Having missed the chance to buy some iconic shirts when they were first issued in the 1980s Graham leapt on the opportunities presented by the internet and online shopping, going on to amass an extensive and eclectic collection of football shirts from every corner of the globe!
We talked exclusively to Graham about his amazing array of shirts, some of his most significant acquisitions, and some of his more unusual!
What inspired you to start collecting football shirts?
I started really getting into football during the mid 1980s, and this coincided with Manchester United winning the FA Cup and Ireland qualifying for its first major tournament, Euro 88. Both of these sides had shirt designs which fascinated me, but, for one reason or another I never got around to buying them. So when I found out about online shopping and auction sites I suddenly had the opportunity to pick up shirts I’d never got when they were first released.
I started picking up shirts from places I visited, teams I liked etc, totally at random. However, by accident I picked up a few match-worn, player-issue shirts such as the French third shirt from 1980. I was actually looking for a long sleeve red Adidas shirt that would fit me, and it happened to have been a French shirt which had had it’s number removed. I have been told it was probably done so as to be used in training. Regardless, it’s a cracking design!
Another interesting, and relatively recent, find was a brand new 1985 Manchester United shirt in a small sports shop in Toronto that had been lying in the store all that time, still with the tags on! That was very strange, it felt like I had been transported back in time!
I particularly like the older shirts which were much simpler and not about clima-this or formotion-whatever.
Have you put any parameters on your collection?
After years of being quite scattergun I have made the decision to (try) and focus on League Of Ireland, Irish International, Irish non-league and GAA shirts… or anything that catches my eye! That’s probably why I have such a random collection – I never decided to be so broad, but I started picking up replicas from international teams, then Manchester United and then Irish international shirts, and just got carried away!
I then decided not to bother with replicas and focus on getting match-worn versions instead. Now I try to stick to Irish-related shirts, which are much more of a challenge as they tend to issue only a few per player per season, and you can buy them off the clubs at the season’s end. I tend to stay away from modern English club shirts unless I buy them directly off a club, reputable dealer or charity, as I find it impossible to tell what’s real any more. There are so many scam-artists targeting old shirts, buying vintage jerseys and adding numbers and badges. Badly too, most of the time…
Tips on Collecting?
I’ve learnt the hard way that you have to stick to your guns on price and do your research. I have been stung before but thankfully when I started I wasn’t spending large sums. I won’t buy a player shirt unless I can find a photo of it on a player. So many shirts are being faked, especially old ones, and you learn to spot the tell tale signs. Also, I have got to know a lot of very reputable collectors and I do ask advice on something when I am not sure on the legitimacy of an item. The market has exploded recently, so trying to find a bargain, or even a shirt at a price you value it at, is becoming harder. So when using auction sites online, set a price that you value the item at, and be sure it’s what it claims to be.
What are your favourite shirt[s] in your collection?
I recently got my hands on a New York Cosmos shirt from 1980 worn by the Dutch player Wim Rijsbergen. I had been searching for years and years to find one, firstly at a price I was willing to pay, but also one from a decent player. I always loved the design and how rock and roll the whole era was (if you haven’t read the book about the NASL period ‘Once In A Lifetime’, I urge you to seek it out!). The designs were amazing, taking inspiration very much from the US style of uniform design – names on the back, front numbers etc.
I also own a MISL shirt from the Phoenix Infernos which I love. I initially bought it to wear but it turns out that shirts back then were a bit slim fitting!
I also really like the Davie Provan, CelticÂ European shirt from 1981. Again, simple design but a cracking shirt. Interestingly, they only had shirt numbers on their European shirts at the time, which makes it even more unusual.
What’s the rarest or most unusual shirt you’ve come across?
Ultimately one person’s rare is another person’s run of the mill! Point being, I collect League Of Ireland shirts, and finding old jerseys is extremely hard, as they only would have one or two for the season. A lot were then given away, thrown out or are now lying in attics. So to me my Gino Lawless Dundalk double-winning shirt from 1988 is very rare. It’s produced by a small Irish company called Eros Sportswear. I had never seen a replica let alone a match shirt. It’s a classic, simplistic design, although the shirt itself is falling apart a bit now.
From a European shirt point of view, my Azumir shirt from FC Porto in 1962 is extremely rare. I got it off a former Sporting Lisbon player’s son, and he had no idea whose it was or from what year. When I got it, the first thing that struck me was how small it was. Being made of cotton I think it had shrunk badly. That’s the perils of buying old shirts, they sometimes don’t age well.
What’s the ugliest football kit you’ve ever seen?!
Most of the English lower league kits from the 90s were terrible, but great in a totally horrendous design way! The Norwich 1992 home is a classic ‘bad’ shirt. I see merit in most designs to be honest, and even the worst designs seem to gain a sense ‘retro’ chic after a while – Just look at the Arsenal ‘bruised banana’ shirt, which is suddenly extremely sought after!
Are there any shirts you are particularly desperate to get your hands on?
I would love to get some very old League Of Ireland shirts, especially from the 60s or 70s. Anything by O’Neills from that time period really. I adore the simplicity of their shirts from that era, which contrasts massively with their current offerings. I was lucky to find an old O’Neills shirt of Bohemian FC from 1987-88.
It’s an interesting design as it differs from their traditional strip of red and black stripes, and also has a bit of a Spiderman thing going on. Also the early 80s Drogheda United shirt has a wonderful sponsors logo font, nice and cheap looking!
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Posted on April 09, 2013