Sneakers and Subcultures. Discovering the favorite silhouettes in major UK cities.
The UK has always been a microcosm characterized by subcultures, customs and traditions that differ from city to city-one of its most distinctive features. While Cornwall is all about meat pies and Glasglow is famous for its fried Mars bars, the rest of the UK cannot agree on whether cream or jam should be put on scones first.
However, there is one common element that unites all these cities: a passion for sneakers, which are called trainers here. Although the choice of this type of footwear is shared, the models and brands differ depending on the subcultures and the roles they played from region to region. A prime example is soccer, which played a major role in the choice of sneakers adopted by different local communities.
During the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, rock music, rave culture, and britpop culture began to mimic the looks and styles worn by fans in the stands, contributing to the spread of silhouettes such as the adidas Samba and Gazelle, but not only. At the same time, the rave culture of the 1990s influenced the night scene, leading to the spread of running styles that were particularly comfortable for spending hours on the track, such as Reebok and Nike running shoes.
Only the United Kingdom can offer such an important anthropological document, unique in the Sneakers Culture scene: the choice of trainers depends on where one grew up, showing a certain devotion to one’s city. Whether it’s the red streets of Salford with adidas Spezials or crossing Buchanan Street in Glasgow with New Balance, the choice of sneakers in British cities plays a key role in defining regional identity. It is also a true statement on the subculture adopted as a lifestyle.
Find out here about the five big cities in the UK and their favorite sneakers that set them apart.
Manchester – The timeless legacy of the adidas Spezial
Back in 1979, adidas introduced its revolutionary creation to the world: the Spezial, an elite handball shoe. Conceived by the legendary Gary Aspden, the sneaker won the hearts of some of the best players on the planet, and as the 1980s came along, it became a style icon for men across the British nation, especially in Manchester.
The 1990s brought the explosion of Oasis. The band led by the charismatic Liam and Noel Gallagher quickly leapt to the forefront of the international music scene, and, as a result, Manchester established itself as a hub of urban trends. Liam Gallagher, the Oasis frontman, became a true benchmark for fashion inspiration within the rainy city, with his unmistakable style: bucket hat, parka jacket, baggy jeans, and, of course, the ever-present adidas Spezial.
Liam Gallagher’s Mancunian roots continue to be a major source of inspiration. Last year, the artist, now committed to his solo career, proudly presented his latest collaboration with adidas, the LG2 SPZL, the worthy successor to the 2019 edition.
Today, adidas Spezials stand proudly on every corner of Manchester, crossing the paths of both City and United fans. Creative Mancunian, Ste Wing, enthusiastically shared, “I still remember jumping the gates of Old Trafford with friends from the neighborhood as a kid and admiring the Gazelles in all their shades. A real ’90s Manc!”
Thus, the timeless legacy of the adidas Spezial continues to make its mark in the heart of vibrant Manchester, uniting the past with the present and inspiring future generations.
Liverpool – The eternal affinity with the Air Max 95s.
Scousers, typical Liverpool residents, have always braved the weather in shorts throughout the year. Although the On Running has recently gained ground as the Scouse’s informal uniform, the trainer that nurtures the deepest connection to the city is undoubtedly the Air Max 95.
Known locally as the “110,” since they used to cost 110 pounds, there is a joke in Liverpool about Nike shipping more 95s here than anywhere else in the world. Of all of them, the Nike Air Max 95 “Neon OG” holds special significance for Liverpool residents, having first landed on the city’s streets back in 1995, painting the metropolis neon and becoming an integral essence of its identity.
Liverpool-based sneaker stores like Kersh Kicks have also played a key role in keeping the 110 on top of sneaker popularity in this city. The Kersh brothers recently opened a new flagship store in their hometown, and to celebrate the event, they donated as many as 20 pairs of AM 95s.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, the Kersh brothers said, “We know that Liverpool has always had a special relationship with the 110,” so we thought there was no better way to celebrate the opening of our store than by giving away 20 pairs of the latest Nike Air Max 95s.”
While the “Neon OG” continues to be a fan favorite throughout the city, the relentless release of new colorways, such as the recent “Beetroot,” continues to fill Liverpool residents with joy and excitement about the future of their beloved Air Max 95s, or, to use typical Liverpool parlance, the “boss webs.”
London – The fervent devotion to the Nike Air Max 90
The legendary Air Max 90, conceived by Tinker Hatfield, continues to be unconditionally loved even 32 years after its debut, and its appeal is even more irresistible in vibrant London.
