Earlier this year, I was photographed for that most august of British newspapers, the Financial Times, wearing a number of items of logo-emblazoned sportswear borrowed from the bleeding edge fashion brands of the moment (Gosha Rubchinskiy, Vetements) and the hot skate labels (Supreme, Palace) beloved of those oddball obsessives who compete with each other to own the most up-to-the-second, limited-edition tracksuits and trainers available to man or hypebeast. That’s what they call themselves, granddaddy-o: hypebeasts.
In my oversized hoodie and my clumpy sneakers I looked, to put it over-politely, quite silly. I felt quite silly, too. (I hate to even suggest it, but I suspect this may have been the FT fashion editor’s diabolical intention all along, the fiend.) Believe it or not, the point of the article was not to poke fun at the clothes, more to wonder whether a 44-year-old middle management square like me, in the throes of a quite traumatic midlife crisis — yes, another one — could recapture the excitement of his misspent youth by appropriating the look, if not quite the attitude, of the trendies of today. The answer: no. But we raised a few LOLs, I hope, so job done.
Paul Pogba, the magisterial Manchester United midfielder, is a strapping 24-year-old elite athlete. He is handsome, imposing, and charismatic. He has elan and panache. (And money and acclaim and no pot belly; bet he’s not having a midlife crisis.) When he agreed to front this, our Sports Issue, I asked Esquire’s fashion team to make sure he was photographed wearing the grooviest garms around — so pretty much the same stuff I’d been clowning in for the FT.
I can’t think of many men who could pull off a pastel pink hoodie on a magazine cover, and still look dashing and poised, but the £90m man can. As Tim Lewis interviewed him for this issue, in a photo studio in Manchester, Pogba sat in a barber’s chair, having his hair done: dyeing out the blond highlights he’d been sporting the previous night, when he led Man U to victory in the final of the Europa League. That snapshot — millionaire metrosexual gets tonsorial touch-up while gawping hack tries to elicit non-evasive answer to straightforward question — might seem typical of the modern footballer’s relationship with the media. But Pogba — “the most singular and divisive player at work in the Premier League right now,” as Tim puts it — is not typical, of anything, and it’s not just his looks that make him interesting, as his interview reveals. His story is equally diverting.
Pogba is not the only sportsman with a surprising story to tell in this issue. In his playing days, as Danny Kelly points out in his profile, Gary Lineker seemed an unremarkable man, albeit a very good footballer. As he will for every Englishman of my generation, Lineker will forever be associated for me with the World Cup campaigns of 1986, when he won the golden boot for scoring the most goals (six), and 1990, when everyone remembers him gesturing meaningfully at the bench after Gazza burst into tears during that agonising semi-final in Turin. But unlike many great sportsmen, Lineker did not become frozen, in the popular imagination, on the pitch. He has enjoyed an equally successful second act, even a third. First he became, as the host of Match of the Day, the telegenic face of football in this country. And now, still more unexpectedly, he has become a rare voice of centrist politics, the liberal conscience of Twitter. How the hell did that happen? Danny, making his debut for Esquire, has some thoughts, as no one who has enjoyed his own broadcasting over the years will be surprised to learn.
Not every sportsman profiled here has enjoyed quite so stellar a career. For each Mo Farah, there’s a Marcus Willis, the journeyman tennis player who had a brief moment in the sun, playing Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year, before returning to hardscrabble obscurity. For every Muhammad Ali, there’s a Toronto Wolfpack, the Canadian team — sorry, “transatlantic professional sports franchise” — that plays in the third tier of British Rugby League. The Wolfpack’s story, as told here, is perhaps even more quixotic than Willis’s.
Sport presents a heightened and also a softened version of reality, with triumph and disaster always a heartbeat away, everything to play for and nothing to lose, and all that comforting, cliché-hugging stuff. That’s why it makes for great material. Our countdown of the best sports documentaries identifies hours of gripping storytelling about sportsmen, and the meaning we ascribe to their successes and, often more compellingly, their failures.
Finally, Greg Moss contributes a photo essay on that gnarliest of motorsports, superbike road racing, and Giles Coren shows similar steely nerve by visiting a new theme park: Ferrari Land. While there, Giles put his life on the line when, having repeatedly assured me that he wouldn’t, he rode the “highest and fastest vertical accelerator in Europe”, the rollercoaster otherwise known as… Red Force.
Did he enjoy it? I’ll let him tell you.
Sport presents a heightened and also a softened version of reality, with triumph and disaster always a heartbeat away, everything to play for and nothing to lose, and all that comforting, cliché-hugging stuff. That’s why it makes for great material