If you needed proof that Derby County legend Steve Bloomer was the David Beckham of his day, we have it thanks to the discovery of a pair of branded football boots from 1914.
The genuine Steve Bloomer Lucky Goal Scorer boots, endorsed by the former Rams striker and England international, were unearthed in, of all places, Nottingham.
As all East Midlands football fanatics know, an intense rivalry exists between the two cities so perhaps it’s time for these boots to stake their place in Derbyshire.
It’s a fascinating find because they provide an early example of a product backed by a celebrity endorsement. The soles are embossed with an image of Bloomer and the words ‘Steve Bloomer’s Lucky Goal Scorers – The Boot That Never Fails to Score’ together with his autograph.
It’s easy to see why his name suited the manufacturers. Bloomer, born in 1874, was arguably the world’s first football superstar. He could shoot powerfully with either foot. His speciality was the daisy cutter – a low shot, hit with great power, speed and accuracy.
Nicknamed ‘the destroying angel’, in 536 First Division games he scored 317 times. He also scored 28 goals in 23 appearances for England between 1895 and 1907 and helped Derby win the Second Division title in 1911–12.
Today we’re used to seeing top athletes on TV and billboards advertising everything from cars and deodorant to sportswear. In recent times, David Beckham has led the way.
But the Bloomer boots date back more than 100 years to circa 1914, the year the First World War broke out. They would have been among the first products endorsed by a sports personality.
The first professional athlete to receive endorsement money is thought to be legendary baseball player Honus Wagner who began his professional career with the Louisville Colonels of the National League in 1897. A rare sports trading card from 1909 featuring Wagner sold at auction for $2.8 million in 2007.
In 1922, American professional golfer Gene Sarazen signed an endorsement contract with Wilson Sporting Goods which lasted 75 years - the longest endorsement deal in the history of sport.
Sarazen pioneered lengthy endorsement deals and paved the way for current long-term athlete endorsers like Beckham, who signed a $160.8 million lifetime agreement with Adidas.
But it was Bloomer who got the ball rolling for the Brits. Regarded as the first commercially marketable footballer, his name was associated with promotional campaigns on an international scale. As well as those lucky boots, he was linked to clothing, books, magazines, tobacco, tonics and photography.
A pair of Bloomer lucky boots previously sold at auction for more than £1,000. Consequently, they enter Hansons’ December 7 Derbyshire Fine Art Auction with a guide price of £800-£1,000.
They were found in the store room of a Nottinghamshire shop when it was closing down 50 years ago in 1970 - and nearly ended up in the bin. The seller, a Rams fan, told me they belonged to his mother-in-law who said, ‘youngsters don’t want boots like this anymore’. He persuaded her not to throw them away and has kept them for 50 years.
For any Derby County supporter, anything connected to Bloomer is special. Such was his impact on the club, fans sing Steve Bloomer’s Watchin’ before every home game and a bust of the goal-scoring king graces Pride Park Stadium.
Like many a great player, he came from humble beginnings. Born in Cradley, Worcestershire, to Caleb Bloomer, a blacksmith, and Merab Dunn, he was the eldest of six children. The family moved to Litchurch, Derby, around 1879 when he was five. At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a blacksmith, which helped build his strength.
But Bloomer had an aptitude for football, something he later described as ‘a natural gift’.He first made an impression on the Derby football scene playing for St Chad’s Choir in 1887. The following year he began working at Ley's iron foundry but played football for Derby Swifts in the Derbyshire Minor League.
Bloomer played for Derby County from 1891-1906 and again from 1910-1914 with a stint at Middlesbrough in between. He scored his last league goal for Derby against Sheffield United on September 6, 1913 and his last match was against Burnley on January 31, 1914 when he was 40.
After a rocky start to their 2020-21 season, a pair of Bloomer lucky boots, complete with original laces and in mint condition, may be just what Derby County need. If any player wants to bid, they’re a size 8!
Though still in lockdown, free home visits and collections are available and items can be consigned into our general, specialist and Fine Art sales taking place in December and January. To find out more, email [email protected].