From Arsenal to Armani, How John Halls Swapped Football For Fashion

Huge career change followed football injury
17:00, 18 Sep 2019

When it’s time to hang up the boots most footballers turn to coaching or management, while others fancy a go at punditry. Not John Halls.

The former defender swapped the football pitch for the catwalk, catching the eye as an international male model for some of the biggest names in the industry.

Halls left football for fashion and has been strutting his stuff for huge names like Armani and Dolce and Gabbana.

Making nearly 200 appearances during a decade-long spell playing the beautiful game, Halls started out with Arsenal during the height of Arsene Wenger’s powers before playing for Reading and Stoke City.

Spells with Brentford, Aldershot and Wycombe Wanderers followed before he was forced to call time on his career through injury back in 2012 at the age of just 30.

Halls already had some experience in fashion by that stage, having done some modelling work as a youngster, even making a small cameo in a Kylie Minogue video, before calling time on the vocation when football took over around the age of 14.

So, how did he manage to dive straight back into it so quickly? 

Obviously good looks and a trim body help but Halls - who was lively, personable and enthusiastic about his job when The Sportsman caught up with him ahead of London Fashion Week - had done some groundwork.

“When I was injured, we knew it was bad,” he explains. “I had six to eight months left on my contract and my sister basically bullied me and said: ‘Why don’t you see some of these agencies just in case the worst happens?’

“We went to about six and they all said no, but the agency I’m with now said to come back when you can do full-time and we’ll take a look at you.

“I thought nothing of it but after another operation at the end of my contract I retired as a footballer. I was thinking: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ I was crying, depressed.”

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Not sure what to do, a chance meeting catapulted Halls into his next career.

“I was in Westfield shopping centre a week later and someone from the agency was doing some scouting. She came up having recognised me and said: ‘Oh you’re John, let’s get a test shoot done’.

He was an instant hit.

“When they got the pictures they were like ‘Yeah, we’ll sign you’. I was super lucky.”

When you’re out shopping, chances are Halls is starting back at you whether you realise it or not. Suited and booted or looking the business in smart casual, his smouldering look is plastered in most clothing outlets.

“I’ve been really lucky, I’ve worked for Armani, Dolce and Gabbana...” he says. “I’ve done some stuff for places like Macy’s. I do Next in the UK and those guys keep me working a lot.”

After a football career spent travelling up and down the country, spending Friday nights in team hotels and always being busy on a Saturday afternoon, Halls’ next job has sent him much further afield.

On the move between shoots as he takes time out to speak with us, we can tell his work consists of plenty of jet-setting.

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05 August 2018

So, where has the industry taken him?

“Nearly everywhere,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of shoots in Antigua, Bali but I’m usually in Germany, Italy, France.”

“It takes you to beautiful places. You get to meet new people all the time and discover new cultures.

“It’s amazing because every time you go somewhere, you’ll have production from the locals usually and you get to speak to them and find out what they do.”

Not only does it sound like a really cool gig, but the fashion world has broadened Halls’ horizons too.

“It has taught me loads and really opened my eyes to the world, I’m much more open-minded now.

“Football is quite closed, you’ve got your 20 football mates and everything is done for you and everything is given to you. It’s changed my whole life really and I’m loving it.”

“Even travelling on my own, when I first started, it was weird and I felt like everyone was looking at me or judging me, but now I love it! I love being on my own, I could be on my own in any city and be happy.

“I’m happy to be on my own now which I never would have been when I was a footballer. You have to make new friends, really by yourself, it’s amazing.”

Full of glamour, stardom and the need for constant dedication and discipline, footballers and models must follow a similar lifestyle.

However, having entirely switched career in his thirties, we were keen to find out from Halls whether football and fashion go together.

“I think the difference is that in the fashion industry you’re always meeting new people. In football you stayed with team-mates, it’s all you knew.

“Now I go to work and could meet 20 new people during two, three days of work. It’s long hours and we then spend evenings together too, eating, drinking, relaxing after work.” 

Halls is now 37 but looks as buff as any current Premier League footballer. He admits though that he has to work harder than he did at 27 but believes his life as a player has stood him in good stead.

“I do have to look after myself more now because obviously I’m older and I put on a bit of timber more easily,” he jokes. “I have to stay in shape and I do love it. 

“Football taught me that I needed to workout every day. If I don’t workout now, I go a bit unstable. It keeps my mind on a good level so I’m lucky that I naturally want to go to the gym and get that energy out of me.”

Now the model professional, quite literally, Halls reveals he wasn’t always on his best behaviour when it came to drinking the right things during his footballing days.

“When I was younger, I’d get away with it,” he says of enjoying himself and having a drink. “I was playing my best football at Stoke and I was probably out three times a week, which is ridiculous!

“As I got older I curbed it but I was still having a little drink here and there when I was injured, which is the worst thing you can do. 

