Darren Bent talks sneakers

Words: Alex Synamatix
Photography: Alex Synamatix

In a rather unusual moment for us last week, we found ourselves sat in the attic of a restaurant in Peterborough talking about sneakers with Aston Villa and England footballer Darren Bent.

It’s always interesting to talk to those who are less directly involved in the sneaker/streetwear culture than the obvious choices, but who still have that same hunger for footwear that we all know far too well. Darren is a great example of this kind of person. You probably wouldn’t assume him to be an avid sneaker collector, but when we found out he was, we couldn’t resist sitting down with him for a chat and sifting through some of the 350+ pairs in his collection that have recently earned him a place as an ambassador for Sneakerpedia.

On a cold, wet day (something that is happening far too often lately) I found myself dodging puddles and mud on my way up to a converted old mill in the middle of the English countryside. Once inside, I headed up three flights of stairs to be ushered through an old wooden door and into a converted attic room. In some way, I felt like I was walking into some form of secret sneaker illuminati meeting. In the middle of the room was a large conference table, littered with sneakers in mint condition; Nike’s, Jordans, Umbro’s, Christian Louboutin’s and the glowing yellow box of the near-mythical Nike MAGs. Huddled in the corner was a photographer from Sneakerpedia, quietly working his way through the bin bags of sneakers shoe-by-shoe to document the collection for the site. It was a surreal vision to say the least. Calmly sat at the table was Darren Bent, like a King in his own court, while a couple of different PR and official people hurried around to make sure the day went as planned.

For someone so often in the public spotlight and with possibly one of the most high profile jobs available, Darren was a surprisingly relaxed and easy going person. As we got into the interview and the questions started flowing, it quickly became more like two friends casually discussing sneakers and the inspirations at the core of Darren’s sneaker collection began to unravel in front of me; style and functionality. From chatting to a large amount of sneaker collectors over the years, I find there can be huge differences between each one, be them an OG hunter who is scared to even touch their babies, or someone like Darren, who quite simply likes to buy kicks to wear them.

“I like to just rock kicks to be fair. I base my whole outfit that I wear in the day around my trainers. I try not to wear them ’til they die. I wear them a couple of times and then put them on the shelf for a couple of months and think “Oh yes, Summertime’s coming, let me bring them back out again”. Certain trainers I won’t wear in the Winter, no chance.”

As we got further into the topic, I wanted to delve into Darren’s personal history with sneakers. I wanted to find out what drives him to buy each pair of sneaks – to get to the core of what his collection represents. Collecting sneakers is a fine line between being a historian and a hoarder, between an educated passion and an uncontrollable problem that can cripple people financially and ruin relationships. It’s all part of the game.

For Darren, it seemed like it all began with a pair of kicks that a lot of sneaker fans hold dear in their childhood memories; the infamous LA Gear Lights…

“The first ones I can remember rocking were the LA Gear Lights – back in the day, they were the ones for me. I used to wear them all the time. That’s the first pair I can remember.”

This openness to his roots with sneakers intrigued me. Most collectors would answer that question with an unspoken awareness to how they will be perceived by other knowledgable collectors, making sure that the kicks they referenced were something most hadn’t heard of or would kill for now. The second the LA Gear Lights were mentioned a smile crept on my face as we recollected how rad those kicks were, and rad is the only word to do them justice. However, it seems it was another rarely mentioned classic that sparked the real hoarding nature of Darren’s sneaker collecting …

“The ones I remember tearing the life out of was the Nike TNs. The TNs and the TN 2s. I must have had every colour in the TN. Every day I was rocking them. The Nike TNs; they’re the ones that really stick in my head, where I did everything I could to get a pair of those trainers.”

The further into the topic we delved, the more intrigued I was by Darren’s relationship with sneakers. It wasn’t the same as most of the collectors I know. It didn’t seem to be shrouded in the geeky knowledge of shoes or pining to the glory days of footwear’s past, yet he still had that hunger and passion for shoes that those same people also have. It seemed Darren’s passion for sneakers is much more in the here and now, it’s much more about what’s going on in the sneaker world, rather than what has happened in it’s past, and his collection reflected this. At one point we ended up talking about the recent spat of Nike Vintage Blazer’s and how he had a period of obsession with them, mainly for their comfort and ability to suit many an outfit or situation.

“I was wearing the Nike Vintage Blazers for probably about 6 months. I had one Black pair and by the end they turned Grey ‘cos I just teared them, teared them and teared them. At the time, for me, they were just the best trainer. I could wear them with anything. When I was going to clubs I was wearing them, when I was going to a concert I was wearing them – I was wearing them all over the place.”

It was while he was reminiscing to a time where he almost lived in the Blazer Vintage that I spotted a bin bag at the side of the room, bulging with almost every colourway ever released in it, just sat there casually like it was nothing.

After spotting that bin bag filled with Vintage Blazers, I couldn’t help myself – I had to start rummaging through the several other bin bags brimming with sneakers. It was just too tempting for me. As I dug, I found myself coming across endless amounts of Air Max 1’s and Air Max 90s that I started to kick myself for sleeping on, not to mention the numerous Dunks and Jordan’s. Most of the Air Max were general releases, but ones that I should have jumped on when they dropped. I noticed that a lot of the kicks in these bags were general release and I was interested to find out why that was exactly, especially as someone in Darren’s position could have some seriously limited, hyped kicks.

“I don’t mind general releases, ‘cos some of the general release bits are nice to be fair. Sometimes with the rare releases I haven’t got the time to be going down to the shop, to keep calling up on the phone, you know, keep calling up the shop.”

