Replica kits not a rip-off, opines Neil Wills

Whoops! How did this one end up here? It’s clearly not a myth at all. The fans are being fleeced – even those most equine of horse’s mouths, Messrs Shepherd and Hall, admitted as much. Questions have been asked in parliament, for good­ness’ sake, and usually nothing short of a tragedy will make politicians side with football fans. It’s a simple truth: supporters are being asked to fork out between 40 and 50 quid for something that costs about a fiver to produce. It’s the kind of thing that gives rip-offs a bad name.

Or is it? Consider. In these post-modern, brand-driven times, the market-place no longer offers us mere products. Every purchase is now a lifestyle choice – we’re buying into an image, an ethos. What we’re getting when we take that bit of highly coloured syn­thetic tat (let’s be honest, the product itself is rubbish) off the peg and over to the till is not just a shirt, it’s a whole package.

Let’s start by com­paring and con­trasting with fash­ion items in general. What does what you wear say about you? If you’re a conscientious wearer of designer gear, the labels you display, rather than improving your street cred, more often than not mark you down as a pretentious prat. You might get called a lot of things in a football shirt, but pretentious is not one of them (I’m assuming here you haven’t adopted an affected pas­sion for some Albanian second division outfit). A football shirt marks you down as a member of the lumpen proletariat and, therefore, OK.

Next, dig out some old photograph albums and look at some snaps of yourself from the old days. Chances are you’ll find yourself exclaiming, “I wore that?” However, if you find a pho­tograph where you’re decked out in a football shirt of the period, you’re far more inclined to think how splendid the strip back then was (with the exception of that brown Coventry away kit perhaps) and how tasteful the wearer. However hideous your team’s kit appears now, in the future it will seem glamorous and chic. Even that Ipswich one that made it look like you had dandruff on a scale even Dave Allen could only dream of.

Now ask yourself, how long does supposedly trendy clobber stay fashionable? Three months or so, if you’re lucky, and if it’s still in vogue after that then the change in the wea­ther will probably have made it impractical. Whisper it, but some of the smaller clubs keep the same shirt for up to an entire season, gua­ranteeing a full 12 months of unchallengeable hipness on the part of the wearer – a cool 300 per cent more than the average fashion item. And have you seen the prices they’re asking for that stuff?

Lastly, take a look at where most of the pro­fits from replica sales are going – to your club. If some fans go to the extent of acquiring affinity Visa cards so that those poor mites at Chel­sea, Celtic or wherever might profit from their plastic-waving profligacy, then who can com­plain about the wad from football kits going to those same worthy causes? Anyway, as we all know, rich clubs win things, so the more you line the pockets of your team the more it will win, so who’s the loser there?

More than anything, though, when you buy a replica shirt, you’re buying into something bigger, something truly iconic. You have joined the fellowship of believers and the mere wearing of their col­ours gains you instant acceptance into their community. Replicas have become the new Mao suits. Any doubts you may have about your own value as an individual are swallowed up in your new identity as a follower of your chosen club. Furthermore, along with Man U-clad boys from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, you’re saying yes to the masses, yes to the global village, yes, yes and yes again to the kinship of all peoples and peace to men on earth. All that for 40 quid? A snip, I say.

From WSC 169 March 2001. What was happening this month

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