Greetings from Memphis, where’s it’s approximately one billion degrees, and where reader Luke Pellegra joined me and a few of my friends for dinner last night. The good news is that he’s a peach of a guy; the bad news is that he says he wore his baseball pants pajama-style back in his playing days. Fortunately, my blackened catfish and pecan caramel pie were so good that I was willing to forgive this egregious transgression.
Meanwhile: With today’s entry, we hereby inaugurate Uni Watch Profiles, an occasional series of interviews with interesting people from the uniform world. Kicking us off is Witesock, the pseudonymous webmaster of the amazing Professional Game Socks site.
I’ve been a huge fan of Witesock’s site since I discovered it in 2000 — not just because I like sports socks, but also because I especially love narrowly targeted niche obsessions. And Witesock is about as narrow and obsessive as it gets: His site features photo after lower-leg photo of Witesock himself wearing football, rugby, soccer, and hockey socks. Most of these are game-used, and all are from his vast collection, which is undoubtedly the world’s largest assemblage of athletic hosiery.
I particularly like that the text design of Witesock’s site is extremely spare and no-frills, as if to say, “These words don’t really matter — it’s all about the socks,” which just accentuates the sense of unwavering obsession. As you click to see one image after another of Witesock’s stocking-clad shins, the whole enterprise begins to feel like a Dada-ish conceptual art project — ingenious in its simplicity, relentless in its single-mindedness.
Such analysis aside, Witesock’s also a really swell guy. When I first got in touch with him back in 2000, he promptly sent me two pairs of game-used Jets socks, and we’ve stayed in touch since then. As you’ll see, he greatly values his privacy and anonymity, so I’m particularly flattered and appreciative that he was willing to do this interview, which we conducted over the phone about 10 days ago.
Uni Watch: How old are you, where do you live, and what’s your regular job?
Witesock: I’m 41, I live in Toronto, and I’m an engineer.
UW: Have you always been interested in sports socks? What’s your earliest memory of having this particular obsession?
WS: My first memory of it is from when I was seven or eight years old, mostly from watching sports — I used to like to watch soccer when I was young. They always used to show a game of the week from the English Premier League, and for some reason the part of the uniform that intrigued me the most was the socks.
UW: Did you play sports yourself when you were a kid?
WS: Not so much in those days. Later, in university, I played soccer, and after that I played football, rugby, and now I play hockey.
UW: And when you played in university, did you take particular pride or interest in your socks?
WS: Absolutely, absolutely. I always had them pulled up nice and high to show them off. I’d wear all different types, too — I’d rotate through different types.
UW: When did you start collecting socks?
WS [laughing]: As soon as my parents started giving me a weekly allowance. Probably when I was about nine or ten. I’d save up until I had a little money together and then buy a few pairs. At first it was just white soccer socks. And as I got older, I purchased more and more.
UW: How many pairs do you have?
WS: I knew you’d ask that. I don’t keep track of the numbers, but I’d say it’s several hundred.
UW: “Several” meaning, like, two or three hundred, or seven or eight hundred?
WS: Seven or eight hundred.
UW: Wow. And do you have them displayed, like in your rec room or something like that? Or are they all in drawers?
WS: They’re mostly in sock drawers, boxes. Some are in storage.
UW: Do you have some particularly prized ones that you have displayed, like having on the walls or something like that?
WS: Not at the moment, although I’m looking into that.
UW: How did you get the idea to start the web site documenting your collection?
WS: Back in the late ’90s, I was interested in putting together a personal web site, and I was trying to figure out what topic to devote it to. And I thought, what could be better than displaying some of my socks?
UW: Was it your plan from the start that the site would feature photos of you wearing the socks, rather than just photos of the socks themselves?
WS: Initially I planned to photograph the socks. But it’s so much more fun to wear them, model them, that I decided to use that format. I also wanted to get photos of professional players wearing the socks, and to show those photos parallel to the pictures of me, but I’ve never gotten around to that.
UW: Now, a lot of your socks are game-used. How do you acquire those?
WS: That’s basically the result of a lot of time spent contacting equipment managers, and establishing good relationships with them over the years, and occasionally requesting game socks from them.
UW: Obviously, there are loads of fans out there who’d love to get game-used jerseys, or helmets, or whatever. And I think, for the most part, if those fans tried calling up a pro team’s equipment manager, the equipment guy wouldn’t give him the time of day. How do you get through to establish a relationship with these people?
WS: You have to be really persistent. You never, ever get these guys on the first call — it often takes dozens and dozens of calls before you actually get through to them. Sometimes it takes months. I never leave a voice message; you’ve gotta make direct contact with them. Basically, just be genuine and make your request, and usually they’re quite willing to help you out. A pair of socks doesn’t really cost them that much.
UW: Do you think it helps that you’re asking for socks, rather than, say, a jersey?
WS: Absolutely. I’ve never hassled them for jerseys or pants or anything else — just socks. And I’ve been quite successful in that regard.
