Creative Soccer Culture

Behind The Scenes Of The adidas Arsenal Retro Collection Launch

Following on from the immense popularity and glowing reception that the return of the bruised banana design received, adidas are launching a full Arsenal retro collection. To promote it they wheeled out a host of stars, including legends David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn, and Ian Wright, as well as current first-team players from both the men's and women's teams, including Leah Williamson, Jordan Nobbs and Danielle van de Donk.

While the legends were doing their thing on set, we took the opportunity to have a quick sit down with the Arsenal women, and we started off by getting their opinion on the new collection. “I love it,” started Jordan Nobbs, speaking much as she plays, with a typical, no-nonsense approach that was evidenced in her punditry on the BBC this summer. “I like retro. We spoke to adidas the other day and we were saying that we want our training kit to be retro, and that they should bring adidas Originals in and stuff like that. So yeah, I like what I’m wearing today.”

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“I think it’s amazing. It’s my style, so I’m buzzing that they’re doing this,” Danielle van de Donk adds, picking up the baton where Nobbs left off. And then it’s the turn of Leah Williamson, the conversation being passed as soundly between the women as the ball is on the pitch. “Looking good is first and foremost when you’re talking about streetwear,” she explains. “I wouldn’t wear clothes to go down to the shop that I didn’t think I looked good in, but I also wouldn’t step out on the pitch if I didn’t feel good in myself as well, so I love that we’re making such a focus on the way the kits look.” Thumbs up all round then.

It’s a simple enough approach: make kits that look good. Easy to say, but as a brand, it’s a fine line between looking good on the pitch and carrying that off into lifestyle circles. And that’s where the retro aspect appears to be serving to bridge the gap, with the current trend in 90s throwback in particular, taking full focus.

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As a lifetime Arsenal fan, Williamson is all for being involved in the launch. “I get a little sneak peak at this stuff today, and my family, we laugh about this because I’m now on the other end of it. We used to be the ones going down to the store on opening days to get our hands on anything that we could, but now the roles have reversed a little bit. Even this jumper – we’ve got a picture of my uncle with my cousin on his shoulders and he’s wearing that jumper. It is part of what we look like.”

The fact that the women are now regularly involved in these types of situations, helping to launch kits and generally being included in larger club activities, is not something that is lost on the three, and the conversation soon shifts accordingly to the fresh approach to the women’s game that is continually gaining momentum. “When I was younger and I played with the boys, the kits were always massive and a bit boyish,” says van de Donk, summing up what is a common observation from the current generation of female players, albeit one that will hopefully be relegated to the annals of history. “Now I feel that there’s so much more attention to detail about the kit. It’s so much better than it was, and it’s such a pro for women’s football.”

The conversation then transitions to a more general view of expressing individual character. “I think the fact that we can start to show a little bit of other things and other sides to us that people probably never knew about, I think that’s key to people knowing us as players and as normal humans as well.” Nobbs says. It’s a point that rings true with Williamson. “Sometimes I think you can’t put enough on how much influence we have on people. It could just be wearing something nice, then someone else buys it because they think that they want to wear it and then they feel good. It’s just the message of saying I’m going to do this and I’m going to be who I am, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay, but I’m still going to be who I am.”

“The criticism that Hector Bellerin gets is ridiculous,” she continues. “Obviously I’m not on the same profile as him, but it’s ridiculous. All I get is a bit of banter from the girls when I come in in something that’s not necessarily normal. But it’s a passion he has. Why should we be expected to stay within football when we have other passions.”

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The criticism that Hector Bellerin gets is ridiculous. Why should we be expected to stay within football when we have other passions"

So style is important to them, but so is being able to reflect your own personality. “When I was 17 I was a very terribly dressed northerner,” Nobbs jokes. “Now one of the things that I love about London is that you can go as weird and wonderful in your fashion as you want, and I’ve definitely not been scared to wear things that show off what I’m like as a person. I think football and fashion has become such a big thing. Being here today, I love being a part of this.”

Being in the company of three such prestigious talents from within the women’s game, the chat naturally leads to its rapid development, something that was encapsulated by the World Cup in France. “I knew before that tournament that I couldn’t afford to miss another one,” Williamson says, talking about her timely return from injury. “I needed to be in the England team because I wanted to be part of history and part of the change that we’re making. I didn’t want to watch another one from the side like the World Cup before. I’m part of the generation that was getting inspired, even though I was playing football, and this time I knew that I had to be there for that reason; I wanted to be at the forefront of the change that we’re making and I wanted to experience it first hand.” Her confidence and elocution defy her young age as she confidently makes her points. 

For van de Donk, the World Cup was a memorable tournament for so many reasons, not least because Holland progressed all the way to the final, narrowly missing out to the USA. “I just really enjoyed it and took it all in when I was in the stadiums,” she enthuses. “It’s just impressive and amazing and I’m honoured that I could be there on the pitch. It’s what I always wanted when I was a little girl. I got to live my dream.”

The World Cup played out slightly differently for Nobbs though. With more coverage than ever before, she found herself on the other side of the camera, testing her hand at punditry with injury ruling her out of playing. But it was an experience that she relished, her optimistic outlook finding the best of a bad situation. “I think as a professional footballer it can be difficult to get that chance to have the opportunity of seeing the other side of [broadcasting] and seeing what you might be able to do after football. In a positive outlook on the whole situation I think it was a great opportunity for me to take with both hands and I loved every minute of it.”

