Liverpool legend retired early before inventing world’s most popular football boot

It has been more than 30 years since one of the most iconic football boots was created, and it was the brainchild of a Liverpool legend who won nine honours over his 271-game Reds career.

When you think of the best football boot ever created, where does your mind go? Which manufacturer and which player who wore it comes up first?

For many, the boot will be the Adidas Predator, and the player, Steven Gerrard – for those of us of a Liverpool persuasion, at least.

They are iconic in every sense of the word, the black and white boots – as they were early on – a regular sight on football pitches since 1994.

But did you know they were invented by former Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston?

The light bulb moment

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - Monday, July 22, 2013: Former Liverpool player Craig Johnston during a fans Q&A event at the Crown Superbox ahead of the club's preseason friendly against Melbourne Victory. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Johnston signed for Liverpool in 1981 from Middlesbrough and remained at Anfield until 1988, it was that year he announced his early retirement at the age of just 27.

After 271 games, 40 goals and nine honours, his hanging up of his boots was prompted by his sister suffering a severe brain injury, which led Johnston to move back to Australia to help take care of her.

The former midfielder always had a fascination with football boots, and in his retirement, he was asked to coach a youth team and they complained about how their leather boots would make them slip.

And it got him thinking. He explained to the 98 Not Out Podcast in 2021: “I rushed home, I got a table tennis bat, pulled the sleeve off, stuck it onto my boots and wrapped it with elastic bands.

“I went to the backyard and I kicked the ball with side spin on it, and it squealed like a pig. And it spun like leather could never spin it.

“I spent about two years and a lot of money to get some patents to have a look at how it could be a bigger sweet spot, like a tennis racket, more grip like a table tennis bat – but, fundamentally, still a soccer boot.

“I got a whole bunch of prototypes made out of a combination of rubber and leather, and I took it to Adidas and you know what they said, they said that swear word that starts with ‘S’.

“They said, ‘It will never work. We know what you’re talking about, but we’ve never heard of you as a soccer player, and it will never work’.

“I took it to Nike and they said it will never work. I took it to Puma and they said, ‘Have you taken it to Adidas?’ I took it to Reebok, to Umbro. They all said no.”


Never taking no for an answer

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 13, 2008: The boots of Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard MBE and he prepares to take a corner kick during the Premiership match against Blackburn Rovers at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Johnston was not going to take no for an answer, though. He had poured all his time and money into the boot, and now it was time for some outside thinking.

He sought out German players to help with talks with key figures at Adidas, and he travelled over there with four right boots of what he coined the ‘Supa Boot’.

Johnston pursued Franz Beckenbauer for a meeting, and the German legend brought with him Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Breitner and Hansi Muller, and they all tried the boot on with success.

At the time, Adidas were going bankrupt, and the former Liverpool midfielder talked his way into a meeting held by the board of directors and showed them a video of the boots in action.

Describing the reaction, he said: “Within 35 seconds, they all stood up – all 15, 20 of them – and started clapping.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, November 30, 2023: The Adidas Predator boot of Liverpool's captain Trent Alexander-Arnold during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 5 game between Liverpool FC and LASK at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“They said, ‘This is the future of our brand. Then they said, ‘You can’t leave this room without doing a deal with us.’

And that is how the Adidas Predator was born, out of ingenuity and sheer persistence.

Its release in 1994 forever changed the market of football boots, it saved Adidas, became iconic and remains in circulation today with new, modern designs and features – as modelled recently by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Quite the story, eh!