Blades of gory: The story of 'lethal' hybrid boots that caused injury to Wayne Rooney

The former Liverpool player Craig Johnston invented concept but says evolving footwear could now end a career

It's now nearly 20 years since Craig Johnston changed the appearance of football boots forever. While most players who retired in the 1980s used to buy a pub or sports shop, the Australian midfielder who was part of Liverpool's 1986 double-winning squad instead turned his hand to innovation.

Johnston had been coaching kids in Australia when he hit upon his big idea to attach rubber strips from a table tennis bat to the forefoot of his boots, instantly improving the amount of spin and power that could be applied to the ball. Having finally convinced adidas – by calling in German World Cup-winning legends Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner – to test out his prototype for a promotional film, the "Predator" was an instant success when it launched in 1994.

Within two years the new boots also featured Johnston's pioneering "Traxion" soles that were a hybrid of traditional studs or cleats and blades, which enabled a player to turn in tight spaces and at high speed. Yet even as global superstars including David Beckham, Jonny Wilkinson and Zinedine Zidane ensured that Predators became the must-have item for a generation of schoolboys, their creator was growing increasingly concerned.

Johnston sold his patents to adidas for a significant fee in 1998 but left them with a warning that the never-ending quest for improved performance through new technology was becoming increasingly hazardous.

"As I was in the process of selling up, I told them about my fears that the way these boots were developing could become dangerous for players' health," Johnston, who now lives in Florida, remembered this week. "The studs were getting deeper and started to be made out of a different plastic which was basically a Pebax plastic material. When the ground is a bit sandy or there are rocks in the soil, they tended to sharpen up the plastic cleats and they became like lethal weapons. I even told the Fifa doctor when we had lunch together four or five years ago that they had to do something about the materials and the shape of all the new cleated configurations."

Since the turn of the century, there have been numerous injuries caused by blades or hybrids to back up his theory. In 2002, Burnley striker Andy Payton was forced to retire after needing 38 stitches in his leg – "It was like a carving knife slitting it open," he said last year. Gillingham player Andy Hessenthaler had suffered a similar injury the year before, with a cut so deep he reported that he could fit a whole mobile phone inside it, while last month 13-year-old schoolboy Kavan Ryan was rushed to hospital with a 10-inch gash sustained in a youth match in the Midlands.

But while Sir Alex Ferguson went as far as banning blades at Manchester United in 2005 after he claimed they were responsible for Roy Keane breaking his foot and several junior leagues around the country followed suit, it wasn't until Wayne Rooney suffered a horrific gashed leg against Fulham last year that the problem was once again highlighted on the big stage. In the immediate aftermath of that incident, PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, called for tighter regulations and raised the issue in a meeting with the FA's Medical Committee, although no action was taken.

Head of PFA Gordon Taylor, second from right, will speak with Fifa over the safety standards of boots Head of PFA Gordon Taylor, second from right, will speak with Fifa over the safety standards of boots

"Bearing in mind some of the nature of the accidents there have been I feel it is incumbent on us to have some kind of measure of regulation and a Kitemark," Taylor said.

"They've been forewarned with the potential dangers and we should be doing all that we can to protect against this problem."

The International Rugby Board introduced law 4.3 last summer stating that "studs/cleats of player's boots must...not be longer than 21 mm, and must not have any burring or sharp edges". Now Johnston believes it is time football followed their example.

"The geometry and the depth of the cleat has got to be formalised, regulated and deemed safe. And they have to change the material used because it's dangerous," he added.

"Mass production of these boots means that it's drifted to the cheaper kind of plastic compounds, which tend to fray around the edge and become very sharp. There have been so many incidents in the professional game but we can only imagine how many there are every weekend involving kids in local parks that never get reported."

There have also been concerns that some new-style boots have contributed to an increase in serious foot, ankle and knee injuries among footballers. "You've got much more powerful players and the forces coming through their body are just too much to take, so what happens is the most vulnerable part has to give, which is usually a knee ligament or the metatarsals.

"The problem is not going away," Johnston added. "Players have adjusted and are a bit more careful. But it's still an accident waiting to happen."

A slice of history: Injuries timeline

July 1996 Adidas release the first boots with bladed studs – known as a Traxion soleplate.

Feb 2001 Sunderland youth team goalkeeper Craig Turns needs 33 stitches after a bladed boot slices his face open.

Jan 2005 Sir Alex Ferguson bans bladed boots at Manchester United after a series of injuries.

Apr 2005 Annan Athletic goalkeeper Charlie McCulloch comes close to losing an eye when his head is sliced open. He needs 16 stitches and is scarred for life.

Oct 2008 Accrington Stanley call for blades to be banned after losing both Phil Edwards and Ian Dunbavin to gaping leg wounds which needed stitches.

Aug 2012 Wayne Rooney needs 10 stitches after being caught by Fulham's Hugo Rodallega.

Aug 2013 Rooney again needs stitches after his head is sliced open by Phil Jones' boot in training.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?