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Photos: Weston Kloefkorn

Charles Etoroma Jr. is a creative working across many fields, by day he works at a creative advertising agency and by night he enjoys freelance writing and creative design concepts that focus on footwear. On weekends you’ll find him watching football.

Do you remember the first kit you ever got?

Oof, this is a tough one. I actually don’t, but I can say one of the first ones that I really fell in love with was the 2014 France World Cup jersey, number 10, with Benzema on the back. I was and honestly still am such a huge fan of Karim, his work rate, and his poaching ability. For me, he’s one of the last strikers of his era who really did their talking with their ability, nothing more. I loved their jerseys that year, and honestly still one of my favourites from the French side.

When did your obsession with kits start?

In college, I got really into them because some friends I grew up with in my city had family overseas who could get us any jersey we wanted. I would talk a lot with them about football and different clubs. To be fair, I was pretty late to the game in terms of really paying attention to kits, and I had always thought they were cool but never really understood how to put them together outside the pitch. Funny enough, it was after really following the Skateboarding street league and watching guys like Sean Malto rocking Barca jerseys while shredding rails really helped me see that jerseys could be worn anyway.

Can you name a moment in football that signaled a forever connection?

Oh yeah, I can. I think honestly it was the 2010 World Cup. I watched it a lot that year at home with my parents and brother. One of my favourite commercials featured a roster of talent, starting with Djibril Cisse (such a legend). On the flip side, there was also a really painful moment in the 2010 World Cup between Ghana and Uruguay. Asamoah Gyan, one of my favourite players and an African player who deserves way more flowers was going to score a goal, but Luiz Suarez stuck out his hand to block a clear goal. He got a red card but stopped the clear goal, ultimately, Ghana lost in PKs, and I really believe they had a chance to beat the Netherlands in the next round. It really showed me how savage the game could be and how the rules can sometimes hurt the more deserving team. On a deeper level, it felt like a microcosm of how African teams especially have had such long and unfair uphill battles compared to other nations (both an internal and external problem).

Is there one kit you are still on the hunt for?

One kit I would absolutely love to have is the 1994 Nigerian national team jersey, home and away, and, honestly, any of the players. That has to be probably one of my favourite jerseys of all time, especially on a national level. I know people love Nike's Nigerian jerseys now, but they forget how great a job Adidas did in the 90s. In my opinion, they own the best kits in African history.

Drogba, Eto’o, Sarpei… Heavy hitters on the African scale, what drew you to these players in particular?

I mean, for me, Drogba was at the next level. I love and appreciate all the cultures/regions that play football, and each one brings such a unique aspect to the game, but since I am Nigerian, I am partial to my African family. These players, for me, were the best of the best, along with so many others. In my opinion, we haven’t seen African strikers or quality and consistent attacking threats at the level of Drogba and Eto’o since their era ended. I am still waiting for the next crop of African stars. There are a few, but I think the 90s-late 2000s was a golden era for our skilled players, and that’s what drew me to them. Sarpei, on the other hand, was an amazing defender, and he played on that 2010 squad, which was arguably the best West African team we’ve seen in a decade.

Hmm, that is a really tough one because there are a lot of moments to account for, but I think out of the 3, my favourite was Drogba’s 2009/10 season. He was unbelievable that year, winning the Golden Boot. For me, he was the premiere Ivorian and African player and set the tone for what is and should be expected from players from my continent. But gotta give Eto’o his flowers at Barca, so so good (and he also won a Golden Boot as well).

King Drogba & Eto’o... Safe to say you’re a Chelsea fan?

Oh yeah, even though we are having a tough few seasons here. We are hoping for a turnaround.

What first brought you to the blues?

Fernando Torres was one of my favourites when I really started paying attention to the Premier League. He was a monster at Liverpool, and I liked him there and followed him to Chelsea. He gave Liverpool his best years and honestly wasn’t as effective for the Blues, but my support stayed with them even after he left.

Your uncle has played for the Super Eagles; what was it like hearing about their stories?

My dad often told us about his brother and how good he was. It was definitely a shock when he casually dropped that he had been good enough to play for the Super Eagles at one point. That’s when I realized how deep the sport ran in our blood. My dad was also really good but never got the same chances my uncle did to play, so he tried to steer my brother and me into the sport at an early age.

