‘They’re a fashion and an art item’: how lockdown caused a boom in retro football kit sales

Retro football kits

It’s time to rummage through your old football shirts – now your colourful jersey from the 80s or 90s may be a prized possession.

It might not fetch the £7.1m that a Diego Maradona jersey sold for last week. However, an increasing number are finding joy in turning forgotten jerseys into fashion statements.

The Classic Football Shirts (CFS) shop, located off Deansgate in Manchester City centre, is a haven for fans wanting a mix of nostalgia and style. A huge range of football shirts are available – from a 2018 Robert Lewandowski shirt to Liverpool’s iconic ‘paint strip’ get up from their 1990 title winning season.

CFS, started by a group of Manchester students in 2005, were one of the first UK businesses to start collecting and selling retro jerseys.

Those with a keen interest in football will have noticed the emergence of these type of outlets in recent years. Since lockdown, however, its popularity has escalated.

Josh Phillips, a supervisor at CFS, has noticed this trend.

“We do get a lot of people [coming into the] shop, saying ‘I started doing this in lockdown’”, he told me in an interview last month.

He suggested that football fanatics found themselves bored around the house and began discovering old kits. Phillips says that this, in addition to lockdown campaigns encouraging the re-use of worn jerseys, “probably has accelerated the growth” of the industry.

Last summer’s Euros saw many England fans opt for retro jerseys over the official version. Thousands of TikTok users now share their latest vintage discoveries. Now, official clubs are getting in on the trend. Recent away kits from Arsenal and Manchester United have been effectively reissues of 1980s strips.

The COVID enforced lockdowns appear to have been a perfect time for football fans to dust out their old kits – or rediscover classics.

Daniel Ranns launched his Arsenal themed own kit business, The Kit Room N5, during the pandemic.

Lockdown is the ‘number one’ factor in recent growth, he said.

During lockdown, he noticed retro kits on sale for a reasonable price. He decided to add some to his personal collection.

Ranns, with “nothing better to do during the lockdown,” decided to sell on the duplicates. Then, he began printing names and numbers onto old kits.

“There seemed to be a bit of a gap for people offering print services”, he says. “I now reckon I’ve done about 500 shirts all and all.”

Meanwhile, less than half a mile away from Deansgate, the Sachas Hotel hosted the Retro Football Fair in late March – a moving tour of vintage football businesses.

Tom Rainsford, who organises the fair and runs his own business called Circa 88 Football, concurs.

“There’s always been an undercurrent of people who like retro football shirts”, Tom says.  “What I found during COVID was that it came into the mainstream.”

According to the sellers I have spoken to, lockdown has highlighted the benefits of retro kits – namely nostalgia, fashion and prices.

Ranns points to the quick turnover in the current kit market, where designers are often required to design three new kits a year.

“There’s no time to build memories in those kits, there’s no memories attached. It becomes something that’s disposable. From that, people have harked back to kits they do remember and do enjoy. “

For Ranns, certain kits have intrinsic links with iconic matches of the Gunners’ history.

“For me, it’s the moments that happened whilst wearing those old shirts on the pitch”, he says.

“For example, Arsenal winning the league at Old Trafford in 2002, (Sylvain) Wiltord scored the goal, so I’ve got Wiltord wearing that shirt.”

Fashion is another factor, as distinctive, colourful designs hold more appeal than the safer patterns more common today.

Rainsford argues that, over the past year, buyers increasingly look at retro shirts to “look fashionable, to appeal to different audiences.”

Phillips says that these shirts are “halfway between a fashion item and an art item.”

“The fabric is different, the little details are unmistakable. The stitching of the badge, the font of the words. They are of a time and they are, in a way, unproduceable.”

Some retro outlets have been criticised for the prices of their shirts.

In the CFS shop, the aforementioned Liverpool 1990 strip was being sold for £350. Meanwhile, Celtic’s centenary home shirt was priced at £300.

Liverpool’s ‘paint strips’ kit, worn between 1989-1991.

However, Phillips was quick to emphasise the range of shirts and prices they offer.

“I’m the one who runs the Twitter for this shop, I see what people say about us!”, he jokes.

“You can get some amazing stuff from our shop between £10 and £20, and that’s not even brand-new stuff. “There are some really good deals to be had”, he continues, pointing to his 23-year-old Benfica strip which cost £50.

He added that CFS has more expenses to cover than the smaller sellers. “Behind every CFS shirt, there is an entire network that your average seller doesn’t have.”

Rainsford acknowledged that Circa88 can sell for cheaper prices than CFS because they have a smaller number of overheads.

There are a number of factors which may aid the industry’s growth further.

The most pressing is that official kits are sold at a similar price, if not more, than their retro counterparts. Liverpool FC recently launched their new kit to pre-order. An adult shirt, plus a name and number, will cost you around £84. And that’s before you consider purchasing away kits.

“There’s going to come a point where a family can’t afford to have kits”, Rainsford says. “Shirts need to be affordable. Doing it this way, they’re a bit cheaper, they’re authentic.”

At the retro fair, many retro Liverpool kits, some with numbers on, were being sold for £50 or less.

Phillips, meanwhile, pointed to upcoming events that could generate further demand. These include the success of English teams and the upcoming 2026 World Cup in the USA, Mexico and Canada.

“I can see the classic football shirts thing going and going. There’s a lot of room for it to go.” “I think there’s a huge market to be cracked in America. I think we could really see it take off.”

When it comes to football fashion, the future may well be the past – as long as you can accept some garish designs.

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