Leather has been used by athletes all the way to the first ever Olympics in 776 B.C. in which contestants wore leather soled shoes for running, leather gloves for boxing, and leather belts for wrestling.
Athletes have been entrusting the durability of leather for centuries. It’s with you in the mud, the hard tackles, sweat, spit, and blood. You can’t place a value on a pair of dependable cleats.
You take them into battle with you, and that’s why you if you want to have your leather cleats for years, and enjoy how they become even better with age, you must maintain them the way a warrior would maintain his spear and shield.
While the following may seem laborious, remember that an investment in maintaining your cleats will ensure their longevity and dependability, especially if they are made from genuine leather.
Your cleats should be wiped down by hand with warm water and a soft cloth after every game. Gently remove large chunks of dirt from the leather upper. If you only have one pair of cleats, you should do this after ever other practice at least. If it was a particularly bad weather practice on a grass field you should clean your cleats right after practice.
Yes, you should always do it by hand. A washing machine will over saturate your cleats to the point of no return.
We know the inclination after practice to throw your cleats in your gear bag (isn’t that what I bought it for, to hold all my stinky gear?) and engulf every edible (and some non-edible things) in sight.
But while you’re refueling in calorie heaven or languishing on the couch, the leather of your cleats is wet, and if it doesn’t properly dry it will be susceptible to cracking.
The best method for drying your boots after their wipe-down is newspaper. It’s cheap, highly absorbent, and easily recycled. Save your next week of newspaper delivery, or pick one up on your way home from practice when you stop for a Gatorade.
‘Can’t I just leave them in the sun or next to the radiator?’
No. The reason being your cleats need to dry from the inside out. The opposite (drying the outside of the leather before the inside) is actually bad for the leather and can cause cracking, reducing their lifespan.
The ideal location would be somewhere that is not in direct sunlight or close to a heat source where the cleat will have air pass over them (from a ceiling fan for example) stuffed from toe box to heel with newspaper.
Once dry, the best possible option for storage is a boot tree, but seeing as these are relatively rare here’s the bottom line:
Your boots should be stored somewhere that they aren’t being crushed, flattened, or otherwise hampered so that they do not crease or lose their shape.
Rather than have them in your bag (though it may help make sure you don’t leave without them) store them next to your bag in plain sight. If you leave the newspaper in overnight they will be dry and maintain their shape.
Being disciplined when it comes to taking care of your cleats will ensure you have them for years. Don’t short-cut or shirk your responsibilities simply because the ref has called full time.
The time in battle makes up so little of a warrior’s dedication, remember that separation of the good from the truly great often lies in the preparation and dedication to everything that isn’t the sliver of spotlight that comes with greatness.