'Beyond the Pitch' is a weeklong dive into all things football (read: soccer) in conjunction with UEFA EURO 2020, rescheduled from last year and kicking off June 11. Head here for more of our immersive coverage.
Bounding onto the Zoom call singing Gerry Cinnamon's "She Is a Belter," Dominic Calvert-Lewin doesn't lend the impression of someone set to go up against Manchester City, Pep Guardiola's much-feared English Premier League Champions, in under 24 hours time. Perhaps his mood can be attributed to the fact Everton fans voted him as the club's player of the year the night before, having enjoyed a best-ever 16-goal season. Or maybe, and more likely, it's just the type of unruffled, no airs or graces guy he normally is.
Growing up in Sheffield, Calvert-Lewin's path to national team stardom was not one forged in lavish academies and mollycoddled institutions. When talking about Steel City, it's always easy to fall back on wan, Loachian descriptors like "tough," "gritty," and "industrial," which are true to a point. Yet it's also a place of overlooked cool, having birthed menswear gods such as Jarvis Cocker and Alex Turner. Calvert-Lewin, or Dom as his mates call him, might not be of that sartorial legend ilk right now, but these things take time.
"I guess my earliest influences were probably my dad and my uncle. My uncle worked in a G-Star shop. G-Star for all, when it was popping, back in the day. And then my dad was always into nice clothes, and I always remember my dad wearing Vivienne Westwood shirts. And I guess I also saw how my uncle dressed. My uncle was always cool. And he had loads of trainers and stuff like that. As a young kid, I saw that and thought, 'I'd like a bit of that.'"
If you believe certain people, style — not fashion — has become a sport of its own. There's a kernel of truth to that, not least when it comes to elite footballers. These guys live in a world where essentially nothing is unattainable. The vast majority gravitate towards the same things — skin-tight Amiri jeans that look like they've spent a weekend break with Michael Myers being the most obvious example — but even when we consider those who do it well, it's become almost boring to see the same Prada runway bits all the time. That's why Calvert-Lewin thought big, tapping Harry Lambert — the mastermind behind Harry Styles' internet-breaking, effeminate looks — to work alongside him as a stylist. Even if the sport has made progress on LGBTQ issues over the years, it still has plenty of work to do in terms of ridding such discrimination entirely. That's what makes Calvert-Lewin's choice so ballsy.
"I'm not really too sure how it came about," says Calvert-Lewin. "We got in contact with each other and kind of the first project we did was this one – it's the first time we've worked together. He's a cool guy and we just got along really well. We kind of just clicked from there."
Calvert-Lewin's grand entrance to the fashion arena was not without controversy. When presented with some rare downtime during the season, most footballers will gravitate to the usual sunny destinations: Dubai, Ibiza, maybe Barbados. The less-heralded New York Fashion Week in freezing February can sometimes be a chore for even the most enthusiastic fashion editor, but that's where Calvert-Lewin headed with his Everton teammate (and sometimes skater) Tom Davies. Photographed at the Michael Kors show, the British tabloids hardly embraced the pair's wardrobe choices, with some even going as far to describe it as "bizarre." Calvert-Lewin and Davies look back and laugh now, even if they were shocked at some of the reactions at at the time.
"When you do something out of the ordinary or, not what everyone else does, you're told to focus on training, not on fashion, or stuff like that. So I think people are a little bit afraid to go against the grain. It was funny how it caught so much traction. It was very unexpected," explains Calvert-Lewin. Traditionally, clubs demand austere conduct from their charges, shutting down any scope for personal expression lest they ignite that week's big media brouhaha. "You've got to kind of get that balance, particularly, I suppose, with what you put out on Instagram," says Calvert-Lewin. "You've got to be sensitive to how the fans are feeling as well sometimes. Or, some people might not be too bothered and just do it anyway and accept the consequences of what might come after."
On April 24, clubs across the UK announced an unprecedented boycott of social media platforms after continued racism and discrimination aimed at players online. This came after the Rangers player Glen Kamara was allegedly called a "fucking monkey" by the Slavia Prague's Ondřej Kúdela in a Europa League tie (Kúdela, who has appealed the decision, claims to have said "You fucking guy," which has been refuted by two of Kamara's teammates who were in earshot). Afterward, the comments left on both Kamara and his Black teammates' Instagram accounts by supposed fans of the Czech club were even more degrading, and unbelievably, still persist to this day, two months on. The conversation around the boycott is difficult, because why should the accused be the victim? Yet it's clear these companies (nor footballing bodies for that matter) are doing anywhere near enough when it comes to clamping down on such relentless abuse.
"I think the actual consumer, the user of the social media, we can kind of boycott all we want and start movements all you want. But unless the change comes from right at the top, within the social media companies that make themselves more... that they can put rules in place to make people more accountable for what they post, or what they say. For me, I don't think it's ever going to change because it's much deeper than just being able to not post for three days and do a blackout. I think it's good, but whether it will have a significant change, I'm not too sure," he says. "Ultimately, it comes down to, racial abuse is wrong. To see other players who are similar ages to me go through that, it's very saddening."
A couple of days before writing up this piece, the subject of racism came into sharp focus once more after England players, including Calvert-Lewin, were jeered for taking the knee before their final Euros warm-up friendly against Romania. The whole topic feels like a massive drag at this point, and it’s difficult to imagine the upcoming tournament passing off without any related flashpoints. But that's for another article, because whatever happens, Dom is primed and ready to deal with whatever comes his way.