Neil Heard Talks To Us About His Passion For Classic Football Shirts
From streetwear to sneaker collectors, the resurgence of retro football shirts has become a phenomenon in recent years.
With the World Cup in Russia fast approaching, it’s time to highlight what used to be the unlikeliest of fashion trends which is fast becoming widespread; the retro football shirt. The preservation and sale of classic footy shirts has become a growth industry in the fashion world as well as a fairly niche one, even though the shirts themselves have always been there. Until fairly recently, there were very few places where you could actually get your hands on things like a 1995 Croatia home top or an early 2000s Real Madrid shirt (the heyday of the Galacticos era). However now, we’re seeing more and more websites and shops selling such things, and a lot of them in immaculate, unworn condition.
Above: Oasis, the Gallagher brothers wearing the Man City 1993 home and away tops.
These tops literally fit any occasion from a 5- a side game with your mates to a quiet daytime session down the pub or right at home on a match day. Even the strips which don’t look like they have aged well (Arsenals yellow and black wallpaper effort comes to mind), are now desirable and it also seems like anything goes. It doesn’t matter who you support, if you’re a football fan with an eye for a handsome retro shirt then it looks like there’s a new world of shirts to trawl through on the internet these days.
British rapper Loyle Carner found an excellent way of obtaining some of the all time classic football shirts, by offering fans VIP tickets to his shows around the country if they were willing to give him a retro footy top in return. He managed to bag himself quite a haul, including a blue England shirt from 1990 which is an absolute gem. Others included: Sweden, Argentina, Crystal Palace, Ajax and Liverpool , of whom Carner is a fan.
Above: Amsterdam based Patta have released numerous retro inspired football tops.
Another unlikely stockist of some of the most beautiful and bizarre shirts ever made lies in Japan with Vintage Sports Football, whose website and Twitter account is akin to that of pornography most days with the array of shirts on offer from the sublime to the obscure and the ridiculous. Looking at the Vintage Sports website, which is all in Japanese obviously, it really makes you wonder how the hell they got hold of some of these shirts, from a Milan home shirt featuring the legendary Franco Paresis name on it to Bolton Wanderers strips, the choice is endless. The sad thing is with a lot of Japanese clothing, they are only available in Japan so it may be a worthwhile trip, but it’ll cost!
If you look around hard enough, there are definitely some bargains to be had on websites, Classic Football Shirts, being a front runner. However, if you fancy going high end, you would be well catered for in that department with match worn and signed shirts going for hundreds, even thousands, of pounds in some cases. Because of the collect-ability of football shirts these days, especially the more retro ones featuring some of the best players ever to play the game, it can be an expensive hobby to start. However, when you finally find that one shirt that you’ve been itching to get your hands on, surely it will be worth it?
Above: The King of Classic Football Shirts himself, Neal Heard.
We caught up with a man who you could say knows a thing or two about retro football shirts, Neal Heard, author of ‘A Lover’s Guide’ and ‘The Football Shirt’s’ book. This is what the King of retro football shirts had to say;
Where would you say the passion for football shirts really started?
I suppose like most of us, those early first shirts leave a deep mark. I remember getting various kits as gifts when a kid, and looking through the plastic section in the corner of the ‘Umbro Sets’ ( showing my age) before opening and wearing them to death was probably the start of the journey. But later on, it was the exoticism and romance of foreign teams, with their glamorous names and equally cool kits which set me off ‘collecting’.
Would you not agree that some of the shirts coming out of the early to mid 90’s looked like they had taken acid?
Well you must remember those shirts, especially those produced by Umbro, who are based in Manchester, the home of the rave scene in the UK, are often referred to as the Acid House shirts, and it seems the cities burgeoning night life rubbed off on the designers too.
If you had to name 5 of your all time favourite shirts/kits which ones would they be and why?
Almost impossible, and changes loads, but basically I would always have some form of Sampdoria, some early 90’s Brazilian side like Gremio sponsored by Coca Cola, some of the crazy J league shirts, the NASL and early 90’s Serie A…..too many.
What’s your take on the modern game and modern day football kits, the inspirations are still there but they just aren’t the same are they?
Yeah at the moment the pendulum has gone full circle and the kits are way too plain for most of us, I know from consulting with the brands, they are more open for change than the clubs themselves, so it’s a tough one. As for the football, I see two sides, I hate the hype and the ownership by despotic states and tyrants but at the same time, we’re blessed to have a team like Man City play on these shores as I am certain they will be the best ‘domestic’ side to of ever done so, and that’s provided by the money.
Give us some more info about the books and work you have done and what else we can expect from the world of Neal Heard and retro football shirts?
To be honest I am constantly ahead of my time (haha) I published the first book on the trainers scene back in 2003 and now I have done the same with the football shirt scene. I guess I see myself as a modern day cultural pop historian. I’m consulting for the brands, touring the Art of The Football Shirt exhibition around the World, starting with FIFA and developing my Lover’s FC streetwear meets football label, with a new collaboration with Dukes Cupboard coming out soon.