Michael Owen and Alan Shearer Talk Umbro Speciali

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

Regular followers and devout soccer boot fans will have heard about Umbro’s most recent commemorative release of the 20 year old Speciali boot. Umbro brought together two of the brand’s most revered Speciali wearers – Michael Owen and Alan Shearer – to talk about their experiences and memories with the boot.

England has struggled to put together two strikers of similar pedigree and quality as Owen and Shearer in recent times except for one Wayne Rooney (and maybe Emile Heskey), so it’s worth hearing about their intimate stories with the monumental boot.

Shearer speaks a lot about his past including his highly respectable goal-scoring record while Michael Owen talks frankly about his experiences with the boots himself including the naming of one of his horses’ after the Speciali. Several answers can be seen below while full length interviews can be seen here for Owen and here for Shearer.

Michael Owen

What was it about the Speciali boots that you liked?
‘The softness of the boot was the in thing at the time, but that changes over time, doesn’t it? It was lightness for a while, but at that time it was how soft the Speciali was. But they start losing that as you play in them, so that’s how you could tell who was looking after their boots, because they’d stay soft and in good shape.’

Are you someone who prefers the classic look for a boot?
‘I think you move with the times – I remember Umbro trying to get me to try other colours at some point, and I was really reluctant, but you do it once and then it seems normal! Now, I don’t think people bat an eyelid, unless it’s something fluorescent, I don’t mind really. I do prefer a type, rather than a particular colour, I’m not keen on those boots that have elements to change the swerve or affect your game. I prefer a pure, classic boot, like the Speciali, with things like durability, lightness and comfort.’

Are you keen to have your name on your boots? Who was the first player to do that kind of thing?
‘David Beckham was definitely one of the first, if not the first, and that’s one of those things that’s just grown from there. As soon as everyone saw it they wanted something. The first thing I had was my autograph, and my number. I wouldn’t want anything else really – I wouldn’t want to do it for the FA Cup final and then have to break a new pair in for a game like that!’

There was actually one occasion where I’d been asked to wear some special embroidered boots by Umbro for the FA Cup final. I was on a great streak at the time, we’d won the Carling Cup, going really well, and we were looking forward to the FA Cup as well. I went into training on the week before wearing these new boots for the final, and the manager at the time Gerard Houllier noticed and was adamant that I couldn’t wear them. So I wore the old ones instead, and obviously went on to score two goals in the final. So I never got to wear those boots!’

What about superstitions around boots, would you ever change your boots after a run of bad games?
‘No, I was lucky when I was a kid to have a pair for two or three years, so I had to look after them and make them last. I think that lives with you as well, so that’s continued as I’ve got older. You’ve got to respect what you’ve got. My dad always took pride in me looking smart on the pitch as well, he’d never let me clean my boots, that was something he always did for me. Then they’d look great before the next game and they’d last, and that’s embedded in me. I always put my right boot on first, that comes from my dad as well, that was his superstition when he was a player, so he’s passed that on. And I do it with my kids now!

I’d only retire some boots early if I did something special in them. I’ve kept a couple of pairs of boots – I’ve got my World Cup 98 boots, and the Germany hat trick boots with the match ball, I keep a few.’

Alan Shearer

Going right back to the start, how did you end up wearing Umbro boots in the first place?
‘I actually wrote a letter off to Umbro and some other companies, asking for a pair of boots basically, or some sort of sponsorship, and Umbro were the ones that replied. I got a few pairs of boots, some tracksuits and a kit deal for a year, so that’s how it started. And it’s still going to this day. So it’s been going a long time, and it’s been pretty successful for both parties. Over this period of time, it’s been more than a contract to be honest.’

Do you remember the first pair of Speciali boots you received?
‘I’m not sure of the exact year, but I do remember getting them. What stands out for me is that they’re a really pure football boot. There’s no pink or orange on them, no unnecessary additions, and that’s what I like.

Would you say they fitted with your personality on the pitch?
‘I wanted a boot that worked, a boot that was comfortable and did the job, and the Speciali did that for me. God knows how many goals I scored in them, but I had some great times in the Specialis. Once I’d worn the Specialis, I just wanted to wear them all the time. I wore them until they dropped off to be honest.’

Did you ever have any superstitions around your boots?
‘If I’d gone on a barren spell, which luckily wasn’t very often for me, I would change into a new pair of boots. And the same way, if I found a pair that I was scoring in, I kept them on for as long as I could. I wasn’t really classed as a goalscorer when I was at Southampton, I think my record was something like 1 in every 3 and a half games, which is not great for a striker. But once I’d moved to Blackburn in 1992, a barren spell for me was about 4 or 5 games, I think.’

You had a pretty good record for scoring on your debut as well, didn’t you?
‘Yep, I scored on my England debut, on my Blackburn debut, scored on my Southampton debut and my Newcastle home debut. Things like that never played on my mind though, I never got nervous. I got excited before a game, butterflies in the stomach, but that was more wanting to get out and play the game.’

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