Fan culture

Steve Wilson explains why the 21st century is causing increasing problems for those who enjoy collecting football shirts

Collecting football jerseys can be a challenging hobby. For starters, purchasing your own club's kit can't really be included as part of your indulgence, it is more of a duty. Consequently, with the seemingly now accepted trend of changing home and away tops every season, you can expect to dish out around £80 a term before you even begin budgeting for obscure polyester gems. The internet continues to be both a help and a hindrance. While the ability to buy pretty much any shirt from anywhere in the world is a nice option, the overwhelming choice somewhat dilutes the desire to spend excessive sums of holiday money on a jersey you could feasibly pick up online for less.

Case in point: a recent visit to Athens allowed me the perfect chance to get the Panathinaikos shirt that had eluded me previously, or so I thought. After seeing scores of fake jerseys on the streets of the Plaka district I finally came across a store selling official Pana tops. The price, however, equated to over £50. At that point I had to use some common sense and walk away.

In a matter of minutes online back home several options for the same jersey could be found for a more reasonable fee. But that is just not the same. To blithely pick off peculiar shirts from in front of your computer screen feels like cheating; for me they have to be legitimately collected on your travels.

There is another issue, though, when it comes to purchasing shirts abroad. Unless you want one of the top two or three clubs from the country you are in, then your time will likely be wasted trawling the shops. Furthermore, in a sign of the Premier League's ever expanding dominance, it often appears simpler to buy a Man Utd, Liverpool or Arsenal shirt than it is to find local jerseys.

During the summer in South Africa it was easy to find the shirts of Johannesburg's big two, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, but attempting to net jerseys of any other South African club proved more difficult. There was little variety to be seen, the hangers instead weighed down with the tops of England's leading clubs.

Even at home this is an issue. As a youngster I recall one of the highlights of trips to other parts of the country was going to their sports shops and seeing unfamiliar shirts for sale. Nowadays, a branch of JJB in Aberdeen will likely have exactly the same stock as one in Plymouth. It seems most smaller British clubs don't even bother trying to sell on the high street anymore, or are unable to, instead selling purely through the club shop or online store.

Sadly, a startling lack of creativity at times from the manufacturers also means that few modern shirts are desirable objects – helping the trade in second-hand retro strips in the process. Aside from the globally recognised brand clubs, the effort in coming up with a unique design seems to have largely disappeared – Nike, Adidas and Puma are happy to dish out template kits with only a change in colour and badge for those teams who are unlikely to sell outside of their own catchment area.

The flipside to that is when a club truly does do something different it stands out far more. France seems to be the current home for leftfield thinking, with Marseille's recent light blue away shirt resembling a retired uncle's Pringle golf jersey and Lyon's away maillot looking like the kind of wallpaper you might find in a 1970s brothel. Both are inspired designs.

Ultimately, as with any collection, the continual growth leads to the quandary of where to keep your haul. With over 200 shirts, the dream of framing each individually became unrealistic a long time ago. At present, several plastic crates house my ageing relics while others are at the mercy of moths in the loft. Unlike the technological advances that will solve this issue for music, film and literary collectors of the future I cannot see a downloadable option providing a quick-fix solution for shirt collectors any time soon.

From WSC 287 January 2011

Dave Lee watches Abbey United v Bully Wee United – two of the UK's supporters' clubs

It's 10.30am, and in the car park of a leisure centre, manager Richard French nervously thumbs out a text message. It's half an hour until kick-off, and there is still no sign of today's opponents. He'd last heard from the opposition manager an hour ago. They had just passed Birmingham, but the minibus was limited to a paltry 60mph. And, after a night of heavy snow, they were down to just 11 men after one of their number found himself snowed in.

