Deep within the fist-stretched bowels of the gay fetish scene, Britain’s working class and its budget sportswear chic have become objects of sexual fascination. Tracksuit bottoms tucked into white socks, sneakers, caps, hoodies, and clunky Argos gold are all eroticized by scally gear fetishists.
Sites such as SketBoy.com and SneakerSex.net feature guys who look like your local skunk dealer, fucking and jizzing in each other’s sneakers. The gay porn production company Triga Films produces comically titled bluecollar porn videos with names like Dads ’n’ Lads: Council House and Job Seeker’s Allowance: Extra Benefits, while UK Scally Lads has a web shop selling the cum-stained sports gear used in each photoshoot. There are hookup sites, too. FitLads.net and Trackies.com are strewn with profile pictures that look like mug shots pulled from the vaults of Merseyside Police’s Anti-Social Behavior Taskforce. Shaven-headed guys scowl into the camera, accessorizing cans of lager with Staffordshire bull terriers.
Much like the biker-loving leathermen and boot-licking skinheads of decades past, scally fetishism perpetuates a long-standing cycle of re-appropriation of working-class aesthetics within the gay scene. Phil Hamill, the founder of Trackies.com and the internet’s largest gay fetish network, Recon, sees this as a natural step in cultural evolution.
“Gay fetish always marries itself with the street culture of the generation that came before it,” he says from his company’s glass-paneled offices in east London. “You have these younger gay kids watching these cultures develop around them in their formative years. As they become older they start to wear the gear, sexualizing it, and it becomes a fetish.”
This fetish, in particular, is said to have grown out of the happy hardcore club scene that flourished in the Greater Manchester area in the late 90s. While the term “scally” has been used in the region to denote working-class youths with a penchant for violence and criminal behavior for decades, most of the fetishists I spoke to associate the term with that specific scene and era. It’s not clear when it crossed over into the fetish scene, but most of the sites I’ve mentioned appeared on the web three to four years ago—the two exceptions being FitLads, online since 2003, and Triga Films, which has been committing burly builder orgies to celluloid since 1997.
Although incredibly niche, this isn’t an isolated scene confined to the fringes of the UK’s gay underground. It’s just as popular in France, where they hold annual “Mister Sportswear” competitions, and it enjoys sizable followings in Holland, Germany, and Italy. Ladz, a bi-monthly sportswear fetish party in Amsterdam, regularly attracts 400 to 500 punters, while Trackies’ Facebook page has more than 22,000 likes. To put this into perspective, that’s almost a third as many as popular gay cruising app Grindr has.
Cruising guys on Trackies feels a lot like thumbing through a smutty JD Sports catalogue. Shots focus on bulging tracksuit crotches, and hooded, shirtless men sprawl out in front of their webcams like gym-bound centerfolds. Scally fetishists are particular about the brands they buy and how they wear them, with most admitting that no matter how hot someone is, a poor choice in footwear can be the difference between a hook-up and a lonely wank at home.
Adidas is the most popular choice of tracksuit, particularly the Chile 62 model. Its wet-look nylon gives it the appearance of an athletic gimp suit. Fetishists are visual people, so Adidas’s logo-heavy branding holds particular appeal. Nike is the overwhelming favorite in footwear, specifically TNs and Air Max 95s. Typically retailing at $155, these models were revered by straight scallies for being some of the priciest sneakers on the market back in the day. Like the super-sized jewelery and pimped-out rides you see in rap videos, this brash exclusivity resonates with working-class machismo, explains Alex Taylor, Trackies’ advertising director. “I’m from Manchester, and there were always scallies in school. For them it was all about status symbols, usually represented in footwear. That’s why Rockports were so popular, because they’re the most expensive shoes you could wear in school.”
Although they’re now interlinked via the web, the varying scally scenes across Europe developed organically, and each has its own local customs. While they still retain a penchant for TNs, French scallies (known as kiffeurs) dress exclusively in Lacoste, even down to their socks—again, a reflection of the brand’s price and prestige. Dutch sportswear fetishism borrows from the 1990s gabber scene, hence the popularity of the Air Max Classic and Air Max 90.
