By Andrew Vaughan
I’m not sure about everybody else but I’ve become tired of all these Adidas and Nike reissues that are springing up every couple of weeks. Sure they look good and the odd style even resembles the original but there’s something not quite right about it all. We’ve basically got to the situation where if you earn enough money you can simply go out and buy the entire stock and excuse me if I’m wrong but it was never about that. The last ten or so times I’ve walked into Ran and Size? I’ve just not been bothered, seen nothing to interest me. So what is a footwear fetish to do? Don’t tell me another of life’s (few) pleasures has gone by the wayside. Nah while I’m leaving the two main players aside for a while I could never give it up completely. It was hard enough to cope when Church shoes priced themselves out of this pauper’s range so whilst I moved from Church’s to Clarks it’s time to move onto something else in the trainer market. But what?
There’s Puma – but despite a couple of old school models they look just too Canal Street, too Selfridges assistant. K-Swiss is a total no-no and while there’s no denying that Reebok Classics are (well) classics – or they were for a short while a decade ago - they are ubiquitous outside our chippy. I could always go the whole rock and roll by getting a pair of Converse but the chunky frame might lessen the effect whilst I have never had the balance for the skateboard brands. Now New Balance I like and a couple of pairs lay neatly boxed at home. It’s an option and then I remembered that classic that held sway on the terraces in the North West (well Springfield Park, anyway) for a few months in the 80’s: the Walsh Trainer. Or the Walsh PB Trainer to be precise. Blimey I’d forgotten about them. A quick Google and yes they are still there – and the trainers look utterly superb. Get the address, a few quid in my pocket and a few days later a new pair of trainers and a new love in my life!
My first insight into Walsh was in the early 70’s when my Dad bought me a pair of their wonderful hand made Rugby Boots. They did Low and High. Low for the backs and High for the forwards and all that rucking us rugger types they have to do. They were simply the bees’ knees. But the story of Walsh Sports is more than just rugby boots. It’s about one man Norman Walsh and how he developed this iconic company. Norman was born in Bolton, Lancashire, in 1931. He started work for Foster Brothers Shoes in his hometown in 1945 and whilst working as an apprentice shoemaker, he was asked to make sprinting shoes for the 1948 Olympic Games in London. During the late 1950’s, Norman worked closely with the Foster Brothers’ grandsons, Jeff and Joe. These two branched away from the family business and formed the aforementioned Reebok. In 1961, Norman decided to start his own business and took over a small corner of his father’s shoe repair shop and called the company ‘Norman Walsh Shoes’.
During the 70’s he moved away from the luxury leather rugby boots and became interested in manufacturing shoes for the runners that traversed the local fells. It is a sport that is as arduous and gruesome as it gets and that needs a shoe to cover all terrains. During this time he linked up with the legendary Lake District fell runner Pete Bland and over the next five years they created the shoe that took the sport of fell-running by storm. – the ‘Walsh Trainer’. Its colour was, and still is, blue with yellow flashes. It had all the requirements for becoming a classic running shoe: there’s no bulk, they’re as light as a feather and have a great lacing system that gave a tight fit at the toe crease. The sole is thin for minimum shock absorption, good heel cushioning for navigating those descents, and made from a quick-drying fabric. Norman added a little rubber cushioning to the front area in the mid-1980’s and this design became known the P.B. Trainer, which is the most popular fell-running shoe of all time. When you put them on they feel completely different to any other shoe. You immediately try a larger size before realising that this is how it should feel. Made for navigating hill and dale, valley and streams. And equally importantly they look great with jeans when you’re propping the bar up.
Norman sold up in 1996 to the Crompton brothers, Dennis and Jon with the company now known as ‘Walsh Sports Limited’, continuing with the same ethics, streamlining the company and increasing production for both the home and export market. Other trainers in the range include the PB X’treme’ which is a more robust shoe with a (gorgeous) yellow background and the ‘Raid’ which is an off-road shoe suitable for walking - another fine-looking shoe.
Away from the performance aspect of the shoes and the market it essentially caters for the time is surely right for the brand to be embraced by the trainer aficionados. A small range of trainers, extremely comfortable, all easy on the eye and importantly for those that worry about the sweatshop labour issues they also made in Britain as shown by the discreet tabs stating “WALSH, BOLTON, ENGLAND and now complete with Union Jack (for the Japanese market, I guess)”.
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