“Essentially, I’m a football fan,” says Leon Gissing. “I love football and I also love shoes.”
Nothing out of the ordinary for a 16-year-old.
But that’s just about where the normalities stop when it comes to the face behind Plug Leon .
Whilst most teenagers are shopping for their sneakers at JD Sports and watching Premier League games either from the stands or their TV screens, Leon is rubbing shoulders with the stars.
In his spare time – which is limited, these days – he’s playing video games with some of the game’s biggest names or being chauffeured in their supercars.
Reece James is one of several England stars on Plug Leon’s list of clients
Mason Greenwood was also an early customer for Leon before he hit the big time
He’s become the go-to supplier of high-end fashion items amongst the glitz and glamour of dressing rooms around Europe.
His brand boasts over 50,000 Instagram followers and supplies the likes of Bukayo Saka, Mason Greenwood, Reece James, Emile Smith Rowe and Ansu Fati with their latest designer gear.
“It’s a dream,” he says.
“I’ll play Call of Duty with guys like Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson. I go to their houses, I’ll play two-touch with them, or they might pick me up from somewhere in the nicest supercars.
“Their houses are always crazy, and the fact it gets to a personal level, the experiences money can’t buy, that’s great. It’s those personal experiences that stand out.”
Never in his wildest dreams could Leon have anticipated how quickly his business would take off.
“I was just a 13-year-old kid who always wanted to make a couple of extra quid here and there,” he recalls.
With a passion for shoes, Leon would spend his free time watching YouTube to keep on top of the latest trends.
Leon is close with both Joe Willock and Chris Willock
The only problem was that his parents would only buy him one new pair a year, either as a birthday or Christmas present.
After delving into the resale community, he started queuing outside stores to buy limited edition trainers before selling them for a mark-up.
The catalyst, however, came when he went to Queen’s Club and asked American tennis star Jack Sock for a selfie as he left the court.
“Nice sneakers, kid,” said Sock, to which Leon replied, “Oh, I can get you a pair”.
Having built connections in the resale community, the teenager was confident he could deliver.
A few weeks later, he duly made good on his promise, supplying Sock three pairs of trainers including some “super rare off-white Nike’s he couldn’t find anywhere”.
A couple of months later, Sock returned to London for the ATP Tour Finals and placed another order.
Unable to find a time or place to exchange the good, he invited Leon and his dad courtside to watch the action from the players’ box at the O2 Arena.
As Leon delivered Sock his shoes after the match, he had a light bulb moment.
“From that moment I was like, this is what I want to do – dealing with footballers, athletes. I want to deal with these guys because that’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
“My eyes were opened,” he states. “I was like ‘wow!’”
Jack Sock was the first sportsman that Leon sold to after a chance encounter at Queen’s Club
Leon’s mind was set on a new goal – supplying the stars. But there was one small problem.
“These guys are untouchable, right?” He admits.
“I knew I had connections, had the suppliers. I knew I could supply them with all of the latest clothes, all of the latest shoes.
“I just didn’t know how to get to the footballers.”
As ever, Leon got creative.
As a football fan, he already used to track down players for autographs at games around London.
“These guys were my idols,” he says. “I just wanted to meet them and take a selfie or get an autograph before they played their game.
“So I just changed from asking for their autographs to handing out my business cards,” he explains.
“I’d run down Fulham Road with my cards in hand, knock on their window and hand them their card through their window.”
Leon knew it was a long shot.
“Not everyone is going to look or even care,” he concedes. “But all it takes is one. Football is a very small world.”
Eventually, his persistence paid off, and a slice of luck meant he found the ‘one’ he needed.
After selling a pair of shoes to another client, they were uploaded to snapchat crediting Leon as the supplier.
Hours later, Arsenal youngster Reiss Nelson, then on loan at Hoffenheim, added him on the social media app.
Reiss Nelson was Leon’s first customer in football and lit the fuse
“I wasn’t believing what I was seeing,” Leon says. “I thought it was a fake account.”
Never one to miss an opportunity, he dropped him a direct message.
A month later, Nelson got in touch to say he would be flying into London that evening and asking for a couple of pairs of the latest shoes.
In a short time-frame, Leon delivered the goods.
“Three pairs he asked for, and I had them for him off the plane. I was waiting outside his house with his shoes when he was getting out of his car.
“He was happy with his shoes and that was the spark that lit the fire, essentially.”
Just as he had hoped, Nelson walking into the dressing room wearing the latest Plug Leon-supplied gear sparked a surge in demand.
“It just snowballed,” he says. “It was crazy.
“It went from Reiss Nelson to a lot of the Arsenal youngsters, and I think the nice thing was I was dealing with these Arsenal players who are now superstars right from the start.
“Guys like Bukayo Saka, I delivered shoes to his house when he was still living with his parents in Ealing, now he’s playing for England in the Euros.
Bukayo Saka was one of the first players Leon got on board after selling to Reiss Nelson
Leon used to deliver to Bukayo Saka back at his family home in Ealing before he made it big
“Emile Smith Rowe, just signed a new contract and playing week in, week out for Arsenal.