Globally, the AM 90 has established itself as one of Nike’s most beloved silhouettes, sparking explosive sales growth for the Beaverton-based brand. So much excitement was generated that London opened its first Nike Town flagship in the heart of the capital, with shelves filled with Air Max 90s. The sneaker is now an irreplaceable icon in Nike’s world.
The AM 90 gained a prominent place in the uniform of the capital’s urban culture, especially in the early 2000s, when the grime music genre became the new sensation of the moment. This music genre redefined an entire London generation with its synth-heavy beats and scratchy sounds that transcended from pirate radio stations to the general public.
One notable detail is the cover image of Dizzee Rascal’s Mercury Prize-winning debut album, titled “Boy in da Corner,” in which the rapper wears a pair of dark AM 90s. This event set a precedent for the future of London footwear, which is still seen today in modern-day collaborations such as Basement x Air Max 90s and Dizzee Rascal’s Air Max 90 “Tongue N Cheek” AM 90s, still proudly worn by ravers and grime-heads.
London and the Nike Air Max 90: an indelible connection that continues to influence the city’s style and culture, a testament to the iconic power of this timeless sneaker.
Newcastle – Adoration for the adidas Originals Gazelle
In Newcastle, soccer is an unsurpassed passion. As a city with only one major club, it has created a rare unity not found elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
As fans make their way across James’ Boulevard and Barrack Road to the beloved St. James’ Park, most geordies proudly wear a pair of adidas Originals Gazelle, hoping to achieve European soccer glory this season.
The adidas Gazelle has become a status symbol on par with brands such as Lacoste, Fred Perry, and Lyle and Scott, outlining an unwritten code for entering the stands. Even today, this sneaker is closely linked to soccer culture, and on game day it is virtually impossible not to spot a pair of suede Gazelles with the vibrant colors paired with Newcastle United’s classic black and white stripe.
Glasgow – Innate Passion for New Balance 574s.
Although Scotland may not shine as much as other British cities for its affinity for sneakers, Glasgow has a long and warm relationship with New Balance, especially with the iconic 574s.
Although Nike and adidas silhouettes still maintain a strong presence in Glasgow, the link between the city and New Balance is gaining more and more relevance, thanks in part to NB’s “Made in UK” umbrella in Flimby. Although the factory is not technically in Scotland, the Scottish border is clearly visible from much of the surrounding areas, and many sneaker enthusiasts in the city proudly sport several New Balance models.
The New Balance 574 is inextricably linked to the green and white colors of Glasgow and the Celtic fans. The brand became Celtic’s official apparel sponsor in 2015, and since then, the Hoops have collaborated with NB to create their own sneaker-the famous “Treble Treble” 997H silhouette, which celebrated the club’s historic third consecutive season, during which three prestigious awards were earned.
In this journey through different cities in the United Kingdom and their affinities for iconic sneakers, we discovered how culture, music, and sports can shape shoe preferences in different communities. Each city has its own distinctive style, which is reflected in the sneakers chosen by its residents.
From London with its undying passion for Nike Air Max 90s, which continue to enchant with their timeless design, to Manchester, where adidas Spezials have created a deep connection with the music and football scene, sneakers have become a symbol of identity and belonging. Newcastle demonstrated its unconditional love for the adidas Originals Gazelle, uniting the city through soccer and street culture.
Meanwhile, Liverpool has kept its affection for the Nike Air Max 95 alive, testifying to the incredible impact of an iconic sneaker in the city’s social and musical fabric. In Glasgow, the passion for the New Balance 574 has grown over time, reflecting the love of soccer and the connection to the famous Celtic club.
We witnessed how these shoes forged special bonds between people and how they helped define the personality and identity of each community. Sneakers are not just fashion accessories, but true tools of cultural expression.
The journey between English cities and their favorite silhouettes was a true journey into the heart of communities, uniting past and present through a passion for soccer, music, and fashion. Sneakers remain a universal language, capable of connecting people regardless of their cultural background.
Finally, we realized that Sneaker Culture is an ever-evolving phenomenon, shaped by the cultural influences and creativity of each city. Sneakers are much more than objects of desire; they have become keepers of stories, emotions and traditions, which continue to convey their timeless appeal to anyone who wears them.
In each of these cities, sneakers have become more than just footwear; they have become symbols of unique stories, territorial pride, and passion for fashion and lifestyle. Sneaker Culture merged with the subcultures of each city, creating a true identity, expressed through style.