Fashion has particular significance for gay men because it also acts as a flagging system. In the 70s and 80s, handkerchief code helped them differentiate tops from bottoms as well as identify those with kinks similar to their own. In Britain, tracksuits are as common as a pair of jeans, so scally fetishists set themselves apart by meticulously curating their image. “In the gay scene we take a look and refine it,” says Alex. “A guy has to have the right sneakers, and his track bottoms must be tucked into his socks. It has to be a lot more obvious and on display. There is a concerted effort that goes into the look to stand out more than the average guy from a council estate. You want to show guys you’re into it and that it’s something that turns you on.”
While most people derive sexual pleasure from physical acts, like rim jobs or asphyxiation, fetishists draw erotic gratification from clothing. “If I’m having sex, it’s full gear. I wouldn’t even pull a tracksuit down to the knees,” says Phil. “I keep it as high as possible. If someone gets naked, then that’s me done. Time for some X Factor.”
“I like to keep the gear on when I wank,” says Niall, a guy I found on Trackies and whose name has been changed. “I’ll cum on the gear, either in it or on it, both when I’m by myself or with someone else.” Licking sneakers and socks is widespread, while “trampling”—a procedure where someone sprawls themselves out on the floor and offers their services as a human doormat—is big in Germany.
Because the tracksuit-and-sneakers combo is so commonplace, scally fetishists are likely to encounter dozens of unattainable cock teases every day. Consequently, for some of them the gear becomes a proxy for all the fucks they can’t have. “There are types of guys you’d like to go for but aren’t necessarily going to get,” says Niall. “You see them wearing certain things, and if you go out and buy them yourself, it’s almost like a bit of [the guy] is captured in the clothing.”
Scally fetishists don’t just get off from trips to Footlocker, though. If you’re straight, a stench in the bedroom is usually a sign that something’s gone horribly wrong, whereas for gay scallies this can be an additional source of arousal. Trackies is full of pictures of guys burying their snouts into sneakers like pigs at a trough. One guy who tried to cruise me on the site requested that I don’t shower for a week before our meet, telling me that he loves “stinky socks” and a “cheesy cock” because it’s “fucking manly, the smell of a real man.”
This obsession with being a “real man” was a recurring theme as I researched this piece. Ultimately, whether it’s consciously recognized or not, scally fetishism is a fixation on masculinity. A fetish develops when sexually arousing, inherently human qualities become associated with an inanimate object. In the case of sportswear, it’s the macho posturing and boisterous, hetero-normative masculinity of the scallies who wear it. “A suit doesn’t work for me. I don’t consider that masculine at all,” says Phil. “I guess the point I became attracted to sports gear is when I started seeing really masculine guys wearing it.”
Nearly everybody I spoke to echoed this sentiment. Most traced the origins of their fetish to their sexually formative years, when they began associating the people they were attracted to with the clothing they wore. “At school my mates were what you call ‘lads’ lads—into football, smoking, girls. I knew I liked guys, and these mates were my point of reference,” says Lee (not his real name), another guy I contacted on Trackies. “When you’re from a certain background, you wore those types of clothes. As I started fooling around with guys, I realized that their clothes turn me on too.”
Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the enduring appeal of blue-collar subculture to gay fetishists. In the same way that clothing becomes associated with masculinity, it appears that class does as well.
“There’s this conflation of working-class masculinity and authenticity. Working-class men are somehow more authentic,” explains Murray Healy, the author of 1996’s Gay Skins: Class, Masculinity and Queer Appropriation—one of the earliest investigations into the gay skinhead scene. “They’re not processed by culture; they’re untamed, like ‘real men’ are supposed to be.” Ironically, despite their resemblance to the cast of Shameless, few of the guys I interviewed fit the socioeconomic profile of a scally or a “chav.” From successful businessmen like Phil Hamill to public-school boys and an architect, everyone appeared thoroughly middle class. One guy claimed to be from a “not so great area,” but according to Phil, no more than 20 percent of the guys come from deprived backgrounds, if that.
“It’s a lot like drag, but at the other end of the spectrum,” says Phil. “A lot of guys in this scene have normal jobs, like working in an office or a bar—they’re not selling drugs from a council flat—so it’s a form of release. It’s roleplay, pretending to be something different to what you are.”
