We caught up with Neal Heard, author of books you probably already own Trainers and A Lover’s Guide To Football Shirts, and Nikita Jayasuriya, Global Director, Head of Team Sports at Avery Dennison, the official name and number supplier for F.C. Barcelona, at the World Football Summit in Madrid to talk about the third shirts and their ever increasingly importance…
SAM: When I was growing up you didn’t wear colours to games and I know it was like that for decades before that, it’d be out-of-towners and tourists would wear that sort of stuff, now that people are more openly into football shirts – new and old – do you think it’ll encourage more people to wear their club colours?
NEAL: Well yeah, I think they could if they continue going down the right routes. You know, I think the thing I’d first say is there is still a culture of club colours. The same people that always wore them are still wearing them. I mean if you go to a game there’s probably 30 or 40% of the fans…
SAM: Probably more than that.
NEAL: Yeah, they’ll be in kits. It hasn’t gone away and is unlikely to. That’s why I’ve been saying that clubs shouldn’t be scared of scaring those guys away [with new designs], as they’re the kind of guys where they think: ‘A club kit’s a fucking club kit, isn’t it?’’ If it’s West Ham, as long as it’s claret and blue, people will buy and wear it. You’re always gonna have that set that don’t give a shit. I think with dressers or hooligans or casuals or whatever you want to call them, they won’t ever get back into wearing club shirts. They just won’t.
NIKITA: Those people are an ageing generation, though, wouldn’t you say?
NEAL: Well, they are but they’re still there.
SAM: You’d be surprised: there’s a lot of 13-or-14-year-olds that still take a lot of reference points from casual culture.
NEAL: Yeah, I don’t think casuals will ever wear the club kits but that doesn’t mean if you started to make come they wouldn’t come. I reckon there will come a time when, like, Paul Smith or whoever makes a shirt and literally becomes the manufacturer for one of the teams. Like with the Jordan stuff at PSG. Then, all of a sudden you have people who you think would never be seen dead in those colours would be wearing it.
SAM: Maybe it’s about rethinking those groups – casuals and the shirt-wearing-tourists – and aiming at something in between.
NIKITA: I think that’s right. I’m not sure how limited a release the Jordan PSG kit will be, but, you know, it’s the third kit, a later release, a bit more pricey, maybe a bit more out of reach, I guess, and that appeals to a different kind of fan. Look at United with the pink kit they’ve brought out. Clubs seem to be really going into these third kits, where they can really experiment and be pushing it with, and I think it’s something we’ve never seen before. With PSG, it’s Nike for the first and second kit, and then Jordan for the third – they’re part of the same company but consider themselves a different brand. They don’t like to cross pollinate a lot. Maybe that will lead to a brand using an outside manufacturer Paul Smith to design the third kit.
NEAL: I think they’ll all exist together: you’ll have the hats-and-scarves lot who don’t really give a shit, the trendy lot all wearing some bespoke Avery Dennison gear with a badge that’s been altered, and then you’ll have another lot that like it because of the brand, whether it’s Jordan or Paul Smith on it. They can all coexist. I mean I used to buy shirts but I’d never wear them to the game, I’d just wear them at five-a-side.
SAM: How important is 5-a-side to football shirt culture? People love to show that they’ve been on eBay for a long, long time finding their Eritrea away shirt.
NEAL: It’s huge. There’s bit of the retro thing, what I looked at in my book: that’s sort of your traditional way of being a football shirt digger. You love football shirts and maybe think about what you wear at five-a-side because you want your mates to say ‘Ah, that’s Cali Cali’. But I think what’s coming along today is this sort of new thing, something that’s another level again.
NIKITA: Going back to PSG again, where they did that collaboration with Koche, a high fashion brand and they’re going down the catwalk in Paris Fashion Week with a bespoke PSG capsule, all of a sudden its raising that brand to another level. It’s just perfect timing for that. You could buy football shirts at Selfridges now, and that’s the difference: you used to buy it at JD Sports or JJB Sports, and now its boutique fashion shops, too.
NEAL: They’re being clever, aren’t they? They’re keeping the home kits to make sure make traditionalists don’t get upset, and then using the third to say ‘Oh, look, we have got this extra market slot where people want to see this other thing being done.’ It’s the third shirt but they’re wearing it in the Champions League. That’s the top of the pyramid and they’re wearing this third shirt.
Avery Dennison partnered with Neal Heard at this year’s World Football Summit to showcase the fusion of fashion in football and the future of football culture. Watch the video below for the full story.
SAM: Do you think that’s to appeal to a different audience then? A more international audience?
NIKITA: Well, definitely. I think the Champions League is international, and that’s the one thing everyone sees the most and the one people ask all the questions about. I mean it’s crazy that these third kits have flipped it on its head because now the third kit is the best shirt. It’s become the premium shirt.
SAM: I think what Avery Dennison did with the Atleti shirt was a really interesting move, too.
NIKITA: Yeah. We made a badge for each neighbourhood across Madrid, so you’d go in and buy your football jersey and then you’d choose your neighbourhood and put that on your sleeve of your jersey.
SAM: Do you think that’s something that you can see moving across other clubs and other cities?
NIKITA: 100%. I saw something similar with Huddersfield, actually. They did a supporters club one where they had a little logo with an American flag or an Australian flag, all these different flags, for the different supporter clubs. They were doing something like that that to appeal to a whole different audience and these people want to be part of it, but they live in Australia, for example. I think its something that people are definitely going to be into. I mean you’ve seen Man City and Arsenal when they were doing their global tour across America, they all had bespoke numbers on the back of their shirts, with funky patterns and different styles on there,
SAM: Do you think