There are two things I love about football. Firstly, it’s the game of football itself; both watching and playing. As someone who is pretty calm and laid back generally, football is my emotional release. When I watch, I shout a lot. When I play, I run around in circles and slide tackle way too much. Any pent-up energy from the working week is channelled into football and it’s no exaggeration to say it’s a vital part of my life.
The second thing I love about football is the kits. As a (slightly awkward) 13-year-old I used to spend hours on the family PC (that had a whopping 129mb hard drive!) making kits for any club I could think of. I’d draw kits, pixel by pixel, on an old art programme called Deluxe Paint II Enhanced. Unfortunately (due to an orange juice related incident) the only existing floppy disk with those designs on is long gone, but kit design is a fascination I still hold today. I currently have around 250 football shirts in my collection, from Argentina to Zambia and I love how each shirt tells a different story through its design; some shirt designs are steeped in tradition, others push the boundaries, every one tells a tale.
The first football I remember was in 1990. Specifically, Italia 90. We were living in Germany at the (time which made the England vs Germany semi-final extra special. Me being me however, I was more interested in Germany’s kits than the game. While the green shirt worn in that semi-final win is great in itself, it’s that classic home shirt with the black red and yellow zig-zagging across the chest worn in the victory over Argentina in the final which resonated with me. It’s a shirt we all know, and I remember at the time just thinking it wa-s the best thing I’d ever seen (despite being really rather sad that England hadn’t made the final).
While I have lots now, it wasn’t until Christmas 1992 that I actually got my first replica shirt. I had turned 10 two months prior, and I was ecstatic that my main present that year was the brand new 1992/93 Liverpool home shirt.
Thanks to my Liverpudlian grandfather I inherited a love of Liverpool; my father’s work meant my youth was spent moving from place to place, both home and abroad, so it made absolute sense to follow my grandad and dad in supporting the Mighty Reds. It’s a shirt I still own, and it’s unmistakably 90s – baggy sleeves with three giant adidas stripes emblazoned across the right shoulder. It was in fact the Liverpool centenary shirt, so featured a brand new badge and I wore it until it practically fell apart (it was particularly susceptible to bobbling!)
Luckily I managed to source another one in an actual grown ups size from a popular online auction site a few years back, and even now, every time I see it, it invokes memories of the sheer delight I felt at owning my very first football shirt.
But while that was my first shirt, it wasn’t the shirt I associate with my love of football. I’m sure most of us can look back and pinpoint a season where they just ‘got’ football, where it suddenly went from being a thing that you liked to something altogether more…important.
For me, that season was 1995/1996. Specifically: that 4-3 victory versus Newcastle. I’d already been a keen follower of Liverpool for a few years before that point, but so many details of that fixture are ingrained in my memory.
Watching it in my grandad’s front room with him, my dad and ‘Uncle Alf’. The early goal from Fowler. Ferdinand’s equaliser that went straight through David James’s grasp and then Ginola putting Newcastle ahead. Fowler prodding home to make it 2-2 (and sliding into the goal headfirst in celebration). Asprillia scoring after David James decided to go walkabouts. Collymore getting in on the act, defty finishing a McAteer cross – before Collymore scored again, blasting the late winner past the late, great, Pavel Srníček. Oh, and Kevin Keegan slumping over the advertising boards.
It also helps that the kits on display (which were both made by adidas) were so iconic – both goalkeepers had the same flashy ‘Predator’ shirt design on (albeit in different colours). Newcastle had their greatest ever home kit on (you know the one, with the grandad collar). And Liverpool were in their shirt that featured the ridiculously huge knitted cricket-jumper-style collar.
I adored that shirt so much – it was only the 2nd shirt I’d owned by that point (even then shirts were ludicrously expensive). But thanks to a sale in the local sports shop (where a couple of years later I’d get my first ever job aged 16 and 2 weeks) my parents relented and bought it for me. The only reason I stopped wearing it is because it got to a point I physically couldn’t fit into it (curse you growth spurt!) I don’t own that shirt anymore – though I do have my dad’s old white-and-green quartered away shirt. Worn in the 1-0 loss to Manchester United in that season’s FA Cup Final, while it may possibly be the worst game of football I’ve ever watched both in terms of result and performance, at least Liverpool lost in style (I mean, if we ignore those cream suits…)
As you’ve read on you may just have picked up that I love football kits as much as I love football. But as a Liverpool fan, I have rules. The only other English team I have in my collection is the mighty canaries themselves, Norwich City. I moved to Norfolk in the 90s, attended the University of East Anglia and still live in the city – so Norwich has a permanent place in my heart. Other than that, I won’t wear any other English team shirts. Unfortunately this can lead to frustration, especially when your rivals get a design you’d love your team to have.
Sashes are one of my favourite design choices for a team, and Liverpool have never had a good sash (the Reebok away shirt from 1999/2000 and the Warrior away from 2014/15 both had a sort-of-sash design, but they’re also awful). One of my all-time favourite shirts I could never, ever own is the Manchester City third kit from the 2009/10 season. Made by Umbro, it’s all white and has a black and red sash going from top right to bottom left. The sponsor is shrunk down and placed just below the club badge, meaning the sash doesn’t get interrupted by an ugly sponsor. It’s smart, it’s classy, I’m a bit jealous. Maybe one day, Liverpool will have a decent sash design of their own… are you listening Nike?!
Adam McGee is a Children’s Librarian at Norwich Millenium Library.