Iconic football boots released in the years either side of the 2002 World Cup have become the focal point for a growing subculture of enthusiasts and collectors. That summer, Adidas released the sixth iteration of its Predator series, the Predator Mania. The shape, the swerve bars, the elasticated tongue, the reinforced heel and kangaroo leather – combined with the endorsement from a clutch of global superstars led by David Beckham – cemented the Predator Mania alongside the iPod, the Mini Cooper and the Rubik’s Cube as an instantly recognisable piece of product design.
Today, these boots and their contemporaries – Nike’s Total 90 series; Puma Kings and others – are now traded back and forth online by a passionate army of collectors. Most are in it for the love of it, for the nostalgia. But some are making a living from retro boots – and the market has exploded during the pandemic.
“I’ll often buy boots just for the opportunity to have owned them,” says Tom Pattinson, “I’ve sold a few pairs for less than I paid for them.”
Pattinson runs ‘Studs Up’, an online profile spanning from Instagram to eBay, where he’s been buying, selling and celebrating retro football boots for close to ten years. The 33-year-old says he has between 20 and 30 pairs of boots in his possession at any one time – and on the morning he spoke to this magazine, had just forked out £650 on a pair of Manias.
“We’re nearly 20 years on from their release,” he says. “It’s almost unheard of to find boots in perfect conditions so I bought them with no real intention of making money from them, but just because I want to have them in the collection.
“[This pair] is about as traditional as it gets to me – the holy grail, like, this is the pinnacle. It’s a traditional colorway, brand new with tags, original box, firm ground, red moulded studs – Predator Manias from 2002: to people of that generation, this is the absolute pinnacle; boots don’t get better than that.”
Pattinson, like thousands of football-minded millennials, succumbed to the beautiful new designs – and excellent marketing – of boots in the late 90s.
“I really was into boots,” he says, “and I remember playing against teams that would have all the boots I wanted. But the idea that my parents were going to fork out £120 – it just wasn’t happening, there was no chance at all.”
He recalls one Sunday league game where the entire opposition team were clad in the all-red Manias (“Everyone was convinced,” he adds, “that a stash had come off the back of a lorry”) but didn’t begin collecting boots until his late teens: a pair of cream Manias from a outlet store selling excess stock.
“I probably paid about 40 or 50 quid. By this point, I had a bit of my own money, so I was willing to pay for them, and I bought them thinking that I was going to use them myself.
“But being a bit of an entrepreneur, I wanted to make a bit of money on them. I had a look on eBay and decided I probably could.”
Pattinson says he doubled his money within ten minutes: “Someone contacted me instantly, and I sold them on to him. And then I saw them the following week. And he’d put them back on eBay for probably twice that money. And at that point, I was like there’s something going on here.”
Since then, he has bought, owned and sold just about every pair he has ever wanted – along with hundreds of other collectors.
“It’s one of those subcultures where, if you’re not part of it, you don’t really know it exists,” he says. “But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people that are involved in that space. And what’s interesting is that everyone’s in a different position on retro football boots.”
Pattinson says his niche is “anything Predator between around 1994 (when they were released) to around 2008,” but adds: “Other guys are in slightly different spaces, who don’t really deal with some of those really early models. My knowledge of boots from 2010 onwards isn’t really that great. But there’s a number of guys out there that are working in that space, that know it inside out.”
The onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Pattinson says, has exploded the demand for retro boots: “Lots of people naturally interested in boots, with a bit more spare time on their hands, people being furloughed.
“I’d probably say the market has gone up five- to ten-fold during the past 18 months. It’s been absolutely nuts. There used to be maybe four or five of us, and I knew everyone by name. But since then you’ve just got a load of just individuals that have cropped up and that must it must be into the hundreds now.”
Well, are these collectors making a living? “Yeah, plenty of them are,” thinks Pattinson. Collectors with names like ProperRetroBoots and RareBoots4u, run by younger, social-media savvy experts with their own websites have five- and six-figure followings on Instagram. They have their own websites, stacked with extensive catalogues of new and second-hand boots. Top-level players – Phil Foden, Ivan Rakitić, Karim Benzema, Dani Alves – are reported to have tapped up the collectors for rare boots.
Five years ago, Pattinson says his buyers were looking for boots to wear: “I always say to people, if you bought a pair now that were in good condition, and if you look after them, I honestly think they’d last your career.
“If you were to play in them every weekend and look after them properly, they’d last forever – good workmanship, and incredible materials.
“But the boots that I sell now, nobody’s wearing them. Some people are buying them as investments. The pace of the market over the past 18 months means that people haven’t had to be holding on to them very long [to make money].
“If you’re making 100% of your money back in six months, you’re probably gonna think, what’s the point of holding on to that for another five years?”
To underline how rare and sough-after some of these boots are, Pattinson adds that one of his buyers was a photographer working on a promotion for Adidas, who had just signed a Bayern Munich player to endorse the Predator: “Instead of going to Adidas, he’d come to me in order to get hold of those boots.”
This year we’ve seen a huge spike in the demand for second-hand cars; investors are buying the rights to songs for long-term pay-outs; wine brokers are seeing unprecedented demand. Does Pattinson see retro boots following the same trend?
“I think it will plateau. It’s not an exponential curve, where football boots are going to be two grand in another two years’ time. They’ll probably go up a certain amount, but I think people will probably, I expect it’ll probably start to plateau off a little bit.”
That, however, is not stopping him. Pattinson works full-time, and his love for retro football boots is, for now, a side hustle. For others, this is a full-time job. And given the market boom and demand for classic designs, there may well be much more money to be made in the space in the coming years.
Taylor Geall works in Media Relations in London and is a former print journalist. He’s a fan of good coffee, The Office, and Portsmouth FC. Twitter: @TaylorGeall
Kate O’Loughlin is a born and bred Dublin illustrator who works in many mediums including collage which she used for this image. Football is a common theme in her work. Instagram: @k8olo