Why Is Daniel Sturridge the Only Hipster Footballer?
He can do the most kick-ups in the whole of Dalston.
By and large, the world of football is not a particularly "cool" one. Sure, Jose Mourinho might possess the swagger of a man who knows his Todd Terje from his Todd Terry, but his favourite song of all time is by Bryan Adams. Jurgen Klopp's forward-thinking Dortmund team might have given rise to the phenomenon of the "football hipster", but the man himself is a devout Christian and heavy metal fan, which presumably means he listens to at least some Christian metal. And no one's ever gonna step up to be the ringleader of a POD revival, not even if it's ironic and not even if it's in Dalston.
The "football hipsters" themselves, with their love of unorthodox formations, mid-table Bundesliga playmakers, vintage Panini stickers and pubs where they aren't afraid to use the red button might seem like the Ramones in a world ruled by people like Henry Winter and Richard Keys, but take them out of the football bubble and they're just nerds in football shirts.
Even the players, young men with a lot of money and a lot of time on their hands – conditions that have traditionally bred hipsterdom – are staggeringly uncool. The Spanish national team love Kasabian, Vertonghen reads Dan Brown and even the really famous ones dress like small-town nightclub promoters. The cliche of footballers having bland, MOR taste goes as far back as the 70s, with the title of Billy Ivory's book Steak... Diana Ross: Diary of a Football Nobody lampooning the lowbrow tastes of young men who just loved pies and boobs.
Manchester United's Alexander Buttner looking like one of those guys who tries to chirpse girls on Oxford Street
But in this depressing quagmire of soft rock, distressed jeans, airport novels and Nando's platters, there's one player who isn't afraid to put his head above the parapet. A player whose current status as the best English player in the league is also matched by his understanding of the cultural zeitgeist: Daniel Sturridge, take a bow.
I've been paying close attention to Sturridge's transformation from temperamental Chelsea impact sub to the Kanye West of the Northwest for a while. But when he tweeted a picture of himself hanging out with Banks – the LA singer who sounds like The Weeknd and has worked with Lil Silva and TEED – the disparate world of London music-biz guys and footballers on my timeline seemed to come together in bizarre unison.
Rolling deep with Pitchfork Festival stars is just the start of it, though. Sturridge has also, in his time, displayed an interest in flamboyant Yeezy-esque outfits, making beats, dating girls who are more likely to be on the cover of Vogue than Closer and posting pictures of food. Welbeck might have the Dalston haircut but Sturridge lives the life. So much so that he even seems to have his own protege, in the shape of Liverpool youngster Jordan Ibe, who's also taken up the streetwear 'n' selfies steez to a slightly more diluted extent, like Warhol and Basquiat but with more FIFA and less heroin.
I'm not saying he's going to start wearing a smock and move to Berlin any time soon, but it's a hell of a long way from Phil Jones instagramming a picture of himself with the slightly tubby guy from Swedish House Mafia.
Sturridge wearing Hood By Air outside Sketch
But why is Sturridge virtually the only "cool" footballer there's ever been? Why have these young men, who've spent so much time on television and in nightclubs, always existed in a kind of dull, Trafford Centre world alongside James Corden and Rizzle Kicks? The lack of subcultural or even fashionable representation in football doesn't really add up.
You don't even really think Sturridge has to look cool, or to think that Rio Ferdinand is a dick to notice that youth culture, cool culture – whatever you want to call it – and football have almost never intertwined since George Best was hanging out with Mick Jagger, despite the fact that everyone loves football and cool is so commodified now that there must even be rugby players who can do a half-decent impression of it.
I mean, New Order did a World Cup song. So did Damien Hirst. You had the Spice Boys, I guess, but were they cool? Or was it just David James and Phil Babb getting pissed and wearing cream morning suits? Gaizka Mendieta liked the Velvet Underground, Pat Nevin liked the Cocteau Twins, but really, all you have to do is look at that terrible fucking Gary Barlow England song to know that football is somewhat lacking in the culture stakes.
Stewart Downing on the 1s and 2s at Hed Kandi
But why are footballers so lame, despite their youth, wealth and copious free time? Well, I think it has to do with the fact that footballers are never really allowed to develop and find out who they are in the same way that everyone else is.
