George Best infamously admitted to spending his wages "on booze, birds and fast cars," but while this may be usual for a professional footballer, the typical fan squanders their money on, among other club merchandise, the prized football shirt.Since the commercialisation of the teams treasured tops, the sales of shirts has rapidly and increasingly skyrocketed; long gone the days when the only products on sale were bobble hats, scarves and claxons but despite the now varied market, it is the shirt that sits at the top of the monstrous global football brand.
It was in 1977 when Hibernian Football Club set the ball rolling to transform the usual muddy shirt into a global and heavily commercial business, when the Scottish club became the first British club to emblazon a sponsor upon their shirt. Across many fellow countries in Europe this pattern to advertise on football shirts was already common practice. By the 1980’s this tradition grew in Britain however the Football League did impose certain limits such as disapproving of sponsorship from cigarette companies in order to pacify some fans and the "non-advertising" BBC.
Some 30 years on, sponsors such as The Evening Gazette of Middlesbrough and similar small businesses have traded places with the global commercial giants. Today it is a mixture of mobile phone companies, gaming corporations and an invasion of foreign investment that projects the total value of Premiership shirt sponsorship to the incredible £70 million a year figure.
With five top clubs (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham) accounting for the majority of the overall sum, it is the Red Devils who hold the highest sponsorship deal in Europe. On the international scene it is the England and Brazil shirts respectively which reel in most sponsorship funds, commanding the two highest fees in world football.
The word absurd springs to mind when scrawling through the investment figures however for a football fan the cost of a shirt is almost an unnecessary number, as to purchase the shirt is almost an obligation. A must if you are a true supporter. The day beckons each passing season when the new kit will be launched. As eagerly anticipated as the first game, when the big unveiling day arrives all questions are answered. Material? Style? Colour shade? This is probably the only time when a guy will be more particular than his female partner.
Now many clubs often present a comprehensive range, as seen this year with Spurs offering a choice of four varied shirts, complete with different collars and colours. Which shirt to chose? Despite the high price placed on these shirts, some dedicated supporters and free willing spenders purchase more than one.
It is this that a person who is not fond of the "beautiful game", presumably doesn’t understand. The collection of shirts, which don’t appreciate in value and only last a season, may be a waste of cash for a usual person. But the feeling of sporting the team’s emblem upon your heart is what counts. Showing support, showing off. It is the spectators who merge together in a sea of colour, whatever the shade; it is the replica shirts which form the majority of a stadium. The tendency to buy ones supported club is not the full extent of the obsession. Many splash out on other shirts, perhaps when travelling to foreign cities as a souvenir or if you are particularly obsessed with style then a shirt to contemplate an outfit. This is where that filthy Sunday League shirt has transformed to become part of a complete attire. Football now equals fashion.
Another ignorant individual may suggest that all shirts are the same. Again incorrect. Not only have the sponsors changed but similarly have the styles. Sleeves alter, collars change, materials improve, now described as light weight and breathable. The most infamous and interesting design resulted in a points deduction displaying the ingenuity of the invention. Cameroon moved away from the typical top playing with no sleeves, then an all-in-one kit. The latter design being taken all the way to court after a dispute between manufacturers PUMA and governing body FIFA; resulting in a new law requiring separate shorts and shirts. Despite this conjunction, many football firms still try to impress with exciting and expressive ideas; perhaps cherishing and replicating the history or being bold and considerably tailoring a new approach. The idea of remembering the past is additionally significant with many shops providing a wide range of retro replica shirts, delving into the history books.
Furthermore today, with the ability to customise the shirt with name and number printing, a fan has more freedom than ever before. Whether displaying a superstars surname or a quirky message written across the wearers back, the basic shirt has transformed completely but the original sentiment stays the strongest.
Whatever the price, the style, the club; to don your heroes shirt is a magical moment. A child plays his hero, an adult relives his past. To boast about who obtains the most eccentric kit, who owns the most unusual strip, competing for idiosyncrasy.
To highlight the love of a chosen team. For style and casual wear. For proof that you are just one of the many billions of worldwide football fans. Whatever the reason, the basic football shirt has grown to become an indispensable aspect of society, creating a Football Shirt Culture.
By James Bailey