I’d never thought of it this way, that a pro footballer, although they can afford whatever kicks they want, may not be able to have them due to limitations on time and where they have to be. Have you ever seen a footballer in the queue outside a sneaker shop? Or any other professional sportsman for that matter. Obviously, the counter-argument is that a footballer most likely gets given them from the company and thanked in the process, but it’s really not that simple with the harder-to-get releases. Trust me on that one. Without noticing, Darren actually re-enforced this point while reminiscing about how he just about managed to get the Nike Air Force 1 ‘Entourage’ editions…

“When they dropped in LA, they were solid to get hold of, and I saw some guy who worked in a shop with them on his feet and I said to him “Listen, let me buy them off you” [laughs] and he said yeah! He sold them to me in the shop. He worked in the shop bare foot and I got his trainers. So I managed to do that. I saw them and just thought “I need them. I need them in my life”.”

However, it doesn’t always go this smoothly, even if you do get lucky and manage to persuade someone to give up their pride and joys, especially if being able to wear the kicks is important to you, like it is to Darren. While reminiscing about hard-to-get sneakers and stories of sneaker shopping in the States, Darren began to pine over a pair that were missing from his collection; the Nike SB Dunk Low Pro ‘Paris’ from 2003. You could see the fire in his eyes as he began to kick into a new life, fed by the dream of these sneakers and how he came so close to owning them…

“I saw a pair in LA (Flight Club), but they weren’t my size so I couldn’t get them. They were about 4 G’s.”

I was fascinated to see someone get fired up over a pair of kicks that they wanted in their collection, and that they held in their hands, but didn’t cop them because they weren’t in their size. A lot of people would have just caved in and got them, regardless of size, especially if they could quite happily afford them, but I had to respect how highly Darren held the ability to be able to wear his purchases. It’s a topic that I often find myself debating amongst friends and peers; are you doing the sneakers the justice they deserve by keeping them iced on a shelf or by wearing them – the function that they were designed for. There’s two camps on this, that’s for sure, and it seems Darren sits in the ‘wearing’ camp.

There is one pair in Darren’s collection however that this ‘wearing’ ethos does not apply to; his pride and joy Nike MAGs.

“They’re ones that will never, ever get worn. I’ve tried them on, to see how they look, but I will never wear them in the road [laughs]. Maybe in 2025 or something, but I’ll leave them like that in the collection for now (pointing at the dominant yellow box).”

Probably a sensible choice. There are a few extra anomalies in his collection to his normal ‘wearing’ philosophy, mainly the more modern Jordan releases that he describes as too “courtified”. Not a real word, but it should be, it just makes sense. Jordan’s seem to play a heavy part in Darren’s collection, making it into his top 10 selection twice; the Jordan III (Black/Cement) and the Jordan IV (White/Cement).

“Jordan was my hero and I love his trainers, particularly the Jordan IIIs. I seem to wear a lot of Jordan’s. Jordan IIIs are my favourite trainer ever, so I’ve been practically living in them.”

It was interesting to hear a professional footballer reference Michael Jordan as one of his childhood heroes, but then I guess Jordan was more than just a basketball player in the 90’s. He was seen more as the ultimate professional sportsman. He took being a professional sportsman to a whole new level, so in that sense I guess it made complete sense for Darren to have him as a hero. Another sneaker hero for Darren is Kanye West, purely for his design work with the Nike Yeezy. Saying that Darren is a Yeezy fan is a huge understatement – this man lights up at the mention of the Yeezy 1, let alone the Yeezy 2.

“I find myself always wearing the Black/Pink colourway. I love it, I love the way it looks, how comfortable it is on my feet. I think you can rock them with anything. I managed to get all three colourways of the last ones.”

When I asked if he’d managed to get himself on any sort of list for the Yeezy 2’s, he turned into a man possessed with determination. It’s clear that this shoe (most likely in any and all colourways) is at the top of Darren’s hit list at the moment and taking up almost all of his sneaker focus.

“I’ll try and pick up the Yeezy 2s. I love the Yeezy’s, so they’re a must-have. Every week I’m onto my guy like “Can you get me it? What’s going on? What’s going on?!” and he says “They’ve been put back”. So yeah, I’m trying to get them. I love them. Love the look of them. I think my sole focus at the moment is just on these Yeezy 2s, that’s all I’m focusing on.”

As surreal as the occasion may have started, by the end it felt like I was chilling with an old friend in their sneaker room (something that Darren is fortunate enough to actually have) and shooting-the-shit about sneakers. It’s something that’s a credit to Darren and his personality as a whole, and I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and open he was, be it about his collection or in general.

It’s always interesting to talk to different collectors about their sneakers and their addiction to them, being able to burrow into their past and see where it all came from. Every person comes from a slightly different angle and it effects the way that they look at sneakers and collect them. One thing is very clear with Darren and his collecting habit; if he likes a pair of kicks, that’s good enough justification for him. It’s a simple way of looking at sneakers and it reminds me of my earlier days of collecting, before I found myself buried in books about certain footwear brands or scanning eBay for forgotten gems. It’s a raw and honest approach to sneaker collecting that isn’t bogged down with detail or a need for heritage, but focuses more on getting enjoyment from wearing the sneakers and having multiple variations of personal favourites. However, right at the center is the same thing you will find with almost any collector – a near uncontrollable need to have more.

Darren’s collection will be able to scroll through shoe-by-shoe when Sneakerpedia officially leaves Beta and goes public on May 22nd. We’ll keep you fully informed as and when it does.

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Special thanks to Darren for taking the time to talk us through his collection, as well as Elsie at Sneakerpedia and Lewis and Julian at Frank PR.