it half arsed, to do anything well you have to be dedicated. Many collectors take a while to find and land a certain pair then squirrel them away and move onto the next pair but I like to spend time around them, see how they were put together, what details are on them, find out why certain little things are there or why they’re not bit nerdy but I love it, keeps me out of mischief.
I still find some nice gems by traditional methods, some crackers for a few quid in second hand shops, I find that more satisfying that paying a small fortune for a pair online. Over the years I’ve built up contacts all over the world that I can buy and swap with in the U.S, Australia, Japan, South America, Russia and Europe but it’s getting harder to pay a sensible price some the rarer and most sought after stuff, resellers buying 25 pairs of one model not only makes it hard to buy that pair but it means we have to pay an extra 70% to buy them of that seller.
I couldn’t have a pair of Kick when I was six or seven, but fast forward almost 40 years and the adidas McCarten SPZL are released, etched into the adidas history books. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Follow @BobbyMacDassler on Instagram for a closer look at Bobby’s collection.