Transalpino…If You know, You Know!

Written by Shaun Duffy
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When Duffy met Jockey in a Liverpool coffee shop the outcome was inevitable; the Adidas enthusiast engaging with the Adidas dealer was only ever going to end one way…..orgasmic. Sound familiar?

Picture the scene….It’s a crisp spring morning in Liverpool city centre and the Tories have recently secured another term in office. A narrow, cobbled, city centre street is awash with commuters and shop assistants scurrying to the workplace and a gathering of floppy fringed teenagers wearing straight-leg jeans, cagoules, trackie tops and the obligatory Adidas trabs are queuing patiently outside an unassuming-looking premises made conspicuous by its worn shuttered frontage.

The morning silence is temporarily disturbed by the boy racer driving a souped-up 1970s Volkswagen Golf. Coasting in first gear, the unmistakable whiff of marijuana is polluting the air from the driver’s side window and his sound system is full on, pumping out the The Jam’s Eton Rifles.

The queue gets longer and is now catching the attention of passers-by but the young Liverpool scallywags are oblivious to it. They’re only interested in today’s delivery and right on cue the white van man arrives. He’s a rapidly greying forty-something and his late arrival is met with good natured, witty, Scouse banter. He holds his own and is equal to his juvenile detractors. The shutters go up, the consignment is unloaded and the wait is over.

The year is 1982. Liverpool is a city at war with Thatcher and her immoral Government. The shop is the iconic Liverpool trainer store Wade Smith on Slater Street and the clientele are the working class custodians of Britain’s terraces, the much maligned football casuals.


The year is actually 2015. Liverpool is still a city at war with the Tories but this time with Cameron and his austerity troops. Same shit, different decade. Adidas is no longer for the esoteric and the shop is the newly opened Transalpino on Bold Street, the country’s leading Adidas dead stock specialist. White van man Mr Grey, not of 50 shades fame, is actually Transalpino founder and owner Jockey, who occasionally answers to his birth name Brendan Wyatt. It’s the second coming for Jockey’s shop and it’s a rebirth that has been greeted with a hysteria that really justifies the hype.

Since its foundation in 1949, by Adi Dassler, after an irreparable acrimonious split with his brother, Rudolf, Adidas, with its famous three stripes trademark has completely redefined the sporting goods industry. It’s a brand synonymous with the world’s finest athletes, elite sportsmen and greatest sports teams. But in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s a British subculture steeped in rebellion was to take the industry by surprise and was responsible for raising the Adidas profile away from the sporting arena. The unlikely catalyst for a change in direction by Adidas was the unruly football casual subculture and a young firm of streetwise scallies from Liverpool are credited with being the pioneers of a phenomenon that, although nowadays somewhat underground, is still alive almost 40 years later.

Football casuals were very much part of an anti-establishment movement born in an era that saw Liverpool entrenched in deep recession and civil unrest. Unemployment was high in the city and poverty was rife. The football casual subculture peaked between 1981-83 and it was during this period that the obsessively-dressed Scouse firm would travel across Europe to Liverpool and Everton away games foraging for exclusivity and relieving unsuspecting sports shop owners of unique Adidas footwear and chic, casual yet expensive sportswear and created a unique identity for themselves. It was an infamous underground look that was to be copied by football hooligans throughout the UK and then later on to a lesser degree by football thugs in Europe and beyond.

The Scouse firm were savvy street kids from the city’s unforgiving council estates. They were survivors in a period of decline not seen since the war and following the fortunes of the city’s football teams was a temporary release from an otherwise bleak existence. It was to unwittingly become a way of life and a full time profession that was to provide an enviable lifestyle and an opportunity to flick a hearty two fingered salute to Thatcher and the Tory Gestapo she entrusted with bringing about the demise of Liverpool and its militant tendencies.

Jockey, a sixties child born in the tough Kirkdale district of Liverpool and the son of a Liverpool docker and merchant seaman, is a survivor. He was part of a scene that oozed a dark esotericism entirely keeping with the subcultural ethos of the time. Entrepreneur, charity fundraiser and full time scally, he has now concentrated all his energies into the rebirth of Transalpino, the cult trainer shop he originally founded in 2005.

The original store in Gostins Arcade – Peter Hooton talks to Alexei Sayle

The latest Transalpino store above Sohos in Bold Street

From scally street kid to scally shop owner…..this is Jockey’s tale.

