More Than Just A Shirt
The other week ITV put on a fantastic documentary highlighting how a little factory in Leicester created a multi-billion pound football shirt industry. It was a fascinating tale with very humble beginnings. What started as a bit of a trail of run for Leeds United's away kit quickly expanded to involve various top tier clubs and eventually the England team itself. Originally marketed towards kids, parents were somewhat guilt tripped into provided the latest gear for their little ones, as they pretended to be their heroes on the pitch.
I remember my first ever kit. It was the full Arsenal kit on my 8th birthday from my parents. I vividly remember the bright red and white top with the 'JVC' sponsor. It was a classic and I basically didn't take it off, making my parents as red as the shirt in anger. That was the start of a long and expensive obsession with kits, which spans from an Argentina top to my most recent addition, Juventus's 1999 home kit.
A trip down to Classic Football Shirts pop-up shop in Soho, London.
It's incredible to think that the art of buying adult kits is relatively knew. As the ITV documentary stated, Admiral originally supplied kits to kids, it took nearly 20 years until the 1982 World Cup that adults could get their hands on them (absolute missed opportunity in my opinion).
Now the industry is completely mainstream. It's not a surprise to see people wearing Liverpool tops in Miami as it is to see Real Madrid shirts being worn in Sydney. The game has gone global and so has its fan base.
To maximise revenues, clubs have become smarter, releasing not just third shirts (that was a 90s thing) but special one off tops such as Juve's collaboration with Palace (the shirts sold out in seconds costing £180 a pop). There's even Champions league specials such as when PSG hooked up nicely with Air Jordan to create the ultimate millennial apparel collection. It's innovation in hyperdrive and we're lapping it up and opening our wallets like never before.
The latest edition of the PSG/Air Jordan collection
The commercial numbers keep on increasing, with Manchester United shocking the world last March with their world-record 10-year deal with Nike, which will see the northern powerhouse earn upwards of £60 million a year. It's become a key arm of their business as they look to get ahead of the competition.
Many clubs are also trying to blur the line between football shirt and general fashion, creating spin-off collections that can be worn everyday. It's smart, and I'm sure we'll see this trend continuing as clubs diversify and spread their 'brand' globally with the aim of becoming more than just a football club.
Naturally there are a lot of cynics who've witnessed an innocent pride-wearing tradition being exploited. Not only have the prices steadily increased over the years but each kits shelf-life shortens and many kits have a generic template feel (especially Adidas). The one-off kits feel less of a celebration and more of a cash and grab marketing ploy.
And yet, here I am, buying my 13th Juventus shirt off a dubious Instagram account that doesn't even have a website. I've been lured in, determined to have my name and number on the back and buy a small piece of my fading childhood (Zidane, Davids and Conte always come to mind from that late 90s era).
Before I've had a chance to proudly wear it out and about on my next shopping run I'm already waiting for the next fresh batch of kits come in for the 2020/21 season. My friends say I've got a problem, I don't even disagree.
Every shirt I own feels special, a stamp of a certain era. The material, the collar, badge and fit differ from their predecessor and whilst many will claim all Juve shirts look the same, I beg to differ.
Juventus 1999 Home Kit. It's a fake, but a damn good one at that.
Wear.. sorry where does this all end? Well, it doesn't. For clubs to simply survive, let alone compete and thrive, revenues must continue to grow. Take a look at the Deloitte Money League, a fascinating insight into how clubs earn their crust. Matchday revenue continues to decline whilst commercial and broadcast surge forward. Clubs that play their cards right and integrate themselves into the mainstream of football will reap the benefits long-term. The best and most recent example I can give is of a long-standing Spurs fan I know who's just bought himself the PSG Air Jordan tracksuit and the Borussia Dortmund all-black special shirt. A true sign of the times.
Written by Richard Tester
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ITV documentary 'Get Shirty'
Iconic Football JerseysInstagram account
Classic Football Shirts(online/in-store)