Off the peg: How an obscure US football team took over the world.

ou know those little things that at first you don't notice, but when you do, you start to see them wherever you look? On buses, in shops, in your dreams? Here's one: Michigan jackets. Or, more precisely, the official, thermally-padded, down-to-your-knees blue-and-yellow touchline jacket of the US college football team the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan jackets are all over my part of north London, like the uniform of an occupying army, and I don't know why. You see them at bus stops and chip shops, crossing parks at twilight and blocking out the supermarket checkout on a Saturday - MICHIGAN appliqued in block capitals across the bum in front of you and a giant M looming on the left breast when they turn around to pay. It's mostly black kids - because in London, at least, it's always the black kids who make the secret, impenetrable decisions regarding what goes and what doesn't in street fashion - but as well as young whites and Asians, I've also seen mums and dads and babes in arms dressed in man-made fleeces (three sizes too big, naturally) from the Great Lakes state. My American girlfriend thinks it's comical: why should the uniform of a mainly white and rural, huntin', shootin', one-time car-makin' state hold any fascination for London kids whose passions are hip-hop, Duke Nukem and yo-yo's? New York Yankees and LA Raiders gear you could understand, back when Public Enemy seemed to have nothing else in their wardrobe. But this is like turning up at a Bronx block party to find everyone wearing Leicester City shirts. Meanwhile the Michigan thing continues unabated. I've started to think of them all as the M People.

At first I thought it might be to do with the colours: the Michigan Wolverines play in royal blue with yellow and white trim, which is near enough to Spurs colours and could be in tune with local loyalties in my neighbourhood, the Dalston/Hackney metroplex. Then I saw news footage of a failing comprehensive in Leeds, and there, in the schoolyard, was another M Person in her Teflon-coated status symbol (more positive evidence: local rugby league side, the Leeds Rhinos, play in the same colours). I've even seen Arsenal fans all Michigan'ed-up for Saturday afternoon shopping.

This is when you know you've grown old. There is no making sense of this stuff because it makes itself up as it goes along, the way it always has, and if you need to ask you're never going to know. Growing up in suburban Merseyside in the early Eighties, I recall clothing as a baffling ordeal of football-inspired diktats. One minute you think you're secure in your granddad shirt, burgundy Fred Perry V-neck and black Farah trousers; the next, nothing is acceptable apart from Pod trainers and ultra-tight Second Image jeans with red piping (yes, they really existed). I remember a youth club disco ending with one friend getting vigorously smacked for wearing Fred Perry, which had been In three weeks previously but was now Out. It was felt he deserved it. God knows if those same sinister forces are at work in the Michigan thing.

For what it's worth, the Wolverines have just been knocked out of the Rose Bowl by Ohio State Buckeyes. Bad news for the M People - if you see them trade in their blue-and-yellow for Ohio's red- and-grey, you know why

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