Words by Mark Smith
Interview by Sam Waller & Tom Scott
Photographs by Mike Sallabank
Archive images courtesy of adidas
When it comes to footwear, going against the grain is a well trodden path for us. The divine duo of suede and crepe is a match we’ve made time and time again, despite the rainy reputation our locality endures. That’s been the way of our world for as long as we can remember and it won’t change until Clarks come up with waterproof Wellybees.
Striking a similar chord are the archetype that is the adidas Stan Smith. Dressing like a 1970s tennis ace isn’t the strongest look, unless of course you’re actually a 1970s tennis ace. But the style of an early 80s French exchange student? Nice hair, nice kecks, nice jumper and a pair of Stans in the narrower silhouette? Bien sûr, even in 2014 Manchester.
Those bridge building Frenchies certainly knew their onions, and not just when it came to, you know, actual onions. Stereotypes aside, maybe the Stan Smith embedded itself into a very British appreciation before those pesky Scousers started bringing back sports footwear from the continent? These days footwear technology has moved on and a pair of Stans are about as suitable for ragging about a tennis court as their colourful shoey cousins Kios, but a classic simple white pair of pumps paired with jeans or cords, topped off with a lambswool sweater? Yeah, we could go for that.
While many understandably favour the City series combo of gum sole and bright suede or the more recent trend for brightly coloured runners, the place for the brilliant white of a pair of Stans is surely undisputed. Sporty but not too sporty, they seem to make more sense now. It's been a while since they were on the agenda, perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder?
They're the perfect shoe to rage against the tech running machine that’s been dominating the last few seasons. Simple, classic, understated.
Like the man who endorsed them, the adidas Stan Smith naturally began on the tennis court, so ins and outs were part of its character right from the start. This ace reissue finally does justice to the Made in France originals. Served up this week. they’re ready to take up their place on centre court once again.
Interview with Stan Smith
Stan Smith is more than just a face on the tongue of some trainers; he’s a real man who is very good at playing tennis. In 1971 he won the US Open and in 1972 he won Wimbledon, but it wasn’t until 2014 that he finally realised his dream — being interviewed for Pica~Post. Here’s what the great man had to say.
SAM: Hello Stan, nice to meet you.
STAN: They say you’re from Oi Polloi. How many shops do you lot have?
SAM: Just the one. Up in Manchester.
STAN: I think I played Manchester once, but I can’t really remember.
SAM: Do you mean it was forgettable?
STAN: It was a forgettable moment in my career. No, I don’t think I actually did play. I played in Birmingham. I played a few places. But I don’t think I played in Manchester.
SAM: How long are you here for then?
STAN: I’m only here for a couple of days.
SAM: Is it strictly business or are you seeing any of the sights whilst you’re here?
STAN: I’m not seeing any of the sights this time but I’ve been here to Wimbledon 45 years in a row, so I’ve seen a few sights.
SAM: I suppose we may as well start with the questions. Starting at the start, how did you end up playing tennis?
STAN: You know my first love was basketball, and then I played football, and baseball, and then track and field, and then tennis. We went to a clinic at the public high school and I ended up hitting a few less balls over the fence. A lot of the guys seemed to be trying to get home runs with their tennis rackets. A group of parents in my area formed a foundation and they hired Pancho Segura. He was one of the greatest coaches of all time. He helped with my game and I got a little more interested when I won a few matches.
SAM: How old were you at this point?
STAN: Well, I was about 15 when he started helping me.
SAM: So basketball was out the window?
STAN: No, I played basketball until about half way through my senior year at high school, I was about 17. That was the biggest decision of my life at that time to quit basketball and just concentrate on tennis.
SAM: Were you quite high up with basketball as well?
STAN: I was pretty good. Every year that goes by I was better than I really was at the time, but I don’t think I could have accomplished what I did in tennis.
SAM: When did you realise that tennis could be a job?
