Football shirts are everything.
They conjure nostalgia and serve as official accounts of history. They’re markers of both pride and time-served, and turn supporters into amateur designers.
A rival’s shirt can make you nauseous, while your club taking the pitch in their classic strip can draw tears.
Football shirts are cultures, annoyances, stories, art, memories, and things to both love and hate. So let’s talk about them.
Welcome to Shirt Week!
What is the First Football Shirt You Ever Owned?
America is an odd place that’s both cliquish and homogeneous. On a national level, this means soccer (we already have a thing we call football, it’s fine) in America exists in limited spaces. It’s more status than athletic career. Soccer enters most Americans’ dreams through visions of kids kicking a ball around manicured grass in an undefined, dully similar suburb.
On a personal level, this meant that my introduction to soccer was losing every game as an 8-year-old member of the Ninjas, and wasn’t reintroduced until I was 25. The combination of a coworker inviting me to be a part of his rec team and DirecTV offering approximately six-million channels, two of which were fuzzy standard definition beams of soccer being played at levels I didn’t know existed. Two-hundred dollars per month is a small price to pay to discover your passion.
I was introduced to soccer players who didn’t look the way I thought they all looked. Drogba and his perm was a shock. Florent Malouda, a French man with cornrows, was too. But nothing was more thrilling than Ronaldinho being Ronaldinho. Upset by Barcelona discarding the most remarkable spectacle I’d ever seen, I bought his AC Milan shirt.
I love jerseys. I love them so much that I have amassed a large collection over the years.
I have a deep appreciation for the space where sports and fashion collide. There’s a beauty in the aesthetics that I find appealing for some reason, much to the dismay of my wallet. To this day, I have collected well over 30 NBA jerseys from the Champion era of the 1990s.
But this is a Chelsea blog, after all. My love for Chelsea blossomed when I was a poor college student. Regrettably, I remember talking myself out of purchasing the 2007-08 away kit back then. I saved enough over that summer so that I could cop my first Chelsea kit at the start of the new season. I was not a fan of the collars on the 2008-09 home kit, so I went with the 2008-09 away kit. Long sleeves. Lampard 8 on the back.
I love when kit manufacturers change the color of the badge to blend it within the kit’s colorway. The 2008-09 away kit is as simple as black and white. That’s it. It’s just two colors. And yet adidas created a change kit that is both timeless and appealing in its simplicity. It also helps that shirt sponsors Samsung dropped the “mobile” part of the wordmark on the front.
I only “met” Chelsea at age 15, following a massive heartbreak with my original team here in Brazil, Fluminense, which lost the Copa Libertadores in 2008 in a similar manner to Chelsea’s Champions League final loss against Manchester United in the same year.
Therefore my first football shirt was not a Chelsea one, but rather this classic jersey from Fluminense.
Renato Gaucho comemorando o memorável com de barriga pelo Fluminense. HYUNDAI e REEBOK. pic.twitter.com/EMoP7Xa1eb— Camisas de Futebol. (@FUTCAMISAS) July 26, 2015
Back in 1995, the team were already marred by severe financial problems and they were steadily losing status and competitiveness among their peers — which would ultimately lead to their relegation to Brazil’s third division at the end of the 1990s.
But first, against all odds, the team beat their major rivals, Flamengo, to the Rio de Janeiro State Championship that year with a literal belly goal scored by Renato Gaúcho that got us a 3-2 lead late in the match.
This was an iconic moment in Brazilian football history, and the same goes for the shirt they were wearing which had Chelsea’s current sleeve sponsor, Hyundai, on the front. I used the shirt from age 2 to 6, and then held onto it as memorabilia.
Unfortunately I lost it when I moved to a new home during my adolescence. Still, I have fond memories of being one of the few kids on my street brave enough to use that shirt, while my team was losing matches to teams no one had ever heard of in the depths of the football pyramid.
Having grown up with a minimalistic wardrobe full of functional items — my mother ensured I was dressed nicely, but money was limited — I did not own an actual football shirt until I was at university and never really developed the notion of wearing them as fashion items. (Wearing Chelsea-related fashion items is another story entirely!)
Of course we played a ton of football on the streets, between the hedge rows, over on the school grounds, in wind, snow, sun, and rain, but I just put on whatever clothes were ragged enough to be used for going out and playing with the neighborhood kids. The worn -through Nike kicks I once got as hand-me-downs were amazing, I do recall. A different world, both literally and figuratively than my current suburban existence.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my football shirt collection remains largely functional, used for working out at the gym or playing in rec leagues when allowed. Most of my tiny collection also consists of shirts gifted rather than bought, with a used 2010-11 DAVID LUIZ 4 long-sleeve away shirt I found in Latvia (thanks Etsy!) four years ago, the day after he returned to Chelsea from PSG, the only exception.
That’s not the first however. The first is a 2006 Czech Republic kit with one of my all-time favorites on the back, Pavel Nedved, No.11. The 2006 World Cup was his last hurrah at international level, and I was there in Germany to witness it in person and accept the shirt as a birthday present from my parents, who were with me. (It’s red, so it’s in no danger of being worn.)
I’m too lazy to take a picture of it however, so here’s the first Chelsea shirt I ever owned as well, a custom 2008-09 home shirt, the most perfect modern home shirt in my lifetime (more on that later this week). It was also a gift, from my wife. I requested a DESAILLY 6 print for the back, even though my favorite player of all-time had left the club long before this shirt was even a seed in an adidas designer’s mind.