“I was kind of lucky because these guys I was dealing with, before they made it, have become superstars. And I’ve come up with them, in a way.
“The reason Saka or Smith Rowe or Mason Greenwood will keep coming back to me is because they know I treated them just as well when they were just kids playing Under-18s on a scholarship.”
“People think social media, in this modern day, is everything,” he reflects. “But word of mouth is something that I think is still so, so important.”
After initially selling to members of the Arsenal squad, the first lockdown proved another turning point for Plug Leon.
“Obviously we were home-schooling which meant I could be on my phone, doing business more,” he explains.
“Also, these footballers couldn’t go to Selfridges, Harvey Nicholls, Harrods, these places they go shopping.
“So they’d come to me instead because I was still providing the goods, the shoes, the clothes, accessories, bags. I could still get it. That’s when things took off.”
Emile Smith Rowe was one of Plug Leon’s first client before becoming a first-team star
Gabriel Martinelli has become one of Plug Leon’s regular clients
Last September, he flew out to Germany on a trip funded by Swiss star Breel Embolo.
He carried five suitcases worth of luxury items worth thousands of pounds, distributing them to the Borussia Monchengladbach squad as well as Borussia Dortmund and Schalke stars.
“That was huge,” he says. “People hadn’t done that before.
“From there, people realised I was working globally and that attracted more clients around Europe.”
A few months later, Marcus Thuram flew Leon back to Germany for another delivery, and the teenager was only happy to oblige.
“I like to deal personally,” he says. “I want them to trust me so we’re business first but friends second. It’s still a friendship. I prioritise that.
“Not only do I care about them, but if orders are there I will fly out and fully commit.
“I like to give a personal service.”
Marcus Thuram flew Leon out for his second trip to Germany
As well as giving 10/10 service, it means getting to experiences things most 16-year-old can only dream of courtesy of his hundreds of clients.
“When I got flown out to Germany I went straight to his house and they were all really hospitable to me,” he says.
“A bunch of players came over, we had music playing, hanging out and we were handing out their stuff.
“Just sitting around all these superstars, music playing, kicking a ball around. To me, that’s just crazy.
“It’s the sort of stuff I could only dream of. Obviously it’s fantastic to make money and have extra cash, but I’m just living a dream doing a lot of these things.”
There have, of course, been obstacles.
School also provided practical obstacles, such as missing out on a business trip to France to supply members of the Paris Saint-Germain squad as he prepared to sit a GCSE exam.
Leon’s trip to Germany to supply five suitcases worth of gear generated attention
“My parents just said, ‘you can’t do that’,” he reveals.
But his parents remain wholly supportive, as do his school, who now recognise he remains committed to his education despite his fledgling business.
“School is still a big priority for me. I still think it’s so important,” he reiterates.
“A lot of people at this stage would drop out of school because it’s too much, but I’ve sacrificed other things because I know how important it is.
“Just before my GCSE’s I had a couple of PSG players wanting me to take the Eurostar to Paris to deliver some things and my parents just said, ‘you can’t do that’.
“My parents have been incredible, fully supportive, but obviously they say to me, ‘school then business. School is the priority’.”
In order to balance work and education, he has been forced to miss out on the experiences of many other 16-year-olds.
Instead, he has two employees and is learning about money, cash flow, dealing with clients and various other skills.
Man Utd’s Teden Mengi, Mason Greenwood and James Garner all use Leon’s service
“I’m learning stuff that school doesn’t teach you,” he says.
Whilst he was denied his trip to Paris last year, there is another in the pipeline which Leon hopes will help him land his dream client.
“The dream one I’ve already attempted,” he explains. “I have a couple of clients at PSG, and I put in a word with Thilo Kehrer.
“I said, ‘look, Mbappe. I need that. Please pull some strings for me. Just tell him I’m a young kid just hustling and trying to make some sales’.
“I asked him to put a word in, as you do, and he spoke to Kylian about me but he’s just a global superstar.
“We’re not talking about a Premier League player, he’s Kylian Mbappe. They just said, there’s no way, Nike hook him up with everything and whatever he wants.
“But you never know. I’ve got trips to Paris coming up, so maybe when I’m there I’ll meet him in person and give it a go!”
How will the 16-year-old salesman attempt to land his biggest catch?
“Make it personal, make it different,” he says. “Maybe you’ll see a photo of me, Neymar and Mbappe on my instagram.
“I’ve also got a trip to Barcelona planned. I sell to Ansu Fati, Ilaix Moriba and a few youngsters over there.
Ansu Fati of Barcelona is one of Leon’s customers
Leon will visit Barcelona to deliver to Ilaix Moriba this summer
“Hopefully Lionel Messi will turn around and say, ‘oh, I like those shoes’. Who knows?
“I know it’s far-fetched, but if you don’t believe, you’ll never know.”
Given what he’s achieved so far, and how far-fetched his initial vision seemed, you certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see Plug Leon posing next to Mbappe or Messi in 2021.
Either way, the 16-year-old is here to stay in the glitzy and glamorous world where fashion and football mix.
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