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Let’s Talk About Soccer Sock Length

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[Editor’s Note: Today’s lede is from our own Jamie Rathjen, who’s turning his attention to soccer socks. Enjoy! — PL]

Reader Max Weintraub recently sent in an email, as follows:

Has resident soccer expert Jamie Rathjen written about the seemingly ever-increasing length of the socks worn by professional footballers, at least in the Premier League? Aside from trendbusters Luke Shaw and Jack Grealish (whose socks barely cover their mandatory shin pads), it seems that most players nowadays wear their socks over their knees.

Max may have been writing in reference to players like Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez (shown above) and Harvey Elliott, who do indeed sport a long-socked look.

I looked at all of last weekend’s Premier League games and found at least one long-socked player on every team. They’re by no means a majority, but definitely a sizable minority. Of course, the Premier League is just one men’s league in one country, but its players come from several dozen countries, so it’s not a bad starting point when looking at this type of trend.

Max’s point opens up the larger topic of soccer sock length, which is worth exploring. We tend to think of soccer socks as usually coming up to just below the knee, so it can look aesthetically jarring when they’re either longer or shorter than that. They’re traditionally meant to be worn folded over at the top and often have a contrasting top called a turnover. But if a player doesn’t turn over the turnover, that effectively makes the socks longer.

The Premier League isn’t the only circuit where that look can be found. Another prominent example is USWNT/Washington Spirit winger Trinity Rodman, who goes with the long socks pretty consistently, regardless of the team or kit:

This isn’t really a new phenomenon — I can find examples going back to the NWSL’s first season in 2013 — but it does seem to be growing.

Max is also right about the two short-socked players he cited: United left-back Shaw and Manchester City winger Grealish both fold their socks down basically to their shins, as seen here:

But shortened socks aren’t a new trend either. D.C. United right-back Chris Korb, for example, was going low-socked the better part of a decade ago:

While a few players wore shortened socks in last week’s EPL games, they weren’t as common as the long-socked look.

One reason for the variation in sock length is that soccer’s Laws of the Game require socks to be worn but are silent on the details and particulars. Much like we’ve seen in other sports, socks on the soccer pitch have started to become the least uniform part of the uniform (although at least there’s team-wide color consistency). Instead, they’re customized to players’ preferences. It’s especially common for players to cut out the bottoms and wear their own socks underneath, as seen here:

Equipment regulations don’t really address the appearance of socks besides what logos or patterns can appear on them. The only rule on length is that socks must cover the shinguards. Short-socker Grealish accomplishes his look by wearing child-sized shinguards and it looks like Shaw might be doing the same. I’ve never seen any long-sockers speak publicly about why they do so, however.

The sport’s current state of hosiery diversity was illustrated nicely by the image EA Sports used on Monday to announce the NWSL’s addition to the FIFA 23 game:

As you can see, six of the 12 players are long-socked (including Rodman, who’s representing the Spirit), and three are at least somewhat short-socked.

Update: As if on cue, here’s a new Twitter thread on how soccer socks often don’t fit women.


ITEM! Epic New Substack Article

Okay, people, I’m pretty excited about this one: For this week’s Uni Watch Premium article on Substack, I interviewed renowned music producer/engineer/guitarist Steve Albini, who you may know from the bands he’s fronted (Big Black, Shellac), his production credits (Nirvana, the Breeders, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, countless others), his many screeds and manifestos regarding the music biz, or his recent side career as a professional poker player.

Albini may seem like an odd subject for a Uni Watch interview, but his career has included a surprising number of uni-related and uni-adjacent moments, and I had a blast picking his brain about them. The resulting article is a doozy — about 6,500 words.

You can read the first part of the article here. In order the read the entire thing, you’ll need to become a paying subscriber to my Substack, which I hope you’ll consider doing. (If you subscribe, you’ll also gain access to my full Substack/Bulletin archives.)

While I have you here: Next week’s Premium article will be the latest quarterly installment of “Ask Me Anything,” the series where you get to ask me a question — about uniforms, sports, Uni Watch, me, or anything else — and I do my best to answer. If you’d like to submit a question, feel free to email it here. (Please note that this is not the usual Uni Watch email address.) One question per person, please. Thanks!

Looking ahead: The annual MLB Season Preview column will run on Substack on March 28-ish, just before Opening Day.



Astro vs. Astro

During last night’s Astros/Venezuela exhibition game, ’Stros minor leaguer Jose Betances helped out by pitching for Venezuela — while still wearing his Astros uniform. That set up a weird Astro vs. Astro matchup.

It’s not uncommon for minor leaguers to sub in for the WBC squad in these exhibition games. During last night’s Giants/USA game, for example, Giants minor leaguer Evan Gates filled in to pitch an inning for Team USA, wearing a USA jersey with no number or NOB. But he still had his Giants pants.



Too Good for the Ticker

Reader Michael Clary’s father got this Expos souvenir brochure during a 1973 visit to Stade Parc Jarry. Pretty cool, right? Here are the interior pages:

“My father also got a souvenir batting helmet for me (item No. 509), a ladies ‘Go-Go Cap’ for my sister (item No. 524), a coffee mug for my mother (item No. 526), and a couple logo badges (item No. 501),” says Michael. “I still have the helmet, mug, and badges, but the go-go cap is long gone-gone.”