Did you pursue a career in football, or did the fashion/creative path grab you first?

Because there was such a passion for my dad early on to steer me to football, I was less interested. It is one of those things I really regret not taking more seriously because I was gifted with skills I never trained to improve in, but it was one of those things where when your parents want you to do something, sometimes you want to do the opposite so I didn’t really pursue it. The creative path ultimately caught my attention first, but football eventually got a hold of me more from a fashion angle. I still play a bit here and there, trying to make up for lost time where I can.

Do you tend to find hidden football enthusiasts within the creative industry? It’s almost like a hidden secret some creatives have held close to them, or is it more obvious now with the trend of fashion & football?

I think so. We stick out often because we don’t say “soccer” as we are in the States. I tend to say football or spell it as such and then have to correct it to “soccer,” but you can always tell when someone is an enthusiast. It really is like a secret code. Such a good time because there are so many different clubs, players, and styles people are into. I find that in the States, most people are supporters or fans of EPL teams, but I love talking with others who follow the other leagues across Europe.

How do you go about collecting kits? Internet? Thrift store finds? Grailed?

That's a great question. I’ve got a few methods, but I have to give a big shout out to the team at Soccer Archive. They're a really great group of guys, and they always have the kits I'm looking for in great condition. My African jerseys are all from there, so I highly encourage looking them up. Secondly, Grailed is also such a great place. I don’t want to put it on the map too much, but you can get really great jerseys there at a fairly decent price.

What’s your opinion on high fashion and its deep connection to football? Are brands just looking at football as a quick cash grab?

I was just talking with a few of my football friends about this recently, and while I love seeing things reinterpreted and recontextualized, I think it is becoming a bit much. In particular, when you look at a brand like Fear of God now working with Adidas and making football jerseys or luxury brands that haven’t had any ties to the sport or culture all of a sudden creating their own jerseys clearly inspired by iconic colorways, it makes you question. One of my favourite brands in Aime Leon Dore’s latest collection this year featured colorways specific to Barcelona and Inter Milan. The year before, they made simple jerseys as their first introduction to the sport. I know they’ve expanded to London, and the market is heavy into football, but the sport feels so disconnected from the brand, and it makes me question its authenticity. I feel that same thing towards a lot of the brands I am seeing. They know the sport is global, so they are trying to cash in to get a piece of that global attention.

What is your favourite collaboration to date? Is “Bloke Core” here to stay?

A few luxury brands have done such good collabs: Thom Browne’s Barcelona collection (the 2020 version is one of my favs), the Ac Milan x Off White collab, The Juventus x Palace, and 032c collabs were super solid ones, and honestly anything Umbro does is pure gold. Also, think a super slept-on one, but the Iykyk crowd picked it up was the Maharishi x Adidas x Arsenal.

As for blokecore, it is here to stay. As a marketer and fan of the sport, I think you’ve got to realize that trends don’t come and go. They always are. The question becomes whether it is “mainstream” or still part of its niche group. The fandom around football kits will always be even after brands milk the metaphorical cow. I love it, and a brand collab or mainstream hype around the sport and its fashion ties won’t make me like it anymore or less. I’m sure there are plenty of others who fall into that category.

Do you think NYC has fully embraced football? Multiple clubs in the city, big signings: Lampard, Pirlo, David Villa, who could forget Pele and the WC Finals at MetLife.

There is so much love for football here because it's a melting pot of so many other cultures. With it being close to Europe, a lot of the love is driven by leagues like the EPL, Serie A, La Liga, or Ligue 1. I think a place like NYC will always be a leader within the US in terms of its adoption of the sport and its growth.

How do you see NYC transforming before & after the World Cup?

The love of the sport will only grow after the World Cup. I am super hyped for it, and the gearing up for the games will be just as hyped as after. The globalization and popularization of the sport will only be highlighted in the US, as we haven’t hosted it since the 90s. I was only a kid then, so I couldn't fully grasp the significance, but now that I am older, I am aware of what this means for the country and sport. The awareness has infinitely grown since then, so it's going to be a really fun time.

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