This week, Corinthian chatted with Spandau Ballet pop superstar and style icon, Gary Kemp, about his memories of standing at the Clock End of Highbury, hiding hallowed turf in his mum's bible, and the fusion of fashion and football.
Invited in to his stunning home, Gary even showed us his beloved collection of 1960's football magazines - each harking back to a time when the terraces were a very different place to today...
Corinthian: So Gary, you grew up an avid Arsenal fan, what are your memories of those days?
Gary Kemp: Ah, well I went in 1969 to my first game and it was against Southampton, and it was a nil-nil. My Dad didn't pay, he got me in under the barrier by giving the guy a shilling or something, whatever he had to give him… the attendances were never right in those day because every kid in there got in under the barrier, you used to get 60,000 in a 30,000 seat stadium!
C: Different to the Emirates today then?
GK: Yeah it wasn’t like it is now though, nothing could match being in the old Clock End. Guys selling peanuts and chucking them at you as you passed the money down... Getting your Wagon Wheels and Bovril at half time and you know… Johnny Radford, George Graham, George Armstrong running down the wing - the whole crowd like a sea would just move to where this footballer was and you’d feel yourself tip-toe down the steps and then be pushed back up again and then edged that way as the ball was crossed - that mass of people was so exciting to be amongst, that was lost when seating came in.
C: And there was a real musicality to the crowds back then wasn’t there?
GK: Yeah, It was the singing of the football crowds I always found so inspiring, and still do to this day actually. One of the proudest moments of my life was when the football crowds started singing Gold! I remember West Ham did it first, for Joe Cole. They changed Gold to Cole…
Apparently I heard that one of the first football crowds to sing was the Kop in Liverpool, singing The Beatles, ‘She Loves You’… I don’t know if that’s true or apocryphal - but there's a wonderful piece of film I’ve seen of it. Amazing.
C: And so do you still go to the watch the Arsenal today?
GK: I recently took my 8 year old to the Emirates, he’s into football and to be honest, I’m slightly sickened by it all now. You know, you’d go in to the shop and in the old days the shop was run by some old bloke and it was magical, you know? I’ve still got my old Arsenal rosette from 1971. But now it’s just a tourist trap and the queues, it looks like a check-in for EasyJet! It goes on for miles just to buy these products and it feels like the footballers are just there to sell this merchandise now. And I was really wanting him to hear the singing of course and sadly now at the Emirates, the singing is nothing compared to how it used to be, at the cauldron of Highbury where everyone got involved - especially down one end of the ground where I would dissipate to…
I suppose I’m a little bit, as I am with Music… a little bit “it’s not as good as it used to be”… but it’s probably just because of my age!
C: Did you used to play a lot of football as a child?
GK: Well, yeah… but I wasn't good! My brother was brilliant… my brother was almost signed for the Arsenal but he had a bad knee for a while - and then he got into pop music. He played for Islington - but he was the most stylish footballer. In those days you could only get black boots, right? So he painted his sky blue - and this was when he was eleven! My Mum, she was a seamstress and she had this fake fur which she was working with, so he lined the boots with fake fur so it spilled out at the top - and he used to wear them for matches! He was a bit of a goal hanger my brother… but yeah, he was very good, he was the sporty one. I was much more in to my music, playing my guitar…
C: So it was very much in the family?
GK: Oh yeah, we used to do our house up every time Arsenal made the final of the FA Cup! My Dad used to have streamers up outside and I can remember when we won the double and everyone beeped whenever they came down our street. We put our speakers, well we only had one speaker, but we put it out the window and played “Good old Arsenal” over and over again until it was worn out. So yeah, we both really connected with Arsenal, just like my kid does now… but you know, my cynicsm set in after the last great football match - which was Liverpool vs Arsenal in 1989… cos after that, Sky took over and in the same way that streaming sort of destroyed music, everything changed. It became bigger and bigger… but I think it became too corporate.
C: So is that what attracted you to Corinthian - that sense of footballing heritage?
GK: Yeah, I saw an article on you in The Times and I saw some stuff on your website and you know, I can imagine that guy in your white Team Shirt as a cigarette card - as a football player from the 1930s. And, of course, you have an amazing name at Corinthian… I think it’s rather inspiring as I suppose you’re trying to reclaim football, in a way because Adidas & Nike - they own football clothing right now and it’s got so style-less. I mean I grew up going to Arsenal when there was no advertising on football jerseys and that gold and blue arsenal away top was so beautiful. I bought my 8 year old a retro vintage one to wear and he loves it. You’d go to Arsenal and there’d be no advertising around the pitch or in the stadium, and that was their thing, no adverts in Highbury…and so today I guess the fact that the whole thing is owned by Adidas and Nike or ‘the Emirates’, football’s just become this corporate advertising monster - and so my love of what football was, is not there anymore, it doesn’t exist - and so what I saw in your brand was something that was hinting at my memories of football past, yeah for sure…
C: Fashion has always played a big part on your life, hasn’t it.
GK: Oh yeah, absolutely. When I give up worrying about what I look like then I’m finished! Where I lived, in North London, it was Mods and I remember in the 60s seeing Mods on their scooters in the pub next door to where I lived. Every Thursday night seemed to be Mod night and they would all glide in on their scooters with their beautiful suits and haircuts… my cousin was a Mod and I always looked up to him and yeah, clothes came first.
