What is with all the brightly colored cleats?

An ex-soccer player looks at uniform changes since his days on the pitch

October 27, 2011

Before I get down to the nitty gritty, let me say that I fully agree with The Aegis' sports editor Randy McRoberts, who voiced his distaste in Wednesday's paper on how the MPSSAA decided to move Class 2A teams into the 1A field hockey tournament in order to better fill out the brackets. That move does not sit well with me, and if I were a coach or player on the Havre de Grace, Perryville or Bohemia Manor teams, which are the only true 1A schools playing in the North bracket, I'd write a strongly worded letter to the powers that be. I am not trashing the efforts of the MPSSAA, which, like every scholastic athletic association in the country has a tough, thankless job, and I appreciate the work it puts forth (seriously, in four-plus years of trying to pick fights with various people, teams, organizations, coaches, etc. with this column, the only time I ever wrote anything bad about the MPSSAA was after some goon with a walkie talkie tried to beat me up for attempting to do an on-field interview with Fallston's Caitlin Dempsey, after she scored a double-overtime goal in the Cougars' 1-0 victory over Bethesda-Chevy Chase in the 2007 Class 3A state title game). But, there could have been a better way to sort things out.

Now, let's get to a more serious matter than school classifications, namely soccer uniforms and gear. While sitting in the press booth toward the end of Tuesday's UCBAC girls soccer title game between C. Milton Wright and Rising Sun, I, the intrepid reporter who is forever sniffing out potential subjects for my weekly rants, began counting how many of the 22 players on the field were wearing cleats that did not feature black as their main color. At one point, I tallied up 13 pairs of soccer boots which met the criteria, and that stunning figure made me start thinking back to my own playing days, when the footwear was a lot more conservative.

From the beginning to the very end of my time in organized soccer, say 1986 to 2000, if you came onto the pitch in something other than black spikes, you were probably going to be ridiculed at some point. "Wally White Cleats" was the sobriquet foisted on those unfortunate enough to be sporting light-hued footwear, and the name went well beyond disparaging your choice of cleats, as it implied a complete lack of soccer knowledge. It wouldn't be unusual to hear something along the lines of this: "I bet Wally White Cleats over there is going to throw the ball in basketball style, like a chest-pass." Players who wore non-black cleats were usually the ones who got called for illegal throw-ins four times a game, even though you screamed "keep your back foot down" at them every time they picked up the ball.

That black cleats were de rigueur during my decade-and-a-half stint as a player seems strange as I look back, because for the majority of that stretch, everyone from soccer's top level on down was attempting to see how garish they could make their uniforms. My Havre de Grace 9-10 rec team uniform, and the away kit I wore for Perryville High School from 1994 to 1997, both came with jerseys which featured a main design I'll describe as "broken glass and spray paint." Look up the absolutely hideous U.S. Men's National Team away jersey from the 1994 World Cup, or do a Google image search for Jorge Campos, the Mexican national team's former goalkeeper, who in his mid-90s heyday wore nightmarish, seizure-inducing neon outfits, or check out the German national side's 1990 away kit, which some genius decided should have turquoise as its base color, and when you do, scroll down to take a look at the player's feet; I'll bet you there's a pair of black Adidas on them.

I guess things started to switch as my soccer career ended, with the uniforms becoming more staid, while white, green, yellow and bright blue cleats became more available and prevalent around 1999-2000. Looking out on the turf field at Bel Air High School on Tuesday, I saw two teams decked out in classy kits, with CMW in its road blacks and Rising Sun in its home whites. There were no spray paint designs or day Glo stripes to be seen, and I'll take that any day of the week, whatever color the cleats are.

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