STAN: It was at this one tournament in the summer after college. The guys I was playing against were asked who was one of the favourites for the tournament, and they said I was. That was the thing that really turned my career around — realising that some of the best players in the world thought that I was on the same level as them. That made me realise maybe I could play tennis at that level.
SAM: I’m not going to lie, I’m terrible at tennis. How would I get to that level?
STAN: The biggest thing that the great players do is make the game look easy. And the reason they make it look easy is because they prepare quickly. So for the average or beginner type player I would say early preparation when you see the ball come off the opponent’s racket is one of the most important things. Because if you start preparing early then you don’t have to make a big adjustment at the last second — you’re making just a minor adjustment at the last second. So preparing quickly, quicker than you might be doing now, that’s something that could help you a lot.
TOM: Would you say all pros make it look easy? Nadal doesn’t make it look easy does he?
STAN: Well, that’s a good point. He doesn’t make it look like Federer. Federer makes it look real easy. Today’s game, it’s always been this way but today even more so, you’ve got to be able to move. If you look at the great players and you ranked them on foot-speed then the rankings would be pretty much synonymous. Alright, you might have a really quick player that has no hand eye coordination, but they wouldn’t be in the rankings. But yeah, it’s a good point. Nadal doesn’t make it look as easy as Federer does. But generally he’s there, he’s got the movement.
SAM: You were always renowned as a bit of a gentleman. How did you manage to stay calm when playing against people like Nastase?
STAN: Well, everyone has different personalities. I realised that to play my best I had to really stay focussed. People ask me when Nastase got upset against me, did that bother me? I said that was great. I loved it when he got upset. But the problem was when he did things to try to throw you off, or when he argued. At the time the officials weren’t as strong and so he might argue for five minutes and all of a sudden you lose your rhythm. So what I did against Nastase was turn my back and not acknowledge anything he did. You know sometimes he was crazy but I just tried to ignore his antics and that made him even more crazy. So that was my way of not getting involved and not give any encouragement that I was getting annoyed.
I played with him in Las Vegas once. It was about 100 degrees, or about 35 as you guys say, and he was dying. He was complaining about how tired he was and all that sort of thing. About 20 years later we talked about that and he said, “You didn’t look tired at all,” and I said, “I was exhausted but I didn’t show it to you because I didn’t want you to get the encouragement that I was tired.”
SAM: How is it when you meet these players now who you’ve had such high pressure matches with? Is it all water under the bridge.
STAN: Yeah, Nastase was harmless. He was always harmless, but on the court he was tough to play against because he was such a good player and he had these antics that would throw your rhythm off. He would do things on purpose sometimes, and sometimes he would just lose it and he couldn’t control himself. Everybody hated him to play against because he would always try to throw you off.
SAM: But off the court it was all amicable?
STAN: But yeah, off the court he’s a friend and if I see him today it’s great. He’s been with adidas almost as long as I have. Laver too.
SAM: Do you lot ever check the sales and see who’s doing the best?
Yeah, we’ve talked about that a little bit, but of course my shoe’s done really well so I just rub it in.
TOM: How does that feel? That this shoe with your name on it has transcended the sport and became this pop culture icon?
STAN: It’s weird. I was just in the right place at the right time. It was created by Horst Dassler and Robert Haillet. About five years later my name got affiliated with it. It really is nothing to do with me in that sense. When they were making the changes the only change I recommended was to have a little more support on the Achilles. They used my name to help sell the shoes, but if you were to ask a fifteen year old or a twenty year old on the street now, they would have no idea who I was.
SAM: You were obviously glad your face was put to a good product. What if they came to you with an idea like hover-shoes or something? Is there a point where you’d step in and stop them?
STAN: Well, I was thinking about getting my name on a Dr. Martens boot… nah, just kidding. I was very fortunate that adidas was the best brand in the business so I couldn’t be happier to be with them. Hopefully they feel that my name has helped the sales of the shoe as well.
SAM: How did it come about in the first place?
