It’s hard to imagine a time before replica footy shirts were all the rage. I’m not talking just about match days either, where the stands are dripping with team colours on TV screens around the world. The fans in the bars are wearing them too; whether they’re watching or just bobbing out for a drink, football shirts have become ubiquitous with the UK. The staple of the Brit abroad, bad behaviour plastered over the tabloids is all most of us remember, but the replica is a fairly modern phenomenon.
At the start of professional football in the late 1800’s and for a good 100 years following you could only mostly buy shirts in packs of 12, for use at matches you were to be playing at. There certainly wasn’t a fashion culture around the shirt as leisurewear. The rise of hooliganism in the late 70s did give way to some adopted fashions on the terraces: the casuals were born.
Lacoste and the Likes
The formal wear that fans had been wearing gave way to a more brand-based culture. Fans were travelling throughout Europe to watch their teams play and, in doing so, discovering new labels. The terraces were starting to fill with Lacoste, Sergio Tacchini, Fila, and Nike; the uniform was Ellesse, Adidas, Lyle & Scott, the shirts and suits of old had given way to a new generation of fan who all wanted the newest, freshest gear.
It wasn’t until the late 80s that adverts would begin to appear for replica shirts in adult sizes, they had been previously available for children but now there was a new audience to target and a growing request for clubs to release replicas. The decline of hooliganism seemed, for whatever reason, to usher in the rise of the replica.
Perhaps it was England’s legendary performance at the 1990 World Cup which saw thousands wearing the England kit to cheer on the team. This mass marketing would increase massively with the introduction of the Premier League and now, finally, it was cool to wear your teams shirt.
A 2016 study estimated the value of shirt buying to Premier League clubs, each season, was around £265 million. Not bad considering you couldn’t even buy one 30 years prior. This shift has also seen replicas move into serious fashion and vintage. Non-fans who simply like the design and look of a shirt, or have nostalgia for another time, are now snapping up vintage replicas all over the UK.
Football shirt collectors scour vintage collections looking for the perfect shirt, paying plenty for it along the way, whilst the casual wearer might find a bargain at their favourite vintage shop. Here’s some of our favourites from the birth of the replica: if you come across any of them, then snap them up while you can!
Newcastle United - Home & Away (95/96)
These statement shirts couldn’t have come about at a better time to be a Newcastle fan, never mind a better time to buy their shirts! I was just going to include the iconic hooped burgundy and navy away shirt but the home shirt is just as iconic. The grandad collar, four buttons, and Newcastle Brown logo are a nod to the city’s working class history and it helped them almost, ALMOST, win the Premier League.
England - Third Kit (World Cup 90)
I couldn't not include this legendary design, oddly probably made more popular by Bernard Sumner than by the England team after he wore it in the video for New Order’s ‘World in Motion’. The striking blue diamond pattern is well sought after now so if you find an original hold on to it. It might not have helped us win the World Cup but it looks great.
France (World Cup 98)
France got their first World Cup win whilst wearing this beauty in 1998. Iconic moment in an iconic shirt, Zidane with the collar up, that deep blue that strikes up memories off that summer of ’98. Even if those memories for England fans are of David Beckham being sent off.
Croatia (World Cup 98)
France 98 was a great world cup for kits and this has got to be the most memorable with it’s 3D reimagining of the Croatian flag. Worn by football fans across the globe at the time, there’s still plenty out there to find a home. You may have to fork out but look at it! It’s glorious.
Brazil (World Cup 02)
Brazil and, in particular, Ronaldo absolutely stormed through the 2002 World Cup and they did so in the highest style. Nike’s Brasilia-yellow design with green symmetrical striping made an amazing moment, an amazing summer, more memorable than it already was.
Jamaica (World Cup 98)
Yet another classic from France 98; The Reggae Boyz startling journey to the World Cup was about as impressive of this dazzler. The bright colours and zigzag patterns mirrored the teams rise to the world stage. They became everyones second team in their short appearance so there’s plenty of these hanging around if you know where to look.
Manchester United - Away (95/96)
Voted by the Manchester Evening News as Man Utd’s worst ever kit this one was at the centre of all sorts of controversy when it prompted Alex Ferguson to change into their blue and white striped shirts midway through a game - he claimed the players couldn’t see each other. It holds some bad memories for fans but with it’s static grey and bold sponsor it’s definitely an eye catcher (despite Fergie’s claims of the opposite). Oh, shoutout to that Southampton shirt too.
Germany (World Cup 90)
There’s quite a few international shirts on this list right now but there is no way I could leave out this absolute icon from Italia 90. Despite English reservations (kindly put) about the German national team there is no denying the sheer brilliance of this Adidas design - putting the three colours of the Flagge Deutschlands brazenly over dazzling white, four white diamonds peeking out of the front, there’s no wonder they won in such style.
I’m not one for superstitions but if great shirts equal great performances then we have a winner here. The Ajax team that went undefeated for an entire season and the whole Champions League just happened to have one of the most beautiful kits. Simple block colours and the vertical placing of the sponsor make this one an understated yet bold piece. Good luck trying to get an original!
Arsenal - Away (91/93)
Finally we have, of course for anyone who remembers, this Arsenal gem. The garish ‘bruised banana’ shirt with its thick zigzag pattern instantly evokes memories of the 90s. The club have even reimagined it in recent times however getting yourself an original is going to set you back a fair bit. One probably best for the serious collector.