BY DAVID MARPLES – @DavidMarples
If football shirts ever did really go away, they are very much back.
Like proper coffee. Like vinyl. Like a bobble hat. Like printed football magazines or fanzines. Like crumpets. Like a bucket hat. Like ale. Like Barry Davies. Some things fritter in and out of the public consciousness, subject to the arbitrary whims of haughty cultural gatekeepers, but most of the time, the really good stuff lingers around in the corner, standing aloof like a nervous child, just biding its time until public displays of awkwardness come back into vogue.
These days, it’s fine to wear your heart on your sleeve. In fact, it’s more than fine to wear your team’s football shirt from the 1980s featuring the badge on your heart. It’s not just fine; it’s very much sought after.
If you’ve rifled through your parents’ loft and managed to find that black bin liner (or vacuum-packed bag, if you’re a bit posh) containing those old band and football shirts that you desperately hope your mum didn’t chuck away in a fit of pique since they were ‘just taking up space’, you are very much in luck. Not only are they worth maybe a month’s rent, they are very, very cool.
On an otherwise unremarkable street just a short walk from Old Street Station, a space exists containing shirts you thought only existed in overlong mythical movies. If you’ve ever spent time rifling through a charity shop’s vinyl box just hoping against hope of finding a Tinkerbells Fairydust LP or more realistically, Verve’s ‘She’s a Superstar’ 12” single yet finding only yet another Des O’Connor album, you’ll know the feeling of crushing disappointment yet also, the urge to keep on looking, regardless. Yet a room exists where you can rifle through very ordinary rails from which hang very ordinary hangers and which house extraordinary garments.
That Marseille shirt with the silver shadow stripes? That’s here. That Parma shirt from the 90s? Check. That Le Coq Sportif Chelsea shirt from the 80s which Pat Nevin played in? Sure. Even the yellow away version? Of course.
Behind the counter stands the ever smiling and helpful Rory – a slip of a lad sporting an England Italia 90 shirt. We talk shirts. We bond over our shared love of late 80s Hummel shirts – not just the Denmark ones but also the Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur designs. Demand for England shirts is currently high – indeed, there is a whole rail dedicated to such shirts – with Italia 90 ones being particularly sought after. If it’s not England shirts in demand, it’s Nigeria shirts: not just that funky new one but classic Nigeria shirts. In fact, any Nigeria shirts. Those crazy shirts from the 90s with their wacky designs are also popular – the baggier the sleeves, the better.
I enquire about the most expensive shirt in the shop and am shown a Barcelona long sleeve yellow away shirt from the early 80s. Not only does it look beautiful it feels beautiful too – silky to the touch and thin as gossamer. The Maradona shirt.
All life is here though – not just the vintage stuff. You can pick up a Norwich City shirt for £7 or even bag a Valencia bucket hat. Only two things prevent you blowing an absolute fortune in there: firstly, some of the very best shirts – like an 80s Levski Sofia shirt – are a bit on the snug size and you’ve filled out a bit since the 80s. Secondly, that nagging voice saying you don’t really need yet another football shirt. Ignore it. You do. You really do.
The Classic Football Shirts pop up shop is currently open until the 30th July and can be found at 1-3 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3DT.