Anya Yiapanis, founder of Intrepid, dreams of a football/fashion synthesis… Just without Michael Owen’s punditry

By Alyson Rudd
Photography by Ben Toms

This is the second in a week of articles dedicated to Liverpool FC between 1985 and 2005, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Heysel stadium disaster and the tenth anniversary of Liverpool’s last Champions League victory in Istanbul. For more Liverpool-related reading, head to the Decider all this week.

There is a sense of loss whenever a major sports tournament ends. It has filled your life with a burst of colour, passion and emotion and then somewhat callously will abruptly leave you bereft.

Anya Yiapanis, founder of creative agency Intrepid, was not prepared to suffer the withdrawal symptoms that the end of a World Cup or European Championships brought. A spasm of football heaven every two years was not enough. She needed to fill the void and then, as if on cue, the 18-year-old Michael Owen scored that hyper-confident wonder goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup finals and Yiapanis, already an England fan, turned to Liverpool—the young Owen’s club—for some soccer devotion.

One might, therefore, expect Yiapanis to gush a little about Owen, for him to be her favourite player of all time. Owen must be as much of an icon for her as the leading fashion designers, mustn’t he?

“No, he really annoys me. His voice is so flat, he’s not inspiring at all,” she says of Owen’s TV punditry. Worse still for Owen is the fact that a former Manchester United player turned pundit does a far, superior job according to the woman who was born in Nicosia but who attended an international school in Athens and has applied for a  British passport.

“I’ve almost got a secret crush on Gary Neville,” she says. “He’s so entertaining. I like the rapport between Neville and Jamie Carragher (the former Liverpool defender). I bet they never would have believed they would be sat together in the Sky Sports studio every week.”

Yiapanis is a straight-talking football fan; she offers an endearing mix of brutal honesty and devotion when discussing the beautiful game. This is in part because she has one eye on bringing football into her professional life through charity work that would link fashion and football.

“I love my job, I love the fashion industry and I would love to see football and fashion merge,” she says.“Maybe football agents are not aware of all the fashion opportunities for footballers, such as magazine cover shoots. For example, Steven Gerrard showed great interest when I started speaking about the fashion brands he loves. It should be possible to tap into that kind of passion.”

Yiapanis met the Liverpool captain at his testimonial dinner last summer and was blown away by Gerrard, who showed real interest in the fashion world.

“He was very engaging,” she says. The Liverpool and England captain likes Givenchy and she suggested he join her at a Paris show. When he has time. In fact, he might well have told her when he could make it but the music was so loud at his party she couldn’t hear what he said about it. Gerrard is currently being deployed in a sweeper role for Liverpool but Yiapanis would prefer to see him continue his surging attacking runs.

“Playing him deep may be for the good of the team but I don’t want him to turn into a defender,” she says, echoing the reservations of many Liverpool fans, myself included.

Her introduction to behind-the-scenes at Anfield came, unsurprisingly, via the fashion world and Justine Mills, her friend and the founder of Cricket, the independent fashion store in Liverpool so beloved of the WAGs of Merseyside. The most stylish player at the Gerrard testimonial? Well, that would be Daniel Agger, says Yiapanis.

“He’s tall, he’s handsome, he has a presence,” she says of the Danish defender.

David Beckham set up the Owen strike that changed Yiapanis’ life and is the player who most obviously bridges the gap between football and fashion. And when Beckham scored the free-kick against Greece at Old Trafford that ensured England qualified for the 2002 World Cup finals, Yiapanis was supporting England.

“I’ve almost got a secret crush on Gary Neville”

“I would have backed Greece had they been able to qualify too,” she says and, basically, does not relish the idea of the two nations meeting at all given that it involves split loyalties. “It’s pretty much my idea of hell,” she says.

She is, though, scathing of England’s repeated inability to cope with penalty shoot-outs and with Greece in a tough group alongside Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan for this summer’s tournament, she has decided to support a third team—one which neatly combines football flair with a link to the fashion industry.

“Belgium are such a good team and one of my artists lives in Antwerp. A very big fashion movement came out of Belgium; the Antwerp Six. And the creative director at Christian Dior is Belgian.”

Ah, so perhaps the explosion of Belgian talent on the pitch has its roots in the country’s strength in design.  Yiapanis laughs and doubts it even though she admits there are no other really convincing theories out there that do explain why Belgium have such a strong side.

Penalty shoot-outs fascinate her—“How on earth can they do it with 50,000 people watching?”—so I wonder if there is a parallel in the fashion industry.

“Maybe when an artist or designer is working on a runway show and it is the moment when the models walk out onto the runway and everything has to be perfect,” she says.

There are specific pubs in Paris and Milan where the handful of fashionistas who love their football will gather to watch the big games. Sometimes she will watch a match alongside immaculately attired fans who then leave a corny Irish bar to climb into their limousines and attend a Givenchy or Dior show.

Football, then, has enriched her life and allowed her to develop deeper friendships as Yiapanis, whose favourite team as a small child was Brazil, travels to the fashion capitals of the world.

“Football is more than a hobby,” she says, and in some respects she treats it like a project rather than an obsession. Yiapanis devotes many hours to the game and is particularly fond of Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement, which offers an hour-and-a-half of pure football chat.

“I can’t imagine not watching football,” she says, and she records all the highlights shows that she misses while travelling—but she won’t sit down to watch the likes of Crystal Palace v Norwich City. She likes the big games, the hype, the games that really matter.

“If I’m in New York, for example, I set my alarm, have breakfast in bed and watch the game in bed,” she explains. I have the strongest impression that having seen, live, a tussle between the title contenders while propped up on silk pillows with a poached egg on toast on a tray is the highlight of any trip she takes, and so it should not come as a shock to learn that she knows perfectly well how her parallel universe would have panned out. She would have been a sports agent if she hadn’t entered talent management in the fashion world.


“Maybe football agents are not aware of all the fashion opportunities for footballers”

The roles are, in any case, similar.  Yiapanis is currently the agent for six stylists and two photographers. She works on their collaborations from advertising campaigns to runway shows and editorial shoots, she arranges their contracts just as football agents manage their players’ careers and finances and sees strong similarities between soccer agents and her role at Intrepid.

“If you only knew how much time I spend on the phone with my artists,” she says,.“It must be the same as with football agents, it’s in many ways like being their support network.”

Perhaps if her football and fashion project is to be fruitful, Yiapanis will need to win over the soccer WAGs who are often discussed in disparaging terms but for whom Yiapanis has sympathy, particularly after getting to know Sheree Murphy, spouse of Harry Kewell, the former Liverpool and Leeds United midfielder.

“Harry moved to Australia to play for Melbourne Heart so Sheree has to move their kids to school there and that can be tricky. The wives follow someone else’s career from city to city which can be tough no matter how supportive they want to be.”

Yiapanis predicts Manchester City will win the title with Chelsea as runners-up ahead of Arsenal. She says Liverpool will finish fourth but admits that prediction “is a bit emotional” rather than rational.

“Brendan Rodgers needs a bit more time but so far so good,” she says of the Liverpool manager. “It’s nice to have a young British manager there. Oh, and I accidentally stepped on his foot at Gerrard’s testimonial.”

This interview first appeared in Issue Six of The Green Soccer Journal, Spring 2014

Roy Evans The Unexpected Champions