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It's testament to the character of both Williamson and Nobbs that they've suffered serious injuries that forced them to miss major international tournaments, and yet they’ve both recovered to resume their positions, performing week-in, week-out at the top level of the game. And neither of them lack confidence in their ability or the ambition to keep improving. “The best thing about the challenges is that you have a better perspective afterwards,” Williamson says. “You’re trying to be a leader within the team, trying to have the best impact on people, the fact you’ve been in their shoes with an injury, it’s just having a better understanding of the game, and it does make you grow up quicker.”

“I think you learn a lot through injury about just how mentally strong you are. You go through such a rollercoaster,” Nobbs adds. “My torture has always been missing a major tournament, so I think right now is probably the most I’ve ever wanted to look after my body as best as I can, whether that’s food, protein, when I’m tired just having a day off from training, and realising that these things can be key moments in terms of looking after yourself and your career.”

Athlete’s often say that they will return from injury stronger, and while that may be true physically speaking, talking to these women makes us realise just how true it is from a mental perspective; they’ve been through the difficulty of being injured, but they’ve learnt from it, grown from it, and they are indeed stronger for it. “My expectations are very high,” Nobbs explains. “I want to be one of the best midfielders in the league and the world, and I think I have the potential to do that. Right now I’m in a spot where I’m playing for a great team with great players and hopefully that can continue being part of my achievements.”

It’s an outlook that’s shared by Williamson, too. “I want to be the best I can as quickly as possible. I think I set a high goal for myself last year, and I think I announced myself post all of those injuries to be like, this is the player that I am. Now it’s about showing people that I’m going to get better. The main thing that’s on my side – and it won’t be forever – is that I’m young. I like to put the fear of God into other players, making them think she’s coming, and she’s this good already. And yeah, I’m going to get better. But I’m lucky to be at a team where I get to showcase my absolute best every single week whilst we potentially and hopefully win.”

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I want to be an Arsenal legend and I want people to remember my name at this football club for a very long time to come"

The sheer strength of character radiating from all three women is quite breathtaking, and Williamson is quick to point out the psychological advantage the World Cup has given her. “Every single time I stepped into the stadium on match day, I was just thinking wow, this is where I am,” she says, sitting forward on her chair, her tone full of the emotion of the occasion, as if she is reliving it as she speaks. “Now, coming back, I’ve got the confidence that I’ve been on that stage, I’ve experienced all that. I want to be one of the best players in the world and you go there to play against the best players in the world, to play against the best teams in the world, and to win. I’ve had a little taste of it now and I’m hungry for more.”

Like being injured, there is a also a lot to learn from defeat, and along with the passion and desire to succeed that was built in the England squad, Williamson is taking her new-found knowledge into her club football. “It hurts to lose. You go [to the World Cup] thinking you’re going to win. Everyone wants to win. So to have not done that, something was missing. It’s probably the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learnt from losing. I hope that I don’t go through that too many times; I’m determined to make a difference.” 

Sentiments echoed by Nobbs as we talk about her welcome return to club football. “I ended last season, scoring a lot of goals and being a key part of our team, I just want to be there again, assisting and scoring goals in the position that I’m playing,” she says. “And I want to be playing so well that I get selected for the olympics. That’s my goal. I just want to be an absolute nuisance on the pitch, and that means that we win every trophy at this club as well. I’ve been at Arsenal for nine years now and I want to be an Arsenal legend, I want people to remember my name at this football club for a very long time to come.”

Van de Donk, quiet while Nobbs and Williamson have spoken about their injuries, elaborates on the feelings surrounding the club and its development. “I think Arsenal is always trying to progress,” she explains with her dutch accent that is now picking up a slight cockney twinge. “When I first came here we always wanted to win prizes, which we still do, but on a bigger scale, like the Champion League. But it’s also with the facilities and everything. Not many clubs have those facilities for women’s football and I think that’s one of the most impressive things about Arsenal; it is a family.”

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The influence that these women have is no longer restricted to what they do on the pitch. As the women’s game grows, so to does their profile and it’s something that Williamson is keen to highlight. “In terms of taking on the role of being a role model in who I am and where I am, I sort of stay away from the football side almost, because I know that it’s valuable to connect with people and to connect on a human level,” she explains, yet again belying her 22 years. “I want to get my character across, because I believe that also inspires people. I don’t want any token-ism in women’s football anymore. It’s not like, ‘oh, women’s football is great. Look at what a difference the girls make.’ No no, we’re serious athletes. We come here to perform and to win. I just think that it’s great that in society we can offer up more of our characteristics off the pitch as well, because I think that’s where you really connect with people.”

Three strong players, Three strong characters. Three leaders in their own right. Sitting and chatting to these women, even for this relatively short amount of time, is inspiring. You get the sense that the direction of the women’s game is in the right hands. While they’re kicking back, laughing, joking and styling it out in the new retro collection from Arsenal, which yells of the club’s glorious past, you get the sense that the future’s bright, both for the women’s team and for the game in general. “I’m not the cleverest child you’ll ever meet,” Nobbs concludes. “But I love football with my whole entire life, and anything that I love like that I put my whole heart and soul into.” Amen.

The adidas Originals x Arsenal collection will be available from the 11 December at

Daniel Jones

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