“You’re not giving your body time to recover.  When I got to about 26 or 27 and my injuries started to snowball, I wasn’t drinking massively but it didn’t help.”

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22 April 2017

Having done the catwalk and done the walk out onto the pitch, we had to know, which is the scariest?

“Being in the tunnel for a game by a mile,” he responds in an instant. “With the catwalk, you turn up about four hours before you go on, trying to get 50 or 60 people ready at the same time. So everyone is there, and by the time it comes around you’re so bored of waiting that you just get it over and done with. The only fear you’ve got is of tripping over and nobody really cares about that.

“With football, the nerves start gearing up on a Thursday and once you’re in the tunnel you’re ready to go. It’s 90 minutes and there are so many variables, so you don’t want to let down the fans or your family; it’s a lot more pressure. I was scared the first one or two catwalks I did but after that…”

While Halls is no longer battling for three points every week, he still has a fight on his hands from rivals.

“They’re both really competitive,” he says of the two industries. “I don’t think there used to be but there are so many models now, so much choice.

“Football was so competitive, every day somebody is trying to take your place, so I think they’re as bad as each other. I do miss the competitiveness of football, I miss that competitive edge.”

Having taken plenty of instructions from the likes of Wenger, Tony Pulis and Steve Coppell, Halls is still told what to do on occasion though he’s certainly more his own man now.

“They let you get on with it when you know what you’re doing,” he says of the fashion world.  

“The photographer might give you the: ‘Yeah John, give me some more of that” and all that lark and try to make you feel good, and it normally goes smoothly. We have a chit-chat in the morning but that’s it really.”

With London Fashion Week the talk of the industry this week, Halls attended but wasn’t in the starting line-up.

“I viewed a few things but I don’t really do the modelling there, because I’m a little too big, bodywise,” he revealed. 

“They want to have a quirkiness, skinny guys, or whoever has the most Instagram followers, it’s a big thing now. I don’t really do Instagram so I’m not really one of their boys to be doing that.

“The older guys are more in Italy, the Armanis, the Dolces, they use the older, bigger boys so I’m more likely to do it out there than anywhere else.”

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And what of those crazy costumes you see at these events?

“I was really confused when I first started. What are you doing?! And you see people wearing the most ridiculous outfits. I was thinking: ‘Nobody’s going to buy that!’

“It’s literally to get attention, it really is,” he tells us. “They’ll take the craziness of the outfit then put that into a normal outfit. Get the attention, get everyone excited.”

Having met fellow male models like David Gandy and taken advice, Halls has also spent time with some of the biggest designers.

“I meet Mr Armani twice a year for his fashion shows and he’s amazing. He’s an older guy and he’s still so on it. He helps the boys with how they look, how they put their hands in their pockets, that sort of thing and it’s the same with Dolce and Gabanna, they want every sort of input possible.”

Sharing a stage with the most famous and influential people in the business is nothing new for Halls, having spent his formative years working with Wenger, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.

Born in Islington and joining Arsenal at 16, he spent five years at Highbury but certainly wasn’t overawed. He felt he belonged.

“It was amazing,” he said of his time with the three-time Premier League winners. “At the time though, I was a young boy trying to compete thinking how I wanted to be playing instead of certain people. Looking back I think ‘Wow’ but at the time I felt I was amazing. 

“I think I took it for granted but I always say, to train with Dennis Bergkamp is one of the best things I’ve ever done because that guy was on a different planet. I was so privileged to learn from those boys.”

Bergkamp, Henry, Pires, Ljungberg... the Gunners side at the turn of the century was sensational. However, one player stood out, literally head and shoulders above the rest, when it came to tricks.

That was Nwankwo Kanu.

“He was ridiculous!” he laughs. “When it comes to someone having skill… but.not just normal skills, all off the cuff.

“You would never expect it from him because he was so tall and lanky. You’d think: ‘I’ve got him here, I’ve got him,’ and then all of a sudden he’d do something really ridiculous and he’s mugged you.”

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17 June 2019

Shining as a male model, Halls hasn’t looked back. But that’s not to say he doesn’t miss his previous life as a footballer.

“I miss it massively,” he says. “But the thing I miss most about football is just having your pals there every day. Every day you knew someone was going to get ripped to shreds, or someone was going to have their clothes torn up, it was amazing!”

No cutting clothes for you now though, John. Just wearing the best.

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26 February 2019

JOHN HALLS’ STYLE TIPS 

  • I always get my clothes tailored to make the fit perfect. Normally your local dry cleaners will offer a tailoring service for a small price.

  • Loads of white t-shirts

  • I like having clean trainers!

  • A nice belt always stands out for me

  • I do like a nice watch

  • You can always keep up with fashion looks by looking through the fashion magazines (...and here on The Sportsman’s Style pages!)

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