We meet the football jersey collectors who are passionate about finding rare and wonderful football replica kits.
After the lockdown accelerated his passion for collecting football shirts, a man from Folkestone set out to try and track down a full set of World Cup shirts in the USA in June 1994.
We sent a journalist Rhys Griffiths (who has his own collection of over 50+ shirts) to admire his efforts and learn more about why some people just can’t get enough when it comes to football memorabilia…
Baz Davison talks about his football jersey collecting hobby
“Like most people during lockdown, I started a hobby, and it kind of escalated from there,” says Baz Davison as we explore his collection in his living room in Folkestone.
“I’ve always loved collecting football shirts, it’s always been one of my passions, football in general and shirts too.
“And it’s not just about getting the football shirts. It’s the thrill of finding the shirts, because some of them, you don’t know where you can find them.”
The thrill of the chase is obviously one of the main attractions for this particular collector of football shirts, as he recently challenged himself to track down a shirt from every nation that has produced commercially available replicas for the Cup. 1994 World Cup in the United States.
At the cost of a lot of time and money – details of the latter are withheld for the sake of his relationship – the 45-year-old Arsenal fan has succeeded in his quest. This brought his collection to around 80 shirts.
“I decided to go with USA ’94 because I’ve always loved football, but I had never really been to the World Cups before, and oddly enough it was an England that England never qualified, but I got addicted to it.
“It was only afterwards that I chose a club to support, so I became an Arsenal fan after that. But yeah, from 1995 really, I got into football.
“I used to collect other English teams, I used to have Manchester United’s gray shirt when they lost to Southampton because back then football shirts weren’t were not a collector’s item.
“I remember a sports store trying to sell those because it was considered ‘well they’ll never wear them again’.
“But now I only focus on foreign clubs.”
In recent years, there has been a marked growth in online culture around football shirts, their design and their desirability as a collectible.
But things were very different before. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the sale of replica shirts to adult fans really took off, although they had been around for decades, previously they were a small market aimed primarily at children.
Today, there’s a whole subculture associated with the love of football shirts – and rare, iconic examples can fetch sky-high prices. The ‘hand of God’ shirt worn by Diego Maradona recently sold at auction for a record £7.1million.
But while shirts directly on players’ backs may attract the attention of very wealthy collectors or museums, thanks to the rise of e-commerce, there’s little left to stop those with more lean resources to build their own collections as well.
One of the biggest names in the game today is the Classic Football Shirts website, which began as a small guest bedroom operation dreamed up by two college students with a passion for sportswear.
Today the company operates from a huge warehouse in Manchester, selling thousands of different kits from all corners of the globe, and even as two physical stores that have become places of pilgrimage for collectors.
And it seems everyone who catches the virus ends up with a slightly different vibe for their growing haul.
Lee Bowman, a 36-year-old Crystal Palace and Dover Athletic fan from Dover, has around 350 shirts in his collection and he tends to focus on specific clubs and eras.
“I collected football shirts from an early age and always had the latest Dover Athletic shirt growing up,” he said.
“I now have almost every Crystal Palace home and away shirt from around 20 years, having been a season ticket holder at Selhurst Park for 15 years between 2004 and 2019.
“Over the past couple of years my collection has reached a whole new level and I have amassed an impressive collection, mostly of non-league shirts from the 90s and 2000s.
“Having grown up watching conference football, many clubs, their shirts and players from that era are very memorable to me and give me a strong sense of nostalgia.
“I have acquired shirts from Farnborough, Kettering, Rushden & Diamonds, Southport, Stevenage, Woking, Welling and many more, some of which are also worn in matches.
“As well as the non-league, I have great memories of many Premier League shirts from the 90s and have specific club shirts on my wishlist. As well as Palace, I have quite a few of Coventry City shirts from around 1994-2001 as they had some great kits supplied by Pony and Le Coq Sportif.”
As shirts made in the 1990s now approach 30 years of age, collectors are faced with the challenge of ranking alongside rarity – the need to keep these vintage items in pristine condition.
There is a lot of variation in value and desirability depending on the condition of the shirt, a hierarchy that descends from BNWT (brand new with tags) down to kits that have suffered from cracked sponsors, pulls to the material and marking on the fabric.
“All shirts are carefully maintained,” Bowman said.
“I have a ‘treatment process’ for those who need it, having learned how to improve the condition of the shirts.
“I have invested in dent removal machines to remove pom pom patches and small pulls, lint rollers to remove excess lint and some stain removers to remove any marks in the material to really improve the quality, appearance and condition of a shirt.
“Careful hand washing methods are essential for football shirts. Normal daily washes will cause them to fade, or sponsors and names will crack or peel off in time.
“I also invested in a heat press and can now print names, numbers and sleeve crests myself which has been great as I can now work on projects and customize jerseys with a particular player name giving them an authentic and personal touch.”
Although for many collectors the thought of parting with their treasure of memorabilia is heartbreaking, others end up parting with collections large and small.
That may mean they fall into the hands of people like Geoff Senior and his fellow volunteers who run the club shop at Folkestone Invicta Football Club.
The store, located in a rather ramshackle but charming shack across the pitch from Cheriton Road, is an Aladdin’s den of assorted football memorabilia items and hugely popular with club visitors.
Mr Senior said: “The majority are donations, especially the programs and the books, and a few shirts. I’m pretty good at scrounging.
“Yeah, people come in and say ‘I just got divorced, my loft is full of Chelsea programs’ or ‘I’m moving out’ or ‘the ceiling is collapsing’.
“Ron (a fellow volunteer), as you know, his passion is watching the programs. He’s like a librarian and sorts them alphabetically and then breaks them down into cups and leagues. If we get a question about a particular program, chances are he can get his hands on it if we have it.
“Visitors to the club love the shop because it’s full of interest, it’s cheap. We’re not ripping people off for 30p programs, four for a pound, some sort of price.
“You see people walking away with the Manchester United ones under their arm thinking ‘eBay, eBay eBay’, and yes we’re only asking 30p, if people want to resell them for more it’s up to them. “
And so the souvenir market continues to turn.
Do you have an unusual collection that you would like to share with our readers? Email reporter Rhys Griffiths at [email protected]