Kevin Borras recounts the moment that AFC Wimbledon were drawn against MK Dons in the FA Cup second round

I'm a season-ticket holder and a shareholder at AFC Wimbledon. Day zero for us was May 28, 2002, when the FA, in their infinite wisdom, declared that to deny Wimbledon FC the opportunity to move to Milton Keynes and "keep the club alive" would not have been in the wider interests of football. So, the potential of playing the club that we all refer to as Franchise FC in the second round of the FA Cup was the very embodiment of mixed emotions.

Howard Pattison goes in search of football heritage and asks why more blue plaques aren't awarded to players

In 1999 the writer Hunter Davies asked: "Why are there no blue plaques for footballers?" Over a decade on, they are still so rare that you begin to wonder if those who administer our heritage simply don't see football as being part of it. Surely Bobby Moore is worthy of a blue plaque?

Howard Pattison ponders the etiquette involved in watching a Premier League football match and worries where it is all heading

A young man was invited by his employer to attend the fixture between Manchester United and Aston Villa. Their seats were in a home section of the ground, even though the young man supported the visiting team. Aware of his predicament, he watched the game in near-silence, careful to make only comments that were either objective or altogether non-committal. When the time came for Villa to score, he showed a foresight that was not evident in the United defence, recognised the imminent danger and took decisive action by sitting on his hands. Another Villa fan sitting nearby, less aware of the situation, instinctively threw his unrestrained arms joyously into the air and was immediately ejected from the ground.

Cameron Carter has had unhappy experiences of following football on licenced premises

Since BSkyB lured us into their gloomed interiors in 1992, pubs have become stand-ins for the old football grounds, somewhere we can still stand or wander about the place and drink lager. Some of the time, the noise and body warmth mimic the atmosphere of a live game, but there are too many reminders that, actually, you are merely in a pub – and not your favourite one – watching television.

As Ian King observes, the media now defines football supporters by their fanatical behaviour. Is this encouraging some to behave in an increasingly irrational, negative and anatagonistic manner?

When the retail chain Sports Direct (SD) makes news it is usually in connection with their owner, Mike Ashley. But in mid-August several newspapers carried the story of a man who went to an SD store and spent £55 on a replica Man Utd shirt. He decided to have “YSB” (which stands for “You Scouse Bastards”, apparently), “96” and “Not Enough” printed on the back of it. He then posted pictures of his purchase on Facebook. Sports Direct say that they will now only allow the printing of current players’ names on their shirts and that the sales assistant who had the design made up didn’t understand it. This  line was not accepted by Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Support Group: “I don’t believe it is possible someone printing football shirts wouldn’t know what the message meant.”

Going to your first football match isn't always memorable for the normal reasons, as Josh Widdicombe explains

With the exceptions of the third round of the FA Cup and the career of Stan Bowles, few things are over-romanticised by the average football fan more than their first visit to a live match. So, as a man easily won over by a nostalgic ideal, I have long bought into the received wisdom that to be a proper fan your first taste of professional football in the flesh must have been like some sort of religious conversion; rather than just sitting in a cold church hoping the monotonous service would soon be over. 

Owning a football club is now officially beyond the wildest dreams. Even Harry Pearson's

When they reach their forties, men experience a change. You begin to suspect that the manufacturers of jeans have started skimping on material, you meet young people (yes, you have started to use the phrase “young people”) that you assume are sixth-formers and when you ask politely what A-levels they are doing discover that in fact they are GPs, barristers or your new boss, and you feel strangely compelled to tell your children not to keep saying like, like all the, like, time, for goodness sake because “you’re hardly going to impress a prospective employer speaking like that”.

The traditional fanzine is making a comeback of sorts, writes Thom Gibbs

It is hard to miss Mike Harrison. Head to Valley Parade when Bradford City are at home and he’ll be standing outside wearing a retro Bantams shirt, clutching a wad of A5 ­fanzines. Oh, and he’s 6ft 8in. “It helps that I’m recognisable,” the editor of 24-year-old fanzine The City Gent says. “Most people know me, but I’m always badgering and cajoling new people to write and contribute, because if you don’t do that then you just won’t get anything.”

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