My First Kit – Aoife Mannion, Manchester City Women

My first shirt as a player was for an under-six or under-seven boys team. I’d been on a summer holiday football camp, and I’d been – I suppose you could call it – scouted. It was just a grassroots team at the time, so ‘scouted’ sounds a bit too official for what it actually was!

I went from there to join one of the local boys football teams, I trained for a bit with them, and we were actually in a league. That was my first shirt, and the team was called ‘Celtic Reds’. I remember feeling so proud to actually have a shirt that meant I was part of a team.

I suppose the only other way that most people would have felt that was with a school uniform and of course that’s very boring, so it felt very exciting at the time. Also being the only girl, wearing the same clothes as the boys made me feel part of it more than I otherwise would have.

I still remember exactly what that shirt looked like, it was a spin on a Celtic shirt, so it was a hooped green and white shirt. It gave me so, so much joy, and I took such pride in it at the time.

Aoife during her Celtic Reds days

Obviously, like most people, I would have been wearing, different football shirts my whole life, but the first one I had a reason to wear was to play, so that was quite special.

I had loads of shirts growing up, from different teams and different leagues in different countries. I had a Birmingham City shirt, as my dad took me to the games, and Birmingham is where I was born and where I’m from.

With my parents being Irish, I also had some Irish football shirts, and whenever my family went abroad, they would bring me back a souvenir shirt from wherever they were. Some shirts were a bit different and meant a bit more, or were a bit more special than others.

I loved going into the garden with my brother, and we would decide which team we were – a bit like playing FIFA actually! I’d be Real Madrid and he could be Barcelona, and then we’ll just whip on the shirts and play.

The first kit I wore as a professional player was for Birmingham and it was made by Sondico. I remember at that time you could buy Sondico balls in a two for £5 offer. There was a bit of joke going round that we were sponsored by this brand – and we were very fortunate at the time to be sponsored by them – but it came across as quite make do, as it wasn’t absolutely top of the range.

At the time there was a sense that it wasn’t the most expensive or best kit in the league, but I smile when I look back at it now because I think it adds a bit of heritage and culture. So I’m quite glad, I don’t think many people can say they played in a Sondico kit. I’m not sure that brand exists as it did back then, but I have so many fond memories playing in that kit.

The shirt that is the most precious to me is the one I wore for Birmingham in the 2017 FA Cup final, against Manchester City. Ironic, because I’m now a City player. We lost that day 4-1.

I think it’s quite special and precious because as a young kid, everyone who played in their garden dreamt they’d take a penalty at Wembley, or score a goal. I turned out to be a defender, so neither of them would be the case anyway! But that felt like a full circle, like something that had been fulfilled.

I think the most iconic shirt that I’ve had is the shirt I was given as a sub for the England senior team. I’m not actually capped for them yet, and so there isn’t as much blood, sweat, and tears associated with that shirt as that FA Cup final shirt I wore on the pitch and played and lost in, but I imagine that as I go through my career, the meanings of those shirts will change.

Maybe if I get to play in many more finals with City, that FA Cup final shirt might not mean as much. I’m looking forward to seeing how the value of my memories will change as I get older, but at the moment those two shirts are the most special.

As a player, the design of the kit more important to me than the technology that goes into it. I think most kits feel roughly the same. Maybe if I was more interested in design & technology, I’d be able to appreciate the subtle differences more.

Certainly, as I was growing up, most shirts were very baggy, so you couldn’t really tell much difference in the feel, but as I’ve got older, the trend has changed and kits are now quite tight fitting.

I’ve noticed the difference if the kit I’m wearing is a woman’s kit – specially made – and there are also differences between brands, but the first thing I notice when I see a new kit is what it looks like. Before I’m able to see what it feels like, I think it appeals to my eyes in the same way as it does to a fan. So that’s a shared experience – something that feels the same for everyone. It’s just exciting isn’t it? Seeing a kit for the first time and going, “wow that’s really nice.”

I think the bespoke kits for the 2019 Women’s World Cup were class, absolute class. They created even more of a buzz about that tournament. At our clubs, we might be just about to go out to a training session, but then we’d hear that a country had released their strip, and there was certainly a buzz around that. The one I remember really prominently was the Nigeria kit, it kind of had zig-zags – green, black, and white. The players seemed to take such pride in wearing it, and you can see why when you look at it.

I think the design and aesthetics of football, even though they don’t decide whether you win or lose, they do add flavour and something special As the years go on, different kits evoke different eras and remind us of certain times, and so I think a lot of the players from the World Cup will remember those kits particularly, because they were bespoke and quite stand-out designs.

As for my favourite kits in general, I quite like the striped or hooped shirts, probably because they’re quite rare, as most teams have a full block of colour rather than stripes or hoops.

My favourite strip of all time would either be a classic Celtic shirt or a classic Barcelona shirt. I’d love to say I have some Spanish heritage in me, but I don’t, it’s more of an appreciation from afar.

I always wore the Celtic shirt when it was refreshed every year. Even though there were tweaks, it’d never change that much in terms of the look. Even though there isn’t one particular year, it’s the Celtic shirt I think of as a kid having the most pride when I’m playing.

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