Life in early 1980s Liverpool was character building and the European away trips that gave birth to the casual subculture was a release from the daily societal struggles inflicted upon the city’s inhabitants by Margaret Thatcher. Give us an insight into your formative years on the scene. Poverty, European exploits, camaraderie, fashion, transportation, scams, tomfoolery etc.

“I was born on the Kirkdale side of Everton Valley, the main thoroughfare to both Goodison Park and Anfield. From about the age of four in 1970 I witnessed football violence frequently with it being the skinhead era and it was a fascinating introduction for a small kid with a big imagination to see firms of skins and suede-heads in crombies and 18 hole Doc Martins marching up the Valley and being chased back down it. It was around this time I first became familiar with 'Mancs' and their 'Red Army' I think they came later and were boot Boys and bovver Boys with long hair, three star jumpers but still sporting Doc Martins...its always the footwear. I remember me arl fella always said when he met someone new he'd check out his shoes first, he was old school and fought in WW2 so he probably just checked that they were polished but I think the basic principal resonates today.

I'd remember the plod would often take the laces out of the Red Armies boots to make it more difficult for them to scrap. So with all this going on it wasn't to long before a seven year old me was making his way up to Goodison and Anfield to see what all the commotion was about. That was 1973, by 1978 via my apprenticeship in the Boys Pen, I was a fully paid up member of the Anny Road Crew....I was 12 years old.

This was smack bang in the middle of Liverpool FC’s rise to European dominance and older lads like Mono were making their way across to Europe to see the reds compete; Bruges in 1976 and the Super Cup final in Hamburg in 77/78  were notable games.

These young Scousers who only months before were wearing flared jeans and suedies had started a rapid crossover to drainies and Adidas  Samba, Mamba, Bamba and Kick (for kids) twinned with the now iconic white and green Stan Smith’s were the order of the day.

Times were hard in the late 70s. Me arl fella who was well into his fifties when he was widowed with two young kids in 1970 did a great job bringing us up but we were street kids and the streets belonged to us. I've always had a great sense of was his fault...he used to tell me about his seafaring days and his visits to places like Rio de Janero, Cape Town and Hong Kong, adding 'you'll never get to see these places.' So after he died when I was 18, I was determined to prove him wrong.

So anyway it’s the dawning of a new decade, Thatcher has recently come to power, no fucker has got a job and the youth of Merseyside are forming two scally armies; one blue and one red. The same is happening up the East Lancashire Rd but on a smaller, slower scale. We didn’t give a fuck if we were travelling with Liverpool or Everton at the time as long as there was skullduggery to be had; we were there as tom shop and sports shop owners countrywide would testify.

The older lads were coming back from Europe with tales of Jewellery shops only having a curtain across their window displays and sports shops with trainers in pairs on display.... not yer Sambas and Stan Smith but footwear that had never been seen on these shores.

I'd pinpoint the mass exodus of Scousers into Europe to the 80-81 season which ended with Liverpool’s triumph in the Parc de Princess (sp) in May of that year, via a semi-final in Munich. Many lads chose the student travel agency Transalpino as their preferred travel agency, not particularity because of their competitive rates but the fact that their tickets could be doctored. For instance, a return trip to Oostende from Liverpool would cost...say £13, but with an ink rubber and a bit of care you could change the destination to...say....Munchen via a few cities en route, cities with an abundance of sports shops of course.

Boylo was in my class at school but in the University of Life he'd graduated long before me, a typical Scottie Roader with the wedged haircut and the attitude and cheek to match it. Over the years we would partner each other on many trips into Europe but back then he was head hunted by the older lads and was constantly getting off abroad, returning with head bags full of gear, the kid was driving around in a pink jag when he was 16. If you wanted to know what the latest jacket/trackie/trainees were, just take a walk along Anfield Road the next home game and keep your eye out for Boylo. On his occasional visits into school he would be telling us about is adventures and it was long before I was 'getting off' myself.”

What was the first pair of trainers you wore at the match, what was the first pair of trainers you acquired from foreign shores and when did it become apparent that Adidas trainers had become de rigeur on the terraces?