UW: So you must have this little black book of all the equipment managers, all the times you’ve tried to call them, and so on.
WS: I do — I have a log book.
UW: When a team changes equipment managers, that must just kill you. Like, here you’ve invested all this time and energy in establishing a relationship with this guy, and then he retires or whatever, and you have to start from scratch with the new guy.
WS: Yeah, sometimes that can be problematic. But there are some equipment guys I haven’t been able to have any success with, so I’d be more than happy to see them go.
UW: In the NFL, which are the teams you’ve been most and least successful with?
WS: I’ve had the most success probably with the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets. As for as the least success, the Bears and the Dolphins don’t seem to, ahÃ¯ ¿ ½
UW: They don’t want to talk to you?
WS: They just basically say that they have a strict policy against providing any game-used equipment.
UW: What’s your favorite sport, sock-wise, and why?
WS: I really like football socks.
UW: Baseball has such a great sock heritage, but you have only a few photos of yourself in baseball socks. How come?
WS: I do like baseball socks, and I have a box of old stirrups that I like to go through and put on occasionally. But you don’t see baseball socks very much these days, because the players all wear their pants down to their ankles.
UW: Tell me about it. What are your favorite teams to root for, just as a fan, and how do you feel about their socks?
WS: Here in the CFL, I root for the Toronto Argos. Their socks aren’t anything special — they’re basically just white with a navy top. In the NFL, the Dolphins and the 49ers are my two favorite teams.
UW: Do you wish that any of those teams had, y’know, better socks? More stripes or whatever?
WS: Well, I think every team should incorporate some sort of unique striping into their socks. And it seems like the trend is that more teams are going toward more of a solid-top sock, which seems a little bland to me.
UW: Yeah, between the long baseball pants, the super-short basketball socks, and the lack of stripes in the NFL, this isn’t a very sock-centric moment in sports history.
WS: I agree. It can only get better from here.
UW: If you had to choose just one favorite pair of socks in your collection, what would it be and why?
UW: And you have game-used examples of those?
UW: Now, when a team sends you a pair of gamers, do they tell you who wore them?
WS: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I think a lot of times they don’t even know.
UW: Sometimes the socks will actually have the uniform number written on them in laundry marker, so that’s one way to know who wore them, right?
UW: Who are some of the higher-profile players whose socks you know you have in your collection?
WS: I don’t have that many game-worn socks where I definitely know who wore them. But I do have a pair of Dolphins socks that were worn by Olindo Mare. And I have a number of socks from Jets players — pretty much most of their roster from 1996 and ’97. The equipment manager was kind enough to send me all their leftover game socks at the end of their season. So I have a huge box of New York Jets socks sitting in my basement.
UW: Just how many socks are we talking about here?
WS: Probably a couple hundred pairs.
UW: Whoa, that’s a good chunk of your collection right there!
WS: Yes, it is.
UW: Now, do you wear these socks just for, y’know, walking around?
WS: I do. I wear them pretty much all the time.
UW: So are you wearing a pair of game-used socks right now?
WS: I’m wearing a pair of English rugby socks at the moment.
UW: Cool! There are so many people who collect things and then, either literally or figuratively, put them under glass — they squirrel them away, make sure not to touch them, and so on. But you actually use your collection. You wear your collection!
WS: I do, I like wearing the different socks. Maybe some of the extra-special ones I put aside and don’t wear. But most of the ones I get, I do enjoy wearing them.
UW: What would be an example of an extra-special one that you wouldn’t wear?
WS: The ones I got from Olindo Mare. I keep those separate.
UW: We’re talking a lot about football here. What about other sports?
WS: I like hockey socks a lot, and rugby too.
UW: People don’t always think of hockey socks as socks — they think of them as leggings.
WS: Oh, they’re socks. And I have a nice collection of NHL socks.
UW: Again, any notable players’ socks?
WS: I have a pair of socks from Eric Lindros, from when he played with the Flyers.
UW: Cool. You know, teams merchandise the hell out of their jerseys and caps, but except for the NBA, which does sell official NBA socks, you rarely see merchandised team socks. Do you think they should do more of that?
WS: A lot of the soccer teams in the UK actually do merchandise their exact replica socks. For soccer and rugby in other parts of the world, that is merchandise. But North America doesn’t seem to do that.
UW: Wow — that doesn’t reflect very well upon us here in North America. Now, when you get a pair of game socks, do you wash them first? Are they already washed when you get them?
WS: All the pairs I’ve received have been washed. But they show plenty of wear, grass stains, that sort of thing.
UW: I know a lot of collectors of game-used stuff love it when a jersey has a stain or a rip — do you like those sorts of battle scars on the socks?
UW: What sort of audience does your site have, and what sorts of communications have you had with your readers? Do you have “regulars” who are frequent visitors to your site?
WS: There have probably been three or four individuals who I liaise with fairly regularly.
UW: Are they also collectors, like you are?
WS: Yes, they’re all collectors of football socks.
