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Sporting greats

Buyers had a blast from the past at spring 08 streetwear shows as 1980s sports gear made a comeback. Laura Jackson heralds the return of the football casual

From Farah to Fila and Lyle & Scott to Lacoste, 1980s-inspired sportswear took over the stands at Bread & Butter in Barcelona and TBC in London this summer. Heritage lines including striped polo shirts, zip-through track tops and slim-fit knitwear reminiscent of 1980s tennis heroes and football terrace culture were everywhere, as sports casual brands popularised in the 1980s by fashion-conscious football fans delved into their archives while newer brands added retro influences to fresh product.

Almost 25 years after the football casual first surfaced, trends associated with the look are peaking again for spring 08 in men's young fashion. The demise of terrace culture - £50 replica team shirts are de rigueur in today's all-seater stadiums - means the look's latest incarnation is more streetwear-oriented.

Faz Patel, buyer at young fashion indie Accent in Leeds, believes the trend's appeal to both older football supporters and young indie music fans is the key. "We stock Lyle & Scott and Lacoste Vintage," he says. "Our customers are a mixture of those who bought it first time around and are now buying for the nostalgia, and younger lads who are beginning to see it worn by bands such as the Arctic Monkeys."

Ravi Grewal, owner of Stuarts Menswear in Shepherd's Bush, west London, agrees. "We reintroduced football casual-inspired ranges from Sergio Tacchini, Fila Vintage and Lacoste at the end of last season, and they have been extremely popular," he says.

Football casual trends were born in the late 1970s and early 1980s as fans across the country looked for ways to differentiate themselves from the supporters of rival teams. Supporters of the most successful English clubs travelled regularly to European games, where they were impressed by foreign fans in their Sergio Tacchini tops, Lacoste polos and Fila trainers. Across the UK, the terrace boys started stocking up on them while on tour.

Being able to get your hands on the must-have labels became a way to prove that you - and your team - were top dog. The desirability of the brands continued to grow when tennis stars of the time, such as John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, became on-court poster boys for Sergio Tacchini and Fila. Shops sprung up stocking these European brands, including pioneer Wade Smith in Liverpool, run by dedicated football casuals aficionado Robert Wade-Smith, who would embark on trips to Brussels to bring back product by Puma, Adidas and Ellesse to sell to football fans.

"Today's ranges, such as Fila Gold and Sergio Tacchini's Moda Milano line, are designed to introduce younger customers to more mass-market, trendy takes on the look, such as skinnier fits," says Grewal. "This will create longevity for these brands."

Grewal is so convinced by the sportswear revival that he is planning to stock newer brands for autumn that reference football casuals in more contemporary handwriting. One of these is Trainerspotter, which launched five years ago and takes its influences from retro Nike styles from the 1970s and 1980s. "The past few years has seen men's fashion diffused by the high street, so any edgy styles are diluted into the mainstream and become meaningless," says Trainerspotter co-owner Russ Gallivan. "It's because of this that more defined and solid-style cults from the past are seeing a resurgence."

However, this view is not shared by all retro sportswear retailers. Jay Montessori, buying director at designer indie Tessuti in Chester, is unsure about the current crop of vintage collections. "We've had very limited success with the revived 1980s brands, because the product they're providing is poor in terms of quality compared with the original pieces. Instead, brands such as 80s Casuals do well for us because their T-shirts reference the terrace-boy lines through signature slogans. So they look cool to the younger generation, but are not the diluted versions of the originals that were putting off our older customers."

Nevertheless, the 1980s trend is riding the crest of a wave, but the challenge for brands will be maintaining interest. "Longevity relies on keeping consumers excited about the product," says Marc Travis, marketing manager for Proline International, which distributes Fila in the UK. "Brands must be careful not to just reintroduce back-catalogue designs. Longevity will be about picking key silhouettes, enhancing fabrics, using quality colours and evolving the design to appeal to today's consumers."

LABELS TO WATCH

From true heritage sportswear brands to those influenced by the resurgent trend, we round up eight spring collections that tackle the football casuals look.

LYLE & SCOTT

Polo shirts, track tops and lightweight blousons form the basis of Lyle & Scott's Vintage line, in blue, yellow, grey and jade. The Heritage range also draws on a sporting past, with polos and knits in varying gauges, but offers a more generous fit aimed at older customers. Prices from £15. Selling until mid-September.

020 7200 2980 www.lyleandscott.com

FILA

Fila's collection is based on its White Line range from the 1970s, but colours have been updated with contemporary flashes, such as monochrome on deep green, and 1980s-style graphics. The fit is not as narrow as the original range, but is slim in line with current trends. Prices from £8 to £30. Selling until September 14.

01923 475600 www.fila.com

SERGIO TACCHINI

For spring, Sergio Tacchini's Heritage range is split into Evo, which focuses on classic shapes in black, white, neon green and pink, and VR, which mixes technical fabrics with neon graphics. The iconic ST logo features on T-shirts, knits, track tops and outerwear. Prices from £14 to £24. Selling until the end of September.

01484 466800 www.sergiotacchini.com

BUKTA

Bukta gives a fresh feel to retro sportswear, with checks, dogstooth and graphic stripes inspired by original 1980s football strips. Styles include polo shirts, zip-through track tops and cagoules in a palette of white with brilliant blue, navy and lime highlights. Prices from £8 to £20. Selling until February 08.

0870 300 3130 www.bukta.com

GABICCI G

Created to cater for demand for Gabicci's 1980s vintage sportswear, Gabicci G mixes classic black, white and neutrals with on-trend brights. Cotton-blend fabrics feature easy-care and comfort finishes on cardigans, blousons and signature polos with suede trims. Prices from £14 to £24. Selling until November.

020 8903 9037 www.gabicci.com/g

FARAH VINTAGE

Farah has combined archive styles with 1980s sporting icons and musical heritage influences for spring, focusing on contemporary texture, prints and jacquards. Tops come in cream, coffee, dove grey and pale blue, with rich teal and berry-toned highlights. Prices from £12 to £59. Selling until mid-September.

020 7250 1056 www.farahslacks.com

FRED PERRY

Fred Perry was favoured by Manchester United fans in the 1980s, and the spring 08 offer maintains the original palette. Micro-collar woven shirts add a directional feel, while the label's original slim fit is seen on knits, polos and outerwear. Look out for the diamond knit in white and wine. Selling until mid-October.

020 7632 2800 www.fredperry.com

TRAINERSPOTTER

Trainerspotter's spring 08 offer is influenced by the mod ethic of football casuals, inspired by Nike's designs from the 1970s. Bold prints lead the way in crisp shades of white and blue, and the silhouette is fitted but not skinny. Key pieces include a marbled grey zip-up jacket. Prices from £10 to £32. Selling until the end of November.

07903 646487 www.trainerspotter.com.

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