“I can’t really remember my first trabs that I wore at the match but my first trabs were a pair of Gola Cobra, I can still remember the smell as I excitedly opened the box. These were followed by Mitre Memphis which was the big brother of Mitre Munich. My first pair of Adidas would have been Samba or Stan Smith which would have been around 1978. Kickers, Pod and Puma would have been competing in the footwear stakes around that time as well but those two Adidas models were king back then and the only ones Adidas were selling in this country at the time.

It wasn’t always about the footwear though…. it was clobber, the attitude and even the walk and Scottie Road seemed to be the epicentre. A popular piece of clothing back then was the Peter Werth striped knitted polo jumper nick named ‘the Scottie Jumper’ as everyone on Scotland Road seemed to own one.

My first trabs from abroad would have been Trimm Trab or Grand Slam brought back from a pre-season tour of Switzerland in 1982. I’d always sell a lot of my gear, only keeping a few prized pieces, I always had an eye on making money rather than peacocking around the terraces… it could sometimes be fuckin dangerous wearing the best gear at away games back then. I remember Wolves away first game of the season in 82 or 83, I was continuously targeted for my Bjorn Borg trackie and another kid from Huyton got his Adidas trabs robbed during a pre-match battle outside Molyneux by the Subway Army who were also called the Adidas ATP firm (according to the graffiti around the stadium). But getting back to the original question, I’d say 1978 saw the emergence of Adidas on terraces of Merseyside.”

Fast forward two decades to 2005. With the casual subculture seemingly suppressed and Adidas now predominantly mainstream, what inspired you to open a specialist trainer shop and how did the name Transalpino transpire?

“Since going straight many years before, I’d had market stalls selling goods bought from suppliers in the UK before moving into wholesale that meant travelling to China to cut out the middle men. Over there I found a place that had thousands of different shoes available at stupid money so I sort of fell into the shoe game. Dealing in that environment, a lot of bartering goes on and someone offered me a job lot of Adidas trabs in exchange for some of my stock. I’d also just opened a t-shirt shop and threw the stock in there….the tees weren’t selling but the trabs were!

I was taken by surprise…looking back the timing was just right, there was a growing market for that kind of stuff and me never doing things by half jumped right in…plus a warm shop wins hands down against a cold and wet market stall.

The name was simple; a mate suggested it after the travel agency that facilitated our trips into Europe many years before. During that period I headed all over Europe looking for trabs, done the east coast and the west coast of America, travelled down to Brazil stopping short of Argentina but had a contact who was shipping me SL72s and 76s made in South America. Over in Hong Kong, I was also discovering ‘sneaker’ boutiques that had some sought after pieces in so I was doing things a bit different than what the established trainer shops on the high street were doing….and I won’t lie…it gave me a buzz when trainer addicts (cos that’s what they are) would wet themselves over my latest finds.”

What made Transalpino successful before the well documented credit crunch brought about its closure?

“One word…Nostalgia! Lads came in the shop and I talked to them for an hour about trainers and even if they didn’t buy anything they’d still be made welcome and they’d always go away and tell their friends. The shop was also like a museum, I’d quite often leave people alone with their thoughts as they went from shoe to shoe on display probably triggering long lost memories from way back.

If I had a pound for every time someone said ‘Adidas Kick were my first trainees’ I’d be a rich man.

It wasn’t unusual for a big strapping fella with size 12 feet to buy a pair of size 7 shoes just to add to his collection…knowing that he may never get the chance to see them again if he walked out of the door.

Transalpino ‘numero uno’ was a huge success for a while, it was totally independent without any main footwear accounts but it was destined to fail. I was buying from all over the world and paying in dollars. At one point you could get two dollars to the pound and 1.40 euro to the pound. When the pound caved in, we did too. This, together with the global ‘credit crunch’ and Adidas’s favoured stores getting decent reissues in, it was time to pack in and concentrate on other projects.”

What was the bestselling trainer during Transalpino's first stint in Liverpool?

“Different people had their favourites, the Kegler Super for me was the grail to source back then, but with it being reissued a couple of times it’s not as popular now, it’s one-upmanship ain’t it? Lads want to wear something on their plates that other lads won’t be wearing.