In many senses, footballers are removed from society at a very young age. They're forced into this semi-monastic life of training, dedication and abstinence while the rest of us are out there making the mistakes that will shape our identities, and involving ourselves in the scenes that will give us our tastes. Footballers don't really have the ability to do that. Mistakes are not part of growing up if you're aspiring to be a professional footballer, they'll just leave you on the scrapheap. It's not easy to "find yourself" when your whole family is praying that that Aston Villa contract will add a couple of bedrooms to their houses.
Yes, they can (and do) go to nightclubs, but they can't really drink (although some do), and they definitely can't do drugs (see before). So the nightclubs they go to exist purely to facilitate the one human indulgence they are free to join in on: sex.
To put it crudely, footballers can't party, but they can fuck. So they spend their time in the kind of soulless meat-markets where getting laid is more of a concern than the music, the "scene" or the unexplainable feeling of togetherness that most people are looking for from their socialising experiences. No doubt this also plays into their somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards matrimonial fidelity and group-sex sessions and, when you put it like that, it starts to sound like people such as Peter Crouch and Marouane Chamakh are trapped in some weird, real-life version of Shame.
David Luiz and the Brazil squad messing about like pricks
But it's not all summer holidays, roasting sessions and competitive cuckolding. Look close and there's actually a sweet, wondrous side to the average footballers attitude to life. One that is at odds with the cynical and jaded world of "hip".
You've only got to look at David Luiz's considerable social media output to see that most footballers are essentially children. Young men who've spent a lot of time honing their physicality, but often not their maturity or strength of personality. It's not that they're stupid, as so many people would want you to think, rather that they're simply stunted. Muscled millionaire toddlers whose lack of real emotional, or cultural, life experience leads them to pull funny faces in photos, swap girlfriends and be coerced into DJing at Hed Kandi nights.
Joey Barton was largely mocked for his just-got-into-The-Smiths-and-Chomsky phase by a lot of people who'd long since moved onto Heidegger and Sun Kil Moon, but again, it wasn't Barton's stupidity fuelling his late-twenties Morrissey-obsession, more that he was going through an adolescence that was denied to him by the weird rigours and pressures of being a professional footballer. He simply went through what a lot of us went through earlier on in our lives, a delayed teenhood, if you will, which is why he turned into Adrian Mole even though he already had kids and was earning tens of thousands a pounds every week.
It's very hard to become cool, cultured or knowing when you're having to say to your friends, "Sorry lads, got training the next day," knowing they're all off to drop Mitsis at Fabric. Or to tell a girlfriend, "Sorry, the gaffer says I need to concentrate on my set-pieces rather than girls right now," when she's saying she wants you to see your relationship more equally. The gaffer might teach you how to defend corners, but he's not really going to set you up properly for real life all that well, and he's certainly not going to lend you any mixtapes.
Yes, footballers do theoretically have enough time on their hands to indulge in some Fellini as well as Bad Boys 2 on those long afternoons, and there have been some footballers who've managed to bypass such things and got themselves degrees, good taste, stable girlfriends, etc. But on the whole, football seems to care much more about training players, than developing people.
The dark side of the spectrum is of course, the worrying post-career nightmares of depression, bankruptcy, alcoholism and prison. Because for every Michael Owen, making great money for churning out platitudes in his voice like a fridge, there is a Michael Johnson. Broken, forgotten, surely wondering where those lost teenage years could've taken him instead.
I think it's a good thing that Daniel Sturridge is football's first real hipster. Whether or not you think Sturridge is actually cool, or just somebody jumping on an increasingly accessible idea of cool with a few well-timed Instagram pics, is irrelevant. The fact is he's one of very few who seems to have an interest and an existence outside of the bubble. And one who's putting garish, experimental fashion and left-of-Capital FM music (as well as Drake) out there to a wider sphere.
In the age of soul-garotting media training and dull as fuck sponsorship campaigns revolving around the groundbreaking concept of Gareth Bale wearing a polo shirt, someone like Sturridge, with all his "Fashion Killa" swag, is at least brightening things up a bit.