BY MARK GODFREY
If youâ€™re A) a football fan and B) a regular on social media, itâ€™s unlikely that Classic Football Shirts has escaped your attention. Founded in an unremarkable house in Manchester in the summer of 2006 by struggling university students Matt Dale and Doug Bierton, the company has grown rapidly from the days of two hard-up lads maxing out their credit cards to fund the purchase of stock, to one with enough clout to negotiate deals with the worldâ€™s top clubs and leading sportswear manufacturers.
Their first ever sale was an Adidas-made Liverpool 1989 home shirt to Norway â€“ predictably â€“ to a guy called Morten, and with a determination only to deal in genuine replicas and match worn shirts when they could get their hands on them, they quickly began to attract a loyal following.
I, for one, was one of their early devotees, happily frittering away time clicking from one page to another hoping to come across an obscure modern gem or perhaps a shirt from my childhood that I may have been able to shoehorn my now ample frame into without risking the integrity of 30-year old stitching. Plenty of likeminded individuals acted on their nostalgic impulses and began unloading their bank accounts, and by 2007, CFS were already turning over a six-figure amount. This led to them taking on their first staff member and moving into offices on Manchesterâ€™s Deansgate.
In the years that followed, deals with Adidas, Nike, Lotto and AC Milan prompted further growth; more employees based both in the UK and abroad and a new 25,000 square feet warehouse in the shadow of Manchester Cityâ€™s Etihad Stadium. Add to that a social media presence intent on drawing you into their sweetie shop of football shirt delights and itâ€™s easy to see why theyâ€™ve taken a seemingly simple and appealing idea and turned it from flogging a few old jerseys from a spare bedroom into a business that has sold to over 150 countries. I caught up with Matt and Doug to find out a little bit more.
TFP – When you set up Classic Football Shirts back in 2006, what were your realistic expectations for the business: a quick buck turned over on eBay/website for a few years or a serious vision for what it has become 11 years on?
CFS – I don’t think we thought too deeply about it; being young lads fresh out of University. We noticed a niche in a market that we both love and it certainly beats getting a proper job. I think we’ve both been surprised how quickly the business has grown year on year and long that may that continue.
TFP – If the warehouse was on fire, which one shirt would you run back into the flames to rescue and why?
CFS – I honestly couldn’t pick one, I’d take as many match worn shirts as I could physically carry, then go back in to rescue some more. Some of the match worn collections are complete one offs so I couldn’t watch them go up in smoke.
TFP – What’s the most expensive shirt you’ve ever sold?
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CFS – Our highest selling individual shirt sold for five figures last year. It was an extremely rare Arsenal third shirt from the Champions League game between Arsenal vs. Lens played at Wembley back in 1998. That shirt only appeared once for the Gunners and we had the match worn shirt of â€˜Roadrunnerâ€™, Marc Overmars. The beauty of classic match worn shirts is that they appreciate in value so the older and rarer they become, the more valuable they become. So, they’re a sound investment.
TFP – What has been the most difficult shirt to find either by request or reputation?
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CFS â€“ Personally, the holy grail is the Argentina goalkeeper shirt from Italia â€˜90. An absolute classic! The first real tournament I remember watching as a kid, so that World Cup holds great memories for me.
TFP – You have a lot of match worn shirts; who are the most famous players you’ve dealt with directly?
CFS – We’ve dealt with players from all over the world, with title winners from most countries. Not all players want to advertise they’ve sold their own match worn shirts or those they exchanged with other players, so mumâ€™s the word I’m afraid. However, check out our match worn section and I’m sure you could make an educated guess where they came from on most shirts!
TFP â€“ Where does Classic Football Shirts go from here?
CFS – We’ll continue to invest heavily in our stock to ensure we have the biggest collection of original football shirts in the world. We also mean to maintain our first class customer service globally via continued investment and innovation. We are committed to engaging with fans socially and become the home for all things football nostalgia on our ExtraTime blog.
TFP – You pride yourself on selling only genuine replica kits; there are plenty of fakes and copies available out there these days (nostalgia is big business), do you see them as a threat to Classic Football Shirts and how easy do you find it to spot copies/fakes if they come your way?
CFS – Originality is of vital importance to us as our reputation has been built on authenticity. I suppose you could see remakes and copies as a threat but our business has been built on supplying shirts to a very knowledgeable audience of shirt collectors who can spot the difference and desire a product that is 100% original. We have a strict checking policy for every single shirt that arrives into the business and we have a team of highly qualified professionals that have unrivalled football shirt experience to ensure no fakes make it onto our website.
TFP – You recently teamed up with the world’s oldest football club Sheffield FC; how did that come about and can you see yourself doing similar partnerships with bigger clubs in the future?
CFS – With our 10-year anniversary around the corner we wanted to make a statement to celebrate and showcase the revamped branding and our new website. Essentially, we wanted to partner with a club with a natural fit to Classic Football Shirts and nobody fits that bill better than the world’s first football club, Sheffield FC. It’s a great partnership and it’s great to help ensure that the world’s first football club stays sustainable for the foreseeable future. We’re looking forward to celebrating the 160th anniversary with a new heritage shirt that takes inspiration from Sheffield FC’s first designs.
TFP – What are your favourite shirts of all time?
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CFS â€“ There are way too many to list but the West Germany 1990 and Holland 1988 would definitely make my top 10.
Some very sound and informed choices at the end there, I must say! If you havenâ€™t seen their site before â€“ and I canâ€™t think for a second you havenâ€™t â€“ then get over there now. Your biggest challenge will be finding the classic you want in the size that fits your older, broader frame. If you canâ€™t do that, donâ€™t worry; there are plenty of stunning alternatives you can fill up your drawers and wardrobes at home with. Get 10% off all purchases by using the code PINK10 at the checkout. Just click on the banner below.