STAN: I wasn’t sponsored by adidas at the time. At the time they wanted to get into the US market in a stronger way. So Robert Haillet’s name was on the shoes originally and we made an arrangement that within three years his name would be off the shoe and my name would be on. Both of our names were on the shoe for a few years.
SAM: What was that like? Sharing a shoe with another tennis player?
STAN: He was about fifteen years older than me and I didn’t really know him too well. But he was the one — him and Horst Dassler created that first leather tennis shoe. He was very involved in the whole design process. He died about a year ago and his son gave me the call to let me know, because we’d become friends with that common bond of the shoes.
SAM: How often do you wear your shoes?
STAN: I wear them all the time.
SAM: Ha, but haven’t you got to say that?
STAN: I’ve got these black suede ones with maroon stitching and I wear them a lot. And then on the tennis court I wear the Stan Smith Millennium because it’s got a thicker sole.
SAM: What would happen if you were sighted with some other trainers on?
STAN: I’d be killed. I’d be murdered by some tennis fanatic… or a sneaker freak.
SAM: Do you find it strange how mental people are about trainers?
STAN: Yeah I’ve met some real fanatics in the last twenty years. They don’t take the shoes out the box. It’s amazing what some people are like. But it’s fun to see that they have such a reverence for the shoe, I don’t think they’ve got the reverence for me necessarily, but they like the shoes.
SAM: Do many people recognise you from the picture on the tongue?
STAN: Not so much from the picture, but in general people say, “Stan Smith, is that the real Stan Smith?” and I say, “Well, my mother thinks so.” But yeah, people are surprised that I’m still around.
SAM: Do you know how many they’ve sold?
STAN: Well, I don’t know exactly but it’s 38,000,958. No, I’m joking, but it’s something around 40 million now.
SAM: You’re still involved in tennis today. You do coaching on an island or something don’t you? At least that’s what Wikipedia says.
STAN: Yep, Hilton Head, South Caroliona. We have a tennis academy, Smith Sterns. It’s Billy Sterns and me. We’ve been doing that for about ten or eleven years. Some of the kids will buy the shoes for hanging out.
SAM: With tennis being such a big part of your life for so long, how do you think it’s changed?
STAN: You know, in reality I would love to see more people playing, and to see everybody have a chance to play. Not just the people who might be able to afford to play. I’d love to see the game expand to a wider number of people playing. The problem with it, especially at the very highest level, is that it’s expensive to develop a player. You’ve got to get coaching, you’ve got to get training, you’ve got to go to tournaments, you’ve got to go internationally — it’s a very expensive ordeal. It’s different to football where you can get a team of guys and you can play on asphalt or Astroturf or grass. All you need is a ball and a pair of shoes… do many people play football in my shoes?
SAM: Yeah maybe not on the pitch, but definitely for a kick-about.
STAN: But football’s bigger worldwide. You go to some countries and tennis is in the top three or four. In the United States tennis is more like 12 or 15. But I don’t know. What would you say in England?
SAM: Football, rugby, maybe cricket…
STAN: Cricket? Is that a sport? I thought it was like pool. You know, where you don’t sweat much. England’s not sweating too much lately huh?
SAM: But yeah, tennis is easily top ten. I think they’re saying we’ve got to wrap it up here…
TOM: Just one quick question before we go. Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon, how far do you think he can go?
STAN: I told you that when I won that tournament and the guys were saying that I was a favourite, that was a turning point in my career, and when he won the Olympics, that was a turning point. He then came back and won Wimbledon and the US Open. His confidence in the tight situations is always vulnerable, now his confidence level is higher and if he can stay physically and emotionally into it, he could win any title at all. He could win them all.
TOM: I do think that if he could consistently be at the top of the game for a good period of time then it would really help tennis development in the UK.
STAN: I think it would, sometimes it doesn’t match up, but hopefully there’s going to be more kids playing because of him. He’s become more mature, he’s wearing the right brand so what else can I say?
SAM: Any final thoughts Stan?
Well, I’ll just say that if you really want to be cool — wear my shoes.
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