For lovers of football, many of the game’s most famous and infamous shirts have the ability to tell stories on their own. Happy memories, sad memories, cup triumphs, relegation, or maybe just one special goal.
Neal Heard, a serial collector of football shirts and trainers, and a fine writer, too, has curated a collection of special jerseys for Jacket Required, to be exhibited on London’s Brick Lane. These unique artefacts of football culture will hang in The Old Truman Brewery in the fittingly arty area of East London for two days this week; Wednesday 26th and Thursday 27th of July.
Interestingly, much of the stories behind this collection of football history stretches further than the game. The shirts evoke memories of political and cultural checkpoints in time, as well as landmarks in fashion and music. This is a celebration of how football is a game of the world and a game of the people. Without fans watching, the connotations of each shirt would mean very little other than the results and statistics created whilst wearing it.
That iconic Dutch shirt of 1988, for example. It was draped on Marco van Basten as he scored one of the truly great goals of history, looping a volley from out wide into the USSR net at Euro ’88. The patterned, almost holographic stylings of this famous orange shirt tell stories not just of this goal and not just of the Netherlands winning the Euros in that year. Within the jersey are national pride and national football history. The first ever tournament won by the country after a long, painful wait. Losses in 1974 and 1978 were faded away and replaced by joy as those in this shirt lifted the trophy aloft. Netherlands emerged as a footballing force in the 1970s, with Cruyff and company holding their own and more against much bigger, traditionally stronger nations like rivals, Germany. Defeat to them in a World Cup final prevented the nation from proving just how far they had come. 1988’s victory over the enormity of USSR, proved just how much footballing talent is packed into the small country.Yet, nearly thirty years on, this remains the only major trophy for the Oranje. Now, the shirt looks like a reminder of the past success, adding pressure on the present and reminding the current crop of how much work they need to do. The days of Ruud Gullit’s famous dreadlocks have gone and the current, younger squad have a tough task to create memories in their shirts of today.
Yet, nearly thirty years on, this remains the only major trophy for the Oranje. Now, the shirt looks like a reminder of the past success, adding pressure on the present and reminding the current crop of how much work they need to do. The days of Ruud Gullit’s famous dreadlocks have gone and the current, younger squad have a tough task to create memories in their shirts of today. This is just one story to be told by the many shirts in football history and by the many at this forthcoming exhibition.
If you’re a football lover in London this week, you could spend your afternoons in a much worse place than at The Art of the Football Shirt exhibition.