UW: Is that a competitive thing between you and these other collectors? I mean, this must be a pretty small niche, so are you all trying to outdo each other? Are you all bidding against each other if a pair of game socks shows up on eBay?
WS: That happens occasionally, yes.
UW: So that’s sort of a friendly rivalry.
WS: I guess you could say that, yes.
UW: Have you met these guys, or any of your other readers?
WS: I’ve met one of the collectors.
UW: Do people ever offer you money for your socks?
WS: Sometimes, yes. And if I have duplicate pairs of something, I’ll occasionally sell a pair.
UW: Do you trade with the other collectors?
WS: Sometimes, but it’s increasingly difficult to find someone else who has anything I’m interested in, because my own collection is so large.
UW: Yeah, that’s always the problem with having a really big collection. Now, I know, because you’ve told me in the past, that you’ve also gotten some attention from fetishist types.
WS: Yes, that’s probably the most common type of feedback I get, usually from people who want to see more pictures of me in socks.
UW: Are these men, women, or both?
WS: Primarily men.
UW: And is it your impression that word of your site has spread through the fetish community, like through internet message boards or whatever?
WS: I believe so, yeah.
UW: And how do you feel about that?
WS: It was a little bit unexpected, but I certainly don’t mind.
UW: And are you part of that community yourself?
WS: I’m not, no.
UW: You have that “Request Gallery” section of your site, where you have photos that were specifically requested by readers. Did a lot of those requests come from the fetish community?
UW: What sorts of requests do they typically present to you?
WS: They want to see maybe a really beat-up pair of socks, things like that. I do maintain some anonymity — I won’t show my face, and I won’t show any other parts of my body. I do get those types of requests, but I don’t honor them. One of the most interesting requests I got was from a guy in Australia. He offered to send me five pairs of Australian rugby socks if I would take pictures of myself wearing the socks while at the same time throwing a pie in my face.
UW [incredulous]: Like, while throwing it in your own face, or while having someone else throw it in your face?
WS: He would have preferred to have someone else throw it, but…
UW: That’s a very specialized request.
WS: One of the weirdest I’ve received.
UW: So did you do it?
WS: I did, yes, I did. I actually had a lot of fun doing it.
UW: So did you make a pie?
WS: I just got a pie shell and filled it with whipped cream. And I smothered it in my face while I was wearing the socks.
UW: And how did you take a picture while you were doing that? Did you have someone else take the picture?
WS: No, I take all of the photos myself, including that one. It’s amazing what you can do with mirrors. It was a lot of fun.
UW: I haven’t seen that one on the site. You didn’t upload that one?
WS: I didn’t, no. I probably should.
UW: So you just e-mailed the photos to him, and that was the trade for you getting these socks?
UW: Did he feel like he got equal value?
WS: He wrote back and said he was quite entertained, and he thanked me very much.
UW: What do your friends and family think about your sock obsession?
WS: Oh, they don’t know!
UW [incredulous again]: They don’t know?
WS: No. I keep this all sort of hidden away.
UW: Now, wait a minute. When you were spending your allowance on socks, your parents certainly had to know about that.
WS: Well, I guess back then, yeah. They made some comments — I guess they thought it was a little odd that I’d be purchasing so many long socks. Other than that, I haven’t really shared this with any members of my immediate family. That’s why I’ve been hesitant to display them.
UW: Are you married?
WS: Yes, I am.
UW: And your wife doesn’t know?
WS: She doesn’t know!
UW: How do you keep something like this secret? I mean, you’ve got that big box in the basement with all those Jets socks! Hasn’t she noticed that?
WS: I try to keep them well hidden. She hasn’t come across them yet. But I keep a lot of football socks in my regular sock drawer — she sees them there, and when she’s going through the laundry, and she never says anything. She just thinks it’s a little odd that I have so many pairs of them when I don’t play that many sports.
UW: So she’s never seen the web site?
WS: She hasn’t, no. To the best of my knowledge, anyway!
UW: Don’t you wish you could share your hobby with her?
WS: I guess I feel a little embarrassed, actually, about having a hobby that’s so bizarre as socks. And I guess because of that I’ve decided, at least for now, to keep it hidden.
UW: But she’s your wife — wouldn’t she understand?
WS: She probably would. But she’d probably tell other people, and I just don’t want it to become a big point of discussion.
UW: Well, I certainly respect your privacy, and this makes me appreciate all the more that you’ve been willing to talk with me here. And I won’t e-mail a copy of this interview to your wife! But seriously, I think about this a lot — the notion of whether one’s obsession is something to be proud of or something to feel a bit squeamish about. Obviously, with Uni Watch, I’ve completely embraced my obsession and gone very public with it. But I realize everyone makes their own decisions on that type of thing.
WS: Well, I’m very proud of my collection, and I enjoy the hobby. But it’s kind of fun this way, because it’s sort of my own little secret world that I can jump into.
So there you have it. Big, big thanks to Witesock for sharing his thoughts. I have several subjects in mind for future Uni Watch Profiles; if you’d like to suggest any of your own, let me know.