I had a couple of decent touches the first time round, I walked into a dusty old sports shop in Miami back in 2007 and found a load of blue Indoor Supers and Harvards. The owner was an old Jewish guy who didn’t even own a mobile phone and he had a shop next door which had closed down but through the dirty windows you could see a wall of Adidas on show. I asked him if I could get in there and he opened up for me. I nearly wet me pants, there was OG Stan Smiths, OG Gazelles, Sambas and much more from the late 70s. I told him I’d take the lot only to be informed that it was an old display and he only had the right feet! Looking back, I still should have took them.

I also picked up 50 pairs of the white/yellow/gold Forest Hills from Italy around that time, the sellers just couldn’t sell them over there, whereas I shifted them in a couple of days.

Malmo’s from a little store in Hong Kong was another memorable one.”

Tell us about the clientele and was there any correlation with the early 80s scene?

“The first time round I would say the majority of customers had a terrace background but there were also lots of young lads aged around 15/16 years old who were getting into their trainers. The bulk of the clientele these days are in their mid 20s and veterans. But we do get a steady influx of teenagers coming into the shop with their grandads so I would say we have a varied customer base of 12 year olds through to 65 year olds.

What I’ve noticed this time round is notable number of ladies coming in who know their stuff, something I’d never seen before. I’m also coming across a lot of customers who have no interest in football but love the three stripes.”

It's ten years since Transalpino arrived in the city and after a four year sabbatical, the second coming is upon us. What inspired you to re-open Transalpino?

“To be honest it all came about a bit sudden. We reopened our new store on Bold Street in Liverpool (opposite established trainer store SIZE) on 01 May 2015. I was inbetween careers and after importing from the Far East for years I was looking for something new to do. It was around this time that a lad I know was organising the first Laces Out trainer festival in Liverpool and as I still had a bit of old stock in the attic from the previous shop, I decided to have a clear out. I couldn't believe the response, I walked away that day with a few quid in me pocket and the seed was sown. I started picking up bits and pieces for the next festival 6 months away and lo and behold had another blinding day. I thought fuck it I'm gonna launch the website again and started picking up more bits, mainly pre worn, mentioned it to a few people who told me how much they missed the shop and were sick of what the high street had to offer and the seed got bigger. An opportunity came along that premises opposite SIZE was available and I couldn't let it pass me by, dipped into me life savings and took the plunge. I felt it was a big gamble but on the first day we opened there was a queue outside the shop and the takings that day equated to the best ever day in the old Transalpino which closed in 2010.”

Dead stock trainers are notoriously difficult to source. It's a costly, laborious exercise but it's an area of expertise that Transalpino excels in. Without giving too much away, tell us about the latest surprisingly unlikely source of procurement...the Adidas collector?

"I’ve got lads selling me their collections on the cheap rather than sell them to a faceless buyer on Ebay. It's like they want to use Transalpino like a trusted conduit to find a good home for their trabs. A bit like finding a good home for a dog they need to get rid of because a new-born has come along."

Do you think the on-line market place and the endless reissuing of old styles have affected the market for vintage training shoes?

“Yes and no. Social media and the internet have their good and bad points; it’s just learning how to manipulate them to suit your needs. There are people who will want to shoot you down at the drop of a hat but would never dream of saying it to you in a real life situation. I use the internet to source goods but will jump on a plane or train at a moment’s notice to get what I want. Reissues finished us the first time round but the seasoned trainer fanatic is sick of them and wants something different. I won’t lie…….I get a buzz out of sourcing rare pieces!”

You’ve seen, sold and worn thousands of trainers spanning over five decades. Do you have any particular favourite that has stood the test of time?

“It changes, but my personal favourite at the moment has to be the SL80 in the blue/gold colourway, I'd love to get hold of an SL82 but have never even seen a pair in the flesh. Another favourite that I let go was the Ostrich skin Keglers which were pretty sought after at the time. Very popular at the moment is anything from the city series; I've had quite a few OG pieces in the short time we've been open, the likes of Adidas Amsterdam, Bern, Koln, Dublin and London have come through the door and have quickly gone right back out again. I can’t really remember this range of shoes from back in the day but the collectors love them. I've asked plenty of the old skool and they agree the city range was never a big shoe back then.”

What is your goal and do you intend to stock other brands?

