Should I ever get to be a multi-billionaire, living a life of luxury in a mansion in the Home Counties (and considering the form of the first thirty-three years of my life, this is somewhat unlikely), I will devote a whole wing of said mansion to old football shirts. Of my many football-related obsessions, very old football shirts is my longest lasting, and it will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. The first football kit I ever had bought for me was (little did I realise it at the time) a design classic. The 1981 Spurs kit was a triumph of minimalist design, and it’s one that they have failed to reproduce ever since. This season, I note, Spurs have reverted to the simpler badge that they had on their shirts in those days. The irony of this is not lost on me. In an era when more and more time is devoted to squeezing money out of fans through the medium of third kits, Europe-only kits and anniversary one-off kits, don’t the manufacturers realise that we really want shirts that are simple, preferably slightly ludicrous, not covered in trinkets and preferably not highly flammable?
The early 1980s were the last Golden Age of football shirt design, and they were also the first time that football shirts became both marketing and sponsorship tools. Shirts became leisure items over a period of time, but this period was the first in which replicas became so much as available in the shops. In the era of the Premier League, they’ve become almost too syonymous. Watch any match on the television and you’ll see the crowd as an amorphous lump of brightly coloured polyester. It’s part of the reason why I don’t ever wear replica shirts to matches. Snobbery, I know, but I don’t want to be dressed the same as everyone else.
My own shirt interest is completely indiscriminate. I’d draw the line at buying an Arsenal shirt (though I guess I could be tempted by the 1984 green & blue away effort, should you ever see one in a pile at a jumble sale) but, by and large, club and national loyalties don’t come into it. Over the course of my life, my football shirt interest has taken in (deep breath): Spurs, Liverpool, PSG, France, Nantes, Oxford, St Albans, Enfield, 1860 Munich, England, Sporting Lisbon, Wolves, Leeds, Watford, Vancouver Whitecaps, New York Cosmos, Wales, Chelsea and the USSR, amongst others. The biggest single reason I haven’t acquired more is more to do with the disapproving looks of girlfriends in charity shops and financial constraints than anything else.
Fortunately, I’m not alone in my interest. There’s a thriving Ebay trade in old shirts (and also in dodgy Far Eastern “replicas”), and we all presumably already know about the near-eponymous Toffs and Scoredraw. However, the serious collectors will only have their heads turned by the genuine article, the alarmingly-named Footballnotmuggybonehead will satiate their needs. Otherwise, it’s off to the second-hand shops if you want to dress exactly like Mark Wright did in 1989.
There are also sites devoted to simply categorising all of the world’s football shirts. Colours Of Football is nicely designed, but only covers the last few seasons, whilst Kit Classics is a veritable goldmine, going back over the entire history of football. The graphics leave something to be desired, but the sheer attention to detail is, frankly, mind-boggling. Some of you may already aware that I spent most of my childhoods in France, so it’s hardly surprising that this place is the one that gets my juices flowing. It proves to me, beyond any doubt, that the French are the true masters of kit design – right down do absurdly over-sized advertising slogans. If you know of any more links like this, let me know as soon as possible. As you are, I think, already aware, my nerdiness for this sort of thing is almost unquenchable.
Tomorrow: my personal top ten football shirts. I might just surprise you with some of my choices.