The football industry in the UK has traditionally consisted of young local lads graduating from academies, enjoying illustrious careers, then going on to become managers, coaches, scouts and pundits, following their playing careers.
The lives of footballers typically revolve around the sport, with very little time dedicated to anything outside the profession. They are expected to conform to a specific set of standards by society, with little to no room for mistakes.
Scrutiny is high, with every move closely monitored by fans and journalists, social media helping to broadcast any slip-up far and wide. To avoid negative publicity, which never seems to be too far away, footballers often appear reserved and prefer to lead private lives.
Perhaps that is all about to change, the latest generation of footballers seem to be particularly comfortable with breaking stereotypes while maintaining high levels of performance.
Enter Jordan Wise and Hamish Stephenson. Co-founders of media platform ‘GAFFER’, and 360° marketing agency ‘FALSE 9’. Together, the pair are challenging attitudes within modern-day football, incorporating the worlds of football, fashion, and music culture onto a single platform.
Having come to prominence in 2020, GAFFER have collaborated with household names such as Burberry, Valentino, and Nike. Working with the likes of Neymar Jr, Vinicius Jr, Memphis Depay, and 'M1llionz' in the process.
Through their unique, high-quality production, they are forging a genuine connection between the different industries, reminiscent of perhaps the NBA and US markets.
In the States the NBA and urban culture, be it in music or fashion, are near indistinguishable. The relationship between the industries stretches back to the 80s and 90s. In more recent years we have seen some big-name rappers competing in the NBA All-Star Celebrity game; Quavo, J Cole, and Snoop Dog to name a few.
GAFFER are looking to lead a similar shift in the UK, by bringing together the pros with their equivalents in a creative nature.
Their video series ‘head-to-head’ put together different cultural leaders with their footballing counterparts, giving them a platform to share their experiences and how they differ. The series has seen episodes featuring actor Michael Ward, rapper/singer ‘Yxng Bane’, and fashion designer Guillermo Andrade pitted against footballers - from upcoming prospects such as Rhian Brewster and Ezri Konsa to the more experienced Hector Bellerin.
Leading brands in the sport have started taking note of the direction that emerging players are going in, attempting to shake up the traditional methods within both broadcasting and advertising in a bid to fully engage the next generation.
Commerciality in football is through the roof. Typically, the attitude within the sport was that players who weren’t solely focused on football or embroiled in scandals were liabilities for their retrospective clubs.
Recently, for this very reason, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba have been targeted by critics. Hair-cuts, celebrations, clothing lines, and the money they spend on fashion have been questioned as if they have any relation to on-field performances.
Footballers have now become inclined to do more outside of the sport in their free time, with the reach of social media enabling them to attract diverse fanbases.
It is due to this, that players now have increased marketability, brands are keen to use them to boost their image and they can be seen in various commercials.
A majority of these are part of the players' duties, in line with the media responsibilities the club entrusts in them or as part of their multi-million-pound sponsorship deals. GAFFER address the issue a number of these shoots have, there is a disconnect between the brands and the athletes they work with. They tend to be one-dimensional, preventing the collaborations from reaching their true potential.
Having experience as a photographer working with Nike and Adidas - being present first-hand on different projects, Stephenson noticed 'many footballers were not engaged in the shoots they were being forced to do'. Wise also has a background in Sports Management, conversations with his clients related to Stephenson’s observations, and sparked the birth of GAFFER and FALSE 9.
With football playing significant catch-up in respect to quality control compared to the music and fashion industries, GAFFER are bridging that gap. Although the creative initiative is placed upon the footballer or artist, the quality coming from the projects resembles that of music videos or fashion shoots as opposed to the expected quality of sports-related content.
The vision curated by Wise and Stephenson began to take place in the gallery of the latter’s father, located in Hackney. The essence of GAFFER is based on culture, the relationship the platform has with its’ local community is telling.
Robert Kasanga, the founder of local club Hackney Wick, hinted at GAFFER designing a new kit for his side on Instagram. The previous season saw the club have an exclusive kit designed by Nike, a testament to the positive difference the grassroots club has had in the community.
A venture for GAFFER that takes them in a new direction links well with a different aspect of a change in football attitudes. The jerseys. Traditionally featuring single colours or a blend between club colours, the football jersey holds a great value of history and pride. What was once limited to players and fans due to its simple nature is now expanding as the designs become more inventive.
Definitive collaborations between PSG and Jordan have seen jerseys becoming fashionable, appearing in spaces they hadn’t previously such as music videos and fashion wardrobes. The significant moment for the culture shows that football fashion is now entering the mainstream market, meaning this is hopefully just the first exciting partnership in a long list to come.
American superstar Lil Tjay alluded to this in his feature interview with GAFFER, he spoke of his childhood interest in football but admitted he had never worn a jersey before. The retro USA National Team shirt he was styled in for the shoot was something he said was nice and could wear.
Rappers in the early 2000s catalysed the growth of NBA jerseys, helping to stamp their mark on American basketball culture. What was once a trend is now deep-rooted in US culture. Jerseys are now a wardrobe essential, seen in everyday life and intertwined in the worlds of music and fashion.
Many of the talented rappers in the UK scene had promising footballing careers before finding music. The relationship between the two industries has blossomed, with a lot of wordplay and punchlines consisting of football references. They have a huge part to play as the British cultural scene moves in a similar dynamic to that of the US all those years ago.
Friendships in the industries are also increasing, as social media continues to influence the scene. Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling were spotted in Santan Dave’s music video ‘Location’, featuring Burna Boy, currently just shy of a staggering 100 million views. The young artist from South London picked up Album of the Year at The Brit Awards, leading the line of talented UK artists currently plying their trade.
Having also come from the same - if not similar - backgrounds, a lot of these footballers and rappers have much in common. They can relate to each other after growing up in the same areas, knowing each other from a young age.
A landmark moment for GAFFER was working with global superstar Neymar Jr to create the ‘perfect chaos’ project. Often widely regarded as the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s throne, the Brazilian is in the truest sense of the word, a performer. He plays to excite, with his large inventory of tricks and flicks always bringing fans to the edge of their seats.
It is this creative flair that he displays on the pitch, turning the sport into an art, with the pitch his canvas. As one of the most influential and marketable athletes in the world, he draws the undivided attention of millions.
His style of play has an air of arrogance, the skill on the ball combined with his tendency to showboat means he draws a lot of cheap fouls, much to the satisfaction of a generation that perhaps appreciates the elaborate elements of the game more.
Often labelled as not taking the sport seriously enough, he is accused of not working as hard as the likes of Ronaldo and Messi – hindering his potential. The interview was a chance for him to explain his own story, in his words, on his terms, away from all the comparisons and typical assumptions in the media.
Remarkably, Neymar featured in a small cameo in the popular Netflix series ‘Money Heist’ or ‘La Casa De Papel’, his favourite TV show. Managing to fit that in during a busy schedule of life as a footballer was a fresh approach, an avenue we might see more players take in the future, either during time off or following the end of their footballing careers.
As much as the attitudes surrounding the sport are changing, for the better it seems, the objectives remain the same. The beautiful game continues to remain beautiful, the modern expansion looks to bring as much culture as possible together and is centred around increasing inclusivity.
For GAFFER the future lies in continuing to bring the reality of personalities in music, fashion, and football to the forefront of people’s attention.
They are trailblazing a new challenge directed towards the traditional attitudes within the sport. It is exciting to see how the platform grows, the new collaborations in store for us, and the direction they take in the UK urban culture.