Because it is roleplay, a great deal of congruency is needed to keep it genuine. “You take a look at a guy on Trackies, and he looks good, he’s got the gear,” says Alex, “but then you take a look at where he is—a room with a nice pink carpet and flowery bed sheets. At the back of my mind I’m going, Oh, his name’s actually Jonathan, and he’s an accountant from Surrey. It ruins the fantasy. You can’t be too old, either. Guys in their 40s and 50s just don’t fit the scally demographic and usually don’t understand the culture behind it, so you’ll often see them wearing the wrong gear. Oh, and fat people in sportswear? The irony is terrible…”
This congruency doesn’t simply stop at physical appearance; it extends to sex, too. “You’ll never have sex in a bed,” says Lee. “That’s so normal; it’s the missionary position, vanilla. I like to meet up with a guy in a pub, have a few pints, and then go fuck in the toilets. I know some guys who won’t have sex at all—they’ll just wank off together because they think it’s how straight lads would do it.”
“Straight” and “straight-acting” are words you see a lot on Trackies profiles. Everyone seems to be looking for an archetypical straight boy, and I wonder if the extensive use of ALL CAPS and poor spelling are all front, just superficial attempts at fitting into loutish stereotypes.
In some cases, this obsession with heterosexuality and fear of effeminacy is so extreme that it carries a tinge of homophobia. One guy, who declined to talk to me, proclaims on his profile: “I hate those fucking skinny jeans-wearing, glitter-faced queens. I like guys to be guys, and I might be a bottom, but I ain’t no sub-bitch either.” Even Lee, who claims he’s cool with his sexuality, admits, “The guys I met on FitLads.net back in the day were just typical blokes, but now it’s just like Gaydar, full of Soho queens who ponce around.”
It feels like lazy pop-psychology, but it’s impossible to avoid assuming that this forced hypermasculinity stems from feelings of inadequacy. “If a fetish is all about being harder and tougher and more aggressive than everyone else, then that is a fetishization of masculinity,” Murray explains. “I think this over-investment in masculine symbols is a hysterical reaction to ward off accusations of effeminacy or not being male enough.”
The irony is, despite all the grunting, Cro-Magnon manliness, most members specify themselves as bottoms. Phil puts the figure at roughly 65 percent, but my own research suggests it might be higher. Scally porn is largely violent and degrading, while Trackies is full of subs looking for someone to dominate them. Throughout my month-long membership, I was inundated with guys looking for beatings, rape, and even kidnappings. Chillingly, one said I could do whatever I want to him, “just as long as I live.” Most guys were too inarticulate to entertain, but there were two I propped intensely, and I even rewarded one by posting him a dirty sock.
The first one wanted me to tie him up and kick him in the balls repeatedly. Perversely, he saw this as an empowering process, rather than an emasculating one, because, “if you can take a kicking to the bollocks and handle the pain without crying, it’s fucking manly.” He’d ask me what sneakers I’d wear, how big my feet are, and wondered, “What’s the worst you’ve done to a lad’s cock and balls?” He told me about his testicles, which he described as “low hangers,” inviting me to use them as a punch bag. The other asked me to round up a group of friends, ideally ones who didn’t know it had been pre-arranged, and assault him somewhere secluded. As we set parameters, he told me: “You can snap my ribs, but don’t break my arms or legs. No permanent damage. I want you to knock me the fuck out. Want to feel you stamp my face in with your Nikes. Just leave me there, smashed up. You ever use knives? You should bring one, just don’t cut me up too bad…”
As I delved into the root of his fantasy, he told me that he was a quiet kid in school who always looked up to the “hard lads,” whose “arrogance” gave them an aura of “invincibility.” “I knew I wasn’t ever going to be a proper lad,” he said, “so I decided I’d be the opposite, come into their circle from below, if that makes sense. Having them do what they want to me is a big turn-on.”
When I asked him why he didn’t go to a fetish club that specializes in domination, he claimed that he’s straight and that they’re “full of proper faggots.” When I pointed out that, although it isn’t penetrative sex, he still derives erotic pleasure from men, our correspondence came to an abrupt end.
It’s logical to equate violent, painful sex with submission and self-harm, but as I discussed the act of trampling with Max Hollman, the organizer of Ladz, the Amsterdam sportswear fetish party, he argued, “Someone might start with trampling but have dominant sex after. It’s difficult to explain to non-fetishists, but the feel or smell of sneakers, the sensation of soles treading against your skin, is a real turn-on.”
I’m reluctant to draw any psychobabble conclusions about the violence and degradation in scally fetishism because, if I’ve learned anything writing this piece, it’s that human sexuality is complex and utterly irrational.