Potter, too, seems to be sending a message: the tracksuits were alright for podunk Brighton, but now that he’s stepping into the white hot heat he needs to look the part. It’s clothing weaponized, it seems, for soulless opportunism.
But Scott McCarthy, the editor of the fan site WeAreBrighton.com, has a more nuanced take on the whole thing. McCarthy says that for Potter’s first year and a half at Brighton, he never ditched the tracksuit. But then, after a horrendous start to the 2020-21 season, Potter “began his journey towards becoming a fashion icon. I can tell you the exact game it happened, because it came as such a shock.” It was a January 2021 match against Wolves, McCarthy says, and Potter wore an ill-shapen overcoat and a “grubby brown scarf.”
And Brighton started winning. Since then, McCarthy says, Potter has mixed in a variety of higher-end items: “fashionable jumpers, stylish chinos, fancy trainers. He even went so far as to grow a hipster beard.” Once, McCarthy says, Potter looked like a “PE teacher.” But as he his personal style came into focus, correspondingly, “Albion climbed from the edge of the Premier League relegation zone to a highest ever finish of ninth.”
Was it true? Had Potter’s style slowly evolved at Brighton without any of us really taking note? McCarthy acknowledges that Potter took a quantum leap after leaving Brighton. “What else could explain him appearing in the dugout for his first game as Chelsea manager having had a fade haircut?” McCarthy bashes Potter for “asset stripping the club of its entire first team coaching staff” and for leaving mid-season. But his anger is tempered by two things. First: Brighton are now managed by Roberto De Zerbi, as “stylish an Italian as they come.” And second: at the end of October, at home on the south coast, De Zerbi’s Brighton smacked Potter’s Chelsea 4-1.
McCarthy has taken to calling Brighton’s ex-gaffer by a nickname that is only quasi-insulting: Glow Up Graham. He says he heard it from “somebody behind me in the queue for a red wine at half time of the Chelsea game.”
I ask, “Do you think he’s pulling off his new look?”
“Oh yes, very much so,” McCarthy says. “And having become rather obsessed by the radicalness of it all, I cannot wait to see where it goes next. Now he is on a rumored £12 million a year at Chelsea, the next stop for Glow Up Graham has to be Gucci.”
I have to admit that McCarthy’s point of view shifted my thinking. Reading up some more, I came across this quote from January 2022, back when everyone still thought Potter was a Brighton lifer. “It is hard to be a sexy name when you are called Potter, especially if your first name is Graham,” he said in a press conference. “Add into that a long face and a ginger beard and I just have to stick to being a football coach and work with the players.”
I can’t help but wonder if he was, in his way, quietly expressing a secret yearning to be seen differently. Was his style ascension actually as methodical and plotted as his best Brighton squad’s intricate attacking play? I’d judged him harshly at first, certain that Potter was crudely dressing up for a big-boy job, no matter how it looked to the fans back in Brighton. But I realize now that, maybe, there’s something else going on. Something more personal, something more intimate. He couldn’t become someone else in Brighton. Not all of a sudden. So is this cause or is this effect? It’s almost definitely true that Graham Potter started dressing like this because he took the Chelsea job. But it’s just slightly possible—and far more interesting—that he took the Chelsea job because he’s always wanted to dress like this.