Life is looking wunderbar for a celebrated Tyneside company that makes replica football strips from yesteryear for nostalgic fans.

A blockbusting German film celebrating the country's World Cup win nearly half a century ago means big business for Team Valley-based TOFFS - (The Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company). When TOFFS negotiated a licence with the German football authorities to reproduce the white shirt worn by the squad that lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy, in Bern, Switzerland, in 1954, it seemed like little more than a routine piece of business for the company.

But that was to reckon without the German cinema sensation: Das Wunder von Bern (The Miracle of Bern). And when the film set box office receipts rolling, phones (and tills) were also ringing loudly hundreds of miles away at TOFFS, where staff had to pull out the stops to ensure prompt shipment of almost 1,000 replica shirts to German fans over Christmas 2003 and New Year.

"We worked hard to acquire a licence with the DFB in 2000," said German-speaking Bob Malone, who looked after international sales at TOFFS at the time. "But we had no idea just how popular the shirts were going to go on to be."

TOFFS's 30 employees, together with other factories in the North East, turn out thousands of replica strips monthly, but now the company had to put external suppliers on standby to help meet demand for the German super-shirt. That was because German companies had started to use the shirts for their own promotions, in the run-up to Euro 2004 and the 50th anniversary of the Bern success.

"The film tells how the football team helped rebuild a sense of pride after the end of the Second World War," explains Bob. "It follows members of the team returning from the armed forces to their families and then creating a football team from the ruins and winning the World Cup less than a decade later. "It's steeped in German mythology just like 1966 is for England.And just for good measure, TOFFS - founded by Arsenal fan Alan Finch more than ten years ago - also holds licences with many football clubs and associations from all around the world.

Alan got into replica shirts after his mum threw out his original signed Arsenal shirt, given to him by 50s legend Vic Groves. He sourced a local dressmaker and managed to reproduce a shirt in the style of the Arsenal Cup-winning team of 1950. Little did he imagine, when he quit the music business to go into replica football shirt production on a more serious basis, that TOFFS would end up with a catalogue of more than 1,000 items of authentic football nostalgia sold throughout the world. Many sales are achieved via the company's award winning web-site.

And with TOFFS shirts already worn in films such as Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and Best - the Movie, Das Wunder von Bern is only following a proud TOFFS tradition. At a time when the textile industry has been in decline in the North East, TOFFS shirts - which retail at around £30 - are individually hand produced at Team Valley and other suppliers in the North East.

Now, thanks to the company's emphasis on communicating with its overseas customers, TOFFS has also formed an alliance with German sports retailer Eckball and is negotiating rights deals with football clubs across Germany.

 "Being able to communicate with partners and customers in Germany has helped give our business a real boost," said Bob, whose plans for further internationalisation of TOFFS sales systems is praised by the Regional Language Network North East.

Zélie Guérin, Manager of the Network, said: "TOFFS initiative and the success it has brought them provide a great example for other small companies across the region." For TOFFS, it seems that football really is coming home - or Fussball kommt heim, as they might say in Deutschland.

 

 

 

 

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