Can of the Day

I love the combination of green and orange, so I’m thinking of getting this one and sticking a houseplant in it, but two things are holding me back. First, it costs a bit more than I’d like to pay. And second, look at the eye of the “R” — the block shadowing is wrong. Everywhere else it’s up and to the right, but in that one spot it’s down and to the right. Ugh! One of those “can’t un-see it” things.

Aside from that, though, a really nice design.


Comments (37)

    The coffee can might also appeal to fans of Indy Car racing, as Hulman & Company would be the same family that owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for many years, before selling it to Roger Penske a few years ago. Also, and maybe it’s just me, but the color scheme (I also like the orange & green, BTW) makes me think of orange juice, not coffee!!!

    I wish I saw the post this morning because I might have beat you to it! 100% agree as an F1 and Indy fan. That can is awesome.

    I first thought the “Can of the Day” segment was a little odd, even for Uni-Watch, but you keep throwing fire with it Paul! I’m starting to pick up on all the different fonts on cans and wondering what the choices were that have lead to those choices.

    I am a long sock player because it helps prevent turf burn on my knees! I also like the tight feeling while playing. Most people who go short socks don’t like how tight they can feel.

    That was the reason I started looking for longer socks too. Goalkeeping in futsal on artifical turf — not fun for your knees!

    I can’t seem to find any that fit well, though. Socks that are just plain longer seem to not have any variable circumference (?) at the very top where your knees and thighs will be, so they don’t stay up. Or the very tops of them are too tight to fit around that part of your legs. I’m sure there are better-fitting versions used in professional leagues; any recommendations?

    Puma notably have long socks! My other method is usually I snag an xl of the cheaper Nike Park socks, which don’t fit my feet but I cut out the feet and wear my preferred grip socks under. The trick with cutting is I burn the hem lightly to prevent fraying and tape them at the ankle.

    Imagine my delight waking up this morning to a notification that Paul interviewed Steve freaking Albini about all sorts of random stuff. Excellent work.

    Grealish wears his socks short for 2 reasons:

    1: In the Aston Villa academy, he only had one pair of socks which he had to wash every night, so they shrunk a lot.

    2: His calves are massive, and he can lose circulation in his legs wearing normal socks.

    It is a fashion thing. When I grew up in the 80s having low or sagging socks while playing football was being cool: it meant that you were too quick to get kicked on the shins or that you had a high tolerance for pain if you were kicked as you were obviously not wearing shinguards (which were not mandatory in those days). Now shinguards are mandatory and we see socks reaching almost into the shorts. I expect the sock to slide down again in a few years. Same thing with basketball shorts creeping up or sagging down every 10 years.

    I agree with the previous comments that soccer sock lengths have varied throughout the years and the trends have constantly been in circulation. Something that I have noticed is, that on average, the sock length various on the position of the player. For example ‘fast’ positional players like those on the wing or goal scorers (9’s) will have their socks high over the knee while more centralized players, like holding midfielders and center backs, will have their socks below the knees and or lower. Obviously there are outliers but I would say this is on average and has to do with the players style of play. This use to coincide with the color of soccer cleats players chose. Very technical players would have bright cleats to be more flashy and centralized players would want to blend in, or seem tougher, with black cleats.
    I wish the article talked about grip socks! For those who are unaware many soccer players will cut their team tube socks at the ankle and wear a special pair of grippy socks underneath. These specialty socks holds the shin guards in place and also keeps your foot from slipping in the cleat. Many youth leagues ban a different color grip sock then the tube sock because it can be seen as an advantage to make a more instant pass by scanning for a specific players unique outlying socks.

    P.s. I have always loved analyzing how soccer players wear their socks because it explains a lot about their personality!

    Ah I missed your comment before I made mine below. Some suppliers are now providing what are essentially sleeves in response to the growing trend of players cutting the feet off their socks.

    Thanks Charlie for that information as it is very fascinating. I am assuming the team crew sock you mentioned has the small grips on the base and heel of foot.

    With regards to soccer players cutting out the bottoms of socks, a lot of the suppliers now seem to issue their teams a calf sleeve and the player wears a team-issued crew sock underneath. I’ve noticed this for Manchester United a lot the last couple seasons: most players wear plain white socks and then the colored soccer “sock” is a sleeve above it. A handful of their players still wear the traditional sock (Maguire, Casemiro, and Varane) but a majority wear the crew sock and sock sleeve combo.

    I always thought that players with higher than knee socks were mainly for cold reasons. Since you are not allowed to wear pants or the like you just get your socks to cover as much as possible.
    Also, everytime I have played (once a week for more than 15 years) socks are normally longer than the knee and you just do a fold on the top to keep them below the knee. However, when stretching the sock, it felt really itchy on the back of the kneem I wouldn’t want that for 60 or 90 minutes of play.

