Neal Heard’s lavish tome Trainers, the definitive bible for lovers of classic, rare and vintage casual footwear, was first issued in 2003, and it has since been updated in 2008 and 2015 – testament to the unerring passion for the training shoe in all its myriad forms.
Heard’s passion for trainers began in the early 1980s. "When I was like everybody else, quite frankly, but sort of five years younger than the fellas who started it," he tells me. "Following my elders. And that’s when I got the trainers bug. On the terraces. With the casuals. As what you might call a ‘friend’ of the firm."
As "an old trainer head" he was asked in the early 1990s to put some of that love and knowledge to practical use. "I was approached by Fraser Moss, who is from Newport like me, and he asked if I would like to come on some trips with him," says Heard. Moss is the man who would go on to form the style-shaping fashion label YMC in 1995, but at this stage he had spotted something of a trend, starting the hunt for deadstock classic trainers. A massive market in Japan and beyond was desperate to replace what Heard describes as the "ugly" new trainers that were being designed. Heard has continued to pursue his labour of love with a missionary zeal, as much as anything else because "I like to think I am just as interested in historical perspective as I am anything else. It’s the stories that are told around them that are so important," he says.
Last year, he returned to the roots of it all by taking a look out from the terraces and onto the field of play with his book A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts. Scouring the world for outstanding examples of the genre, Heard has honed his quest down to "135 shirts – the most obscure and the most interesting", ranging from the England 1966 shirt to Napoli’s Mars top. "These shirts have a cultural impact, which is what makes them really interesting," says Heard. "In the book, there are chapters detailing the crossover of certain shirts with music, with fashion and even with shirts as a political statement. [The late former Brazil captain] Sócrates used the Corinthians club jersey as a vehicle to get people to vote and to push for democracy. His ‘Democracia’ movement’s logo was literally printed right there onto the shirt!"