My first memory of buying clothes would have been Ben Shepherd… getting the best Ben Sherman shirt I could afford. I had a paper round and then I worked in a green grocers and I had to give a third of my money to my mum, for my keep - I remember getting a paper round for £1.50 and I had to give 50p to my mum. But then I eventually saved up enough and I managed to get a Ben Shepherd shirt with the pleat at the back and then it would have been a pair of Brogues or Lofers, whatever was happening at the time but yeah, all the money I saved went on the clothes that I thought would associate me with a very cool street look.
C: And so how did you manage to marry those two very different worlds of football and fashion?
GK: I think I'd probably stopped going to Arsenal by that time…but you’d be surprised how many Blitz kids (from the Blitz nightclub) were Arsenal fans. And I think when you were up on the North stand there were a lot of stylish guys. I remember the older guys would wear ties to go to the football! Can you believe that?! People aren’t interested in clothes like they used to be…
In the 70’s there was always a youth culture on the pitch, the 70s was very strong on youth culture - before people had Facebook pages to adorn or to promote themselves with they had to do it with their clothes and if you didn’t have an education to talk about or a heritage within your family to talk about you were inventing it on the street. Your tribe really represented who you were.
So when I was a kid it was glam rock, and then it was punk - you know I remember in the 70s being a kid on the terraces and you’d get a kid with his Bowie haircut here and you’d have the kids with the Rod Stewart trousers pulled up and football scarves - obviously not tartan - stood over there… Then there became this fashion for football and it wasn’t football hooligans. They’d wear white butcher coats and they’d write in red paint “Arsenal” or draw the cannon on the back. I remember seeing kids wearing those. I never wore one, but I remember seeing kids wearing those… And then of course, in the 80’s you had the Casuals - there was an aspirational sense of identity of “my clothes are important to me, they connect me to my tribe…”. I think the Casuals were the most aspirational. In a way, was no different to the Mods wearing those Italian suits back in the early 60’s, which was just Italian casual wear. It was all so much more interesting back then…
C: The New Romantic wave that you rode was an exciting time for music but also for fashion, wasn’t it.
GK: Yeah, and I’m still more interested in the small labels than I am in buying Prada or Gucci. There was a time when we first started the group as New Romantics and Blitz kids, when all the kids I knew went to St Martins College, and out of that came so many famous people all hanging out with the New Romantics, hanging out with us at the Blitz Club on a Tuesday night. I remember buying this shirt off a kid who was at St Martins and I wore it on stage for a bit and he’d just scrawled his name in the back of it, in felt tip pen it said, GALLIANO, and I don’t have it now! I wish I did! And so we were only wearing clothes our mates were making, designing and selling at Kensington Market and places like that… and then Gaultier came along in ’84 and you could only buy his stuff in this one shop called Bizarre - and you could hardly afford it but it was unique stuff. You know, that whole culture of Gucci and Prada being on every high street just didn’t exist then, Not until the end of the 80’s really…
C: And lastly Gary, the cornerstone of Corinthian brand is obviously the Corinthian Spirit, that sense Gentlemanly fair play. Is that something which resonates with you?
GK: Well I don’t think you’d get many people that would say “No, fair play doesn’t resonate with me”. Unless you’re talking to someone up at parliament perhaps…
But yeah, I think when I was passionate about the game, football was pretty rough in the 1970’s - it was a fairly physical game, people like Billy Bremner, playing on muddy pitches… there was something about the imperfection of that time - I don’t think there was as much health and safety perhaps. I’m not sure I’d call it fair play but I like to think there was more of a sense of loyalty in the era when I was a boy, and I think that’s what disappoints me so much now - it's that there isn't the Tony Adamses, people that are so loyal and who really believe in the club. Now they're all mercenaries, and so I suppose that’s what you want from your clothing brand too isn’t it? That sense of loyalty and for people to believe in it and for it to be something for people to believe in… not for them to think they’re buying in to this small brand only for it to actually be owned by some oil company, you know? So yeah, that’s what I wish there was more of today, that loyalty.
C: Wenger in or Wenger out?
GK: Ah, that’s the question isn’t it! I think what Wenger doesn’t get is that you need locals in your side. Chelsea got it, Liverpool got it, Man United got it and it connects the team with the terraces, that idea as a local club, it gives the club geographical reason why that club is there and I think Arsenal have lost that for a long time. There’s no geographical connection other than that happened to be where the stadium was - but the players don’t represent us anymore… And listen, I’m certainly not a Brexiteer and I’m certainly not small-minded but I think you need that idea of having your local club with roots in your community. And I don’t think the players reach out to that community any more and if they do it’s done in that very corporate manner.
The first cup I saw Arsenal win was the Fairs Cup against Anderlecht. I was at the ground and I remember jumping on the pitch afterwards and getting some grass and putting it in my Mum's bible at home and… it’s still there! Arsenal were winners in the first couple of years I started going and that made an impression on me. It made me believe that winning was possible and I think it had an impact on my whole life - my whole professional career!
The players were much more accessible then, much more touchable than they are today. They weren’t big earners like they are now - they were people you could really relate to… you could imagine yourself being them, you know? As I say, Charlie George was a local Islington boy, he was the King of Highbury! It gave us dreams and I don’t think Wenger gets that… but is there any guarantee his replacement would either?!
Spandau Ballet's new 45-minute film, Through The Barricades (featuring never seen before footage) is available now, including a newly remastered version of their seminal 1986 album.
Gary wears our new para maroon Watchcoat, made from 100% merino wool Doeskin. Available exclusively online.