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BY DESIGN : One Colorful Character : The Uniforms of Mexico's Goalie Are Bold and Flashy by Design--His Own

June 16, 1994|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The man has a style all his own. And it almost kept him from playing in the '94 World Cup soccer tournament, which begins Friday in Los Angeles and eight other U.S. cities.

Jorge Campos, 27, of Mexico, is perhaps the most instantly recognizable goalkeeper in the world, not only for his prowess in the nets but also for his manner of dress.

In soccer, only goalkeepers may use their hands. Because of that rule, they wear uniforms of a different color, making it easier for referees to spot them in the often crowded and chaotic goal area.

But even the most nearsighted ref couldn't miss Campos in the outfits he designs.

Among his line of color-charged goalkeeper apparel is that purple outfit, the one with the zigzaggy green, red and yellow horizontal stripes decorating shorts and jersey. (The turned-up collar with surfer embroidered on the back is a nice touch--a reference to Campos' wave-riding days back home.)

And that yellow outfit--the one with the purple and green and pink diamonds scattered about--has caused more than a few opposing strikers to pause in their headlong rush toward the goal and wonder just what it is they're facing.

Its counterpart is a fluorescent pink creation, also dotted with diamond-like patterns and emblazoned with a word or two. Sometimes he incorporates Mexico into a design. Other times, Acapulco appears on a sleeve or collar. Most often, he uses J. Campos, with a stylized JC logo and his signature on the right shoulder.

Campos' fondness for bold colors and dynamic graphics has made him a favorite of the Mexico team's younger fans, who also admire his fearlessness--some call it recklessness--in wandering far out of goal to thwart opponents' attacks. (He'll go to work against Norway on Sunday in Washington, D.C.)

Campos says his inspiration for the designs are the sand, sea and sun of Acapulco, where he grew up with seven brothers and sisters.

A "child of the ocean" is what the French soccer magazine Onze called him earlier this year, and it is true that Campos owes much of his identity to the sea.

"I am a beach guy," he said recently. "I grew up cradled by the sea, the waves and the rhythm of the surf."

Not to mention the bright clothes of the international surfing set. "I was dazzled by their brilliant outfits," Campos said. "Those colors are my roots. They form part of my history, my personality."

As a youngster, Campos played beach soccer almost constantly.

"When we were very tired, we threw the ball in the water and went surfing," he said. "It's an extraordinary sensation, almost sensual."

*

The time spent running on the sand and riding the waves proved useful in Campos' goal-keeping career. When he went to play professionally for the Pumas of UNAM (Universidad Autonoma de Mexico) in Mexico City, Campos' body remembered the lessons.

"The sand taught me endurance and reflexes," he said. "Surfing taught me balance and elasticity."

Despite his success in soccer, Campos wanted to pursue sidelines. He began to design his uniforms, which were initially manufactured in Acapulco by a company called Sport. His Surfer label was thus born about five years ago.

Before long, Campos signed a contract with Nike, the U.S. company, to produce his designs. Then came trouble.

Four years ago, the Mexican Soccer Federation signed a $450,000 contract with Umbro, an English company, under which Mexico's national team players would wear only Umbro uniforms.

Campos balked at the idea and refused to comply.

Federation officials threatened to throw Campos off the team and deny him the chance to play in the World Cup, every soccer player's dream.

He still refused.

Eventually, the federation backed down and a compromise was reached. Although details of the settlement were not revealed, Campos will be playing in uniforms of his own design in the tournament.

*

So the 1994 World Cup will see the sometime surfer, sometime soccer star, sometime fashion designer at his brilliant best, the most colorful character on the field.

"He is a modern original, a player who anticipates the evolution of the game," said Bora Milutinovic, coach of the U.S. World Cup team.

"He has fantastic intuition," said Miguel Mejia Baron, coach of Mexico's World Cup team. "He is always happy. His charisma is extraordinary."

Just like his designs.

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