“We have a five year plan to become one of the world’s leading deadstock stores, with the intention of further expanding the Transalpino brand into an exclusive and much sought after clothing range to compliment the t-shirts, polos, sweaters and bobble hats already available in store and on-line. This transformation will be overseen by new recruit and former founder/author of 80s Casuals Jay Montessori, who will use his knowledge and contacts from a former life as buying director for designer clothing giants Tessuti, to also help with the smooth transition into other areas of the footwear and clothing market, with the aim of exploring the possibility of bringing out a collaboration shoe with one of the major players. But despite the expansion of the business, we won’t deviate from our independent status, because we don’t want to be dictated to by other brands telling us what we can and cannot sell.

I will conclude the interview by sharing some thrilling news for Transalpino. One of the major sports brands is interested in dipping into its 1980s archive and launching a Transalpino ski range which is quite exciting so watch this space....not bad for a scally from the boy’s pen!”

Like Robert Wade Smith before him, Jockey has seized upon an opportunity to supply an unprecedented demand for Adidas trainers that now includes dead stock, re-issues, limited number special editions and collaborations. But times have changed. Adidas is now full on mainstream. The UK’s obsession with vintage 80s footwear is no longer exclusive to the terrace rebels who shocked the establishment five decades ago. Old skool fashionistas, still seeking an injection of nostalgia, now compete with celebrities, rock stars, rappers, 80s copycats, buy to sell merchants and the ever increasing number of serious Adidas collectors in pursuit of the holy grail of footwear. Fellow Liverpudlian and friend of Transalpino, 42 year old collector Bobby Mac, has one of the very best collections of vintage trainers out there so I asked Bobby when his obsession with the three stripes started and when it was that he made the transition from punter to collector.

“In the late 70's playing out on the streets of North Liverpool there was a time when leather shoes disappeared and Adidas trainers appeared on the feet of most kids, trainers like Adidas Kick, black leather with white stripes, quite boring in comparison to what we have today but sports shoes aka trainees all the same.. something had changed.. stopping your Grifter became easier, scaling the church wall was simple and toeying a Wembley Trophy into the painted goal felt amazing.. that was the start of it for me.. wanting what I couldn't have for many a year, Kick then Samba, Mamba, Bamba into the 80s and the jogging boom brought us amazing trainers like New York, Tulsa, Arizona, Oregon and Atlanta.”

“Trainers with chunky soles were also very popular Trimm Trab, Munchen, Galaxy, Columbia, Kegler Super and the timeless Tennis classics such as the outstanding Stan Smith, Grand Slam, Tom Okker Professional, Lendl and Wimbledon.”

“In the 10+ years that I have been collecting rare Adidas trainers I have never really tied myself to one particular style, I have always been very interested in the science that goes into each model, the big suede strip around the front of the bowling shoe - Kegler Super, the Flex channel in the sole of the Handball Spezial and the clock that blew us away when the Micropacer first appeared.. As well as the classics in my collection I also have Adidas football boots, Ice skates, track spikes, skiing boots and even Adidas roller-boots! Watching the Olympics, The World Cup and Grandstand in the 70s and 80s all I saw was Adidas, regardless of what sport was on at the time, from discus to wrestling, football to skiing the three stripes and trefoil were always there.”

“Some of my trainers are worth more than money to me, they remind me of special times and special people, not always my special times or special people who I knew, it could be a pair that remind me of a holiday or a pair that remind me of someone winning a gold medal, I once went away for a short break and took a good few pair of my trainers with me, just so I knew they were safe! And not so long ago I had a dream that a spider had laid 100s of eggs inside a blue Adidas box in the loft, so the next morning I went through every box and inside every trainer 500 pair every left and right and almost at the end I found Mr Mrs Spider and their regiment of babies sat off in the box! So I introduced them to a tin of suede protector and that was that!”

“I keep seeing collectors selling up, I’m not sure I could do that, especially with three sons who are becoming as obsessed as me!

The flame still clearly burns for the nation’s sports-shoe worshippers and the search continues for dead stock utopia and that elusive pair of priceless vintage trabs gathering dust on the shelf of some inconspicuous back street European/South American store. But for those looking to get high on nostalgia without the chase, or to purchase the latest reissue, new release or hallowed collaboration, look no further than Liverpool dead stock specialist Transalpino…if you know, you know!

Transalpino, 1st Floor within Soho’s, 80 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HR @transalpinoliverpool @transalpino

Read 27034 times Last modified on Saturday, 13 February 2021 12:44
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Shaun Duffy

Shaun Duffy

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