In recent years alongside the rising popularity of the fashion trend labelled as ‘blokecore’, football shirt-collecting has seen drastic rises in popularity and prices are becoming ludicrous. But why do these shirts seem to have such value and gain such a high volume of interest on social media?
In an interview for BBC News, football shirt collector Iain Bentley said: “People put such a value on these bits of polyester. Not in terms of money, but sentiment. There’s a romanticism.
“You could say this used to be a niche hobby, but I think it’s found its moment in the spotlight.”
It could be said that spotlight moment he was referring to was the Coronavirus lockdowns as so many people spent time in their own homes. As also stated in the BBC interview with the Middlesborough fan, Bentley has ‘about 50 shirts with the majority belonging to the team he has supported since watching them in the FA Cup final at Wembley a quarter of a century ago.’Embed from Getty Images
While many collectors focus more on historical shirts from their favourite team, others mainly look at particular decades or even specific manufactures like Adidas or Nike.
Rare replicas from the 1970s, 80s and 90s can fetch several hundred pounds, with online retailers like Classic Football Shirts selling over 300,000 shirts a year. An example of this would be Fiorientina’s home shirt from the 1991-92 season, which retials for £199.99 on their website.
While only the very wealthiest of bidders could ever dream of affording the world-record breaking £7.1m Diego Maradonna “Hand of God” shirt, plenty of cash is needed to outbid dedicated buyers in the “match worn” section of the market, who regularly pay three of four figures to secure a shirt once worn by their idols.
The growth of social media has enabled fans across the globe to have discussions about shirts, and buying, selling and swapping shirts via several different platforms.Embed from Getty Images
Once viewed as an impressionable way to make money from younger supporters, these shirts now being branded as items treasured by adults mean they are beginning to feature in a football-focused exhibition in London’s Design Museum.
In an interview for BBC News, the Lead curator Eleanor Watson explained how shirts have now developed into a ‘currency’, displaying what type of fan someone is and their knowledge of football.
“A football shirt carries a cultural legacy, knowledge and optimism in its very fibres. This evolution from equipment to elevated fashion item is physically manifested in the explosion of the replica shirt market.
“A love for a specific shirt is an acknowledgement of what has gone before – a crucial element in a culture where knowing your onions places you in high regard.
“A 1988 Netherlands shirt will reveal your adoration for Rinus Michels’ Euros-winning side featuring Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman and Marco van Basten, whose audacious volley from the silliest of angles won the final.
“A 2002 Cameroon vest banned by Fifa because it lacked sleeves, but which was worn with a shirt underneath as an act of protest, might show your general love of a rebel or simply the striker Samuel Eto’o.”
Shirt-collecting is an expensive hobby though, which is only getting worse. Prices for vintage shirts have risen significantly while clubs release new shirts every year, with many releasing third or fourth kits or “special edition” pieces to maximise revenue. For example, Napoli released 13 different shirts last season.
Counterfeit items being sold on the likes of eBay and Depop are also an area for shirt-collectors to be aware of.
Who knows what will happen with football shirts value in the future. All others can do is wait and see – and then be outraged when a shirt they like ends being pretty much unattainable.
What do you think will happen to the football shirt scene? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.