    That’s cool that you have played for that many years Omar. And yes I do think really cold games, like usmnt vs hondours -13F players tend to wear socks higher for warmth.
    As you mentioned about the fold, I think feel goes into as well. Some players feel that the fold, you explained, restricts blood low and feels off. When you get to the higher levels the players are in communications with the equipment manager on their specific preferred sock length for matches. Think of it as baseball players requesting their pant length.

    As someone who occasionally wears over-the-calf hosiery – kilt socks are remarkably similar in form, if not look and material, to soccer socks – the short-sock thing mystifies me. How do the socks stay up when they’re folded over that low? Every step you take, your calf muscle will be pushing the sock down, hard, and soccer players take a lot of steps. The turnover above the calf works well to keep the socks up, and flexing the calf tends to push the sock up rather than down.

    Hello Scott,
    That is interesting about the kilt socks. I might be able to answer your question as some players with lower socks will tuck the excess sock behind the shin guard in that area between the leg and guard. This allows the combo to be stationary. Finding ways to keep the guard in place has been a working science throughout years.

    “Update: As if on cue, here’s a new Twitter thread on how soccer socks often don’t fit women.”

    That thread is amazing. And if London Seaward is the double entendre I think it is, they’re my new favourite soccer team.

    I love the daily “can-can”. Scratches my itch, so to speak. I laughed out loud at your observation about the drop shadow. I would have never recognized that “can’t un-see” moment!

    How can you write a piece about sock length and not mention Thierry Henry??? He popularized the over-the-knee look, at least for my generation.

    Also no discussion of the trend towards brands like Adidas and Nike providing what are essentially sleeves so that players can wear their own socks inside their boots? I haven’t had this confirmed but I believe it’s due to the high number of players that were cutting the feet off their socks.

    Yeah, Henry was the first player I remember wearing his socks over his knee regularly, I figured it was to keep his knees warm, don’t want your most important joints stiffening up in that England cold….

    And with the theme song to today’s lede, here’s Salt-N-Pepa:

    Let’s talk about socks, Jamie!
    Let’s talk about hosiery!
    Let’s talk about all the short things,
    And the things above the knee!
    Let’s talk about socks!
    Let’s talk about socks!

    Of the sports that I’ve participated in (soccer, basketball, running), I’ve always preferred long (around calf length) socks. Soccer for the practicality (keeping your shin guards in), but honestly for the aesthetics in all the other sports. There’s nothing like matching your entire kit to your socks. And when it gets cold outside, tights work just as well for aesthetic reasons. I mean sure, the compression works, but they just look really good with the rest of my outfit too lol

    I always opted for long socks when I played basketball as a kid, probably because it looked a little old school and I was used to it from the soccer season.

    I work at a Nike school. Nike MatchFit and Squad socks (used by the pro and national teams) are made like a traditional crew sock top, doesn’t really have a turnover. It’s maybe an inch tall with no logo. They’re very light and stretchy compared to a traditional soccer sock (and rip/snag with ease). We’ve switched our men’s team over to Squad calf sleeves because all but three wear cut socks with plain crew socks or Tru grip socks. The women’s team will probably happen sooner than later as we’re approaching half the team wearing cut socks.
    I guarantee the reason your examples wear low socks is because of their massive calves (and/or possibly compartment syndrome). Soccer socks, like basically all other socks, don’t have a wide calf option. I’ve had to make a few pairs of Frankensocks to alleviate tightness around the calves for a few student-athletes. They literally couldn’t stay on the field because the socks reduced circulation, but were back to elite athlete status with some extra room in the calf. It’s especially worse if they happen to also suffer from compartment syndrome. And yes, some just do it for the look or think it makes them faster.
    As for wearing them over the knee, I think it’s a little bit of everything. If your favorite player does it, you do it. It’s a little more skin protected from the turf and unless you’re over like six feet tall, that’s just where they come to when you put them on since they don’t have the traditional turnover.

    Hello Dust,
    Thank you for all the valued information. Sock question for you since you work for Nike. Is it against endorsement deals for top tier professional players/national team players to wear trusox?

    I work at a D1 NCAA Nike school, not Nike. But we don’t have any provision against it and as long at the Tru logo is covered, I don’t see why it would be. Swoosh is on the socks and boots. Tru logo is at the top so it would be covered by the sock/sleeve. You’d never know what kind of sock was under there unless they show a lot of it and you can see the square grippers on the achilles.

    When you say Frankensocks, do you mean cut holes in the back of their socks to deal with circulation issues? That’s another trend in the last decade or so, always wondered if that was about circulation or just cooling calves, or both.

    The Frankensocks are socks with extra material from another sock sewn in to get a custom fit. Holes on the calf muscle are definitely to reduce pressure for better circulation. I have two guys that do it and it drives the whole equipment staff nuts, as it just looks terrible. The Squad socks snag too easily to make the Frankensocks worthwhile.

    i get people have their style preferences but i am not a fan of anything but regular soccer sock length. would rather have too high than too low though. andrew gutman from atlanta united wears them basically around his ankles, seemingly no shin guard of any kind, which blows my mind, and it looks awful.

Comments are closed.