ldfw3: sam byram x justin slee for made in leedsBack
Just as he’s about to try on a Made in Leeds x LUFC tee on an indoor training pitch, Sam Byram is spotted by one of the under-12 team. The kid stops and stares for a second, then disappears behind a door and yells to his mates.
Suddenly they come running from all corners of Leeds United’s Thorp Arch training ground – young boys in training kit, some of whom might be Leeds stars themselves in five years, crowding round Sam, tearing a sheet of paper into ever smaller scraps so that everyone can get an autograph.
It’s the sort of thing that you think might happen to a footballer in the street, but Byram’s star quality even shows through on the training pitches. It wasn’t the case a year ago, when only a few wise heads at the Leeds United academy knew they had his talent in reserve. But after a full first season of composed performances as an attacking right back, the secret is out about Sam, and Byram is now regarded as one of the best young players in England.
In the Champions League days, Leeds United had no shortage of fantastic young players, and so it was only right that we got the photographer who captured their rise, Justin Slee, to take Sam’s picture while he wore the Made in Leeds x LUFC tee that has been produced by the independent brand in a collaboration with the football club.
Back in the day Justin was the photographer for Leeds Leeds Leeds magazine, which was a revolution in football club magazines when it launched in 1998. Suddenly young Leeds players like Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate were being treated like icons, with the traditional ‘straight off the training pitch before a shower’ pictures replaced by stylish photoshoots orchestrated by Justin, with the players looking their best in the latest looks.
“That was one of the ways we convinced them to do it,” said Justin. “We got Flannels involved and brought quite expensive clothes along, that the players were interested in wearing. Although I remember David Batty stealing some Armani shirts once – he claimed they’d been donated to him!”
Sam told us he liked the Made in Leeds shirt, but he was far too polite to consider stealing one – he seemed genuinely surprised that he was allowed to keep the one he was wearing, and even happier when we threw in a grey version for him too. “He’s a very nice lad, very polite, and he made it a good shoot,” said Justin afterwards. “You can tell he’s a bit shy, but he was more than accommodating – I wasn’t stressed or pressured trying to get a shot.”
That was despite the best efforts at distraction from goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who burst through a door at one point with a gaggle of junior players. “Smile, Sam, come on!” he said. ”These young lads here want you to smile!” Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m even getting stick from the kids now,” he said, but he doesn’t need to worry. There’s a good reason why the kids at Thorp Arch, hoping for a dream career as a player for Leeds United, want to watch Sam Byram’s every move; one day they want to be standing where he stands today.
Originally published in The City Talking Leeds: Issue 07