Do you remember your first pair of boots? I do. They were a pair of Puma Dalglish Silver, black with the distinctive Puma stripe down the sides in silver.
I’m not sure I’ve loved a boot more than I did those and from then on I was like an addict chasing that first hit.
My short-term memory can let me down badly these days but I can remember my dad buying those boots for me as vividly as if it was this morning. When you think back to moments like that now, they were seminal, forming the person you became later in life.
Your dad buying your first pair of boots isn’t just a rite of passage from father to son, for a footballer it’s the beginning of a relationship between you and your boots.
Perhaps I’d read too many comics as a kid but but when I was young I always looked at my footwear the same way as the pair in the “Billy’s Boots” comic strip where a young kid called Billy Dane found an old pair of boots in his grandmother’s loft and when he put them on they had mystical powers, turning him from an average player into a wonder kid.
Anyone of my generation in Sunderland will remember TY McGurk’s.
It was the main sports shop in town and I remember sitting on the bench in there and trying on my first pair of boots. As I glanced across at the floor-level mirror, that ones where you can only see your feet, something ignited inside me. It was love at first sight.
I can’t quite remember if everyone wore shorts at school but I wore mine at every opportunity the weather would allow, right up to the point I left for Southmoor Secondary when I was 11.
I probably should’ve been out of shorts by then, but my knees mended quicker than the holes I put in my trousers from diving around on the school ground.
To my mind, the only times I wore long trousers was when it was too cold or when I didn’t have any clean socks of my own and was forced to wear a pair of my sister’s knee-length socks.
I wasn’t too bothered about wearing her longer, more decorative socks, I just didn’t want to advertise it to the rest of the world.
Sadly, I have to admit it wasn’t the only item of my sister’s clothing I wore to school.
When the temperature dropped during the winter, my mam would often send my to school with a pair of my sister’s tights on under my trousers. Green tights at that.
I might have looked like Robin Hood under my school clothes but it felt as if my mam had sent me to school in a dress and bunches in my hair.
I only mention the shorts because I remember being told to get up and walk across the shop by the assistant after he’d finished prodding the front of the boots to check if they were the right fit.
As I walked across to the full-length mirror it looked as if I had two golf clubs sticking down from my shorts; two stick thin shafts with these huge flippers at the end. Two beautiful, black and silver flippers.
From that moment on, I became obsessed with boots and later goalkeeper gloves.
I couldn’t walk past a sports shop without going in to see if a new model had come out and I’d turn straight to the back pages of ‘Match” and “Shoot!” where they were usually advertised.
Every so often I’d come across a boot I hadn’t seen before or a new brand I hadn’t heard of and I HAD to try them on.
“These just might be the ones.” I’d tell myself.
My second pair was the black and silver New Balance that Bryan Robson endorsed in the mid-to-late 80s. After I’d grown out of them it was a pair of black Quaser Royales with yellow trim that Gary Lineker was wearing, followed by a pair of Adidas Medina bought from my gran’s Littlewood’s catalogue.
Every Christmas and birthday was punctuated with a pair boots or goalkeeper gloves.
I could draw a timeline of every pair of boots I’ve ever worn, from those first Puma Dalglish Silvers, right up to the yellow Puma Kings I wore in my last ever first team appearance two years ago.
Every pair a part of me, although a few became more significant than others. So significant in fact, I still have them now.
Those first Pumas. The Reebok Integrity I wore in the year I won my first professional contract at Sunderland. The Uhlsport Torkralle boots specially designed for keepers I wore on my full league debut for Darlington away to Colchester United.
The Adidas Predators I wore the first time I ever captained a side when I was at Aberdeen.
I’d look after them with military-like standards, polishing them within an inch of their life, then putting a coat of Vaseline on them to keep the leather soft.
From that first pair it was a continual experiment of trial and error permeated by the odd time I’d wear a boot simply because I was paid to wear them.
That only ever happened twice in my career though. I’d find a boot I liked until it was discontinued and I had to search out another.
That was part of the fun though. I’m glad I didn’t wear the same boots all my career because I got a buzz out of trying to find the Holy Grail of football footwear.
I was never a fan of the classics. Adidas Copa Mundial and World Cup were just too narrow for me and the old Puma Kings were just too heavy.
Eventually though, in my late 20s, I realised it wasn’t the boots that made the difference, it was what was in them that really mattered.
It was just a pity it wasn’t as easy to change myself as it was a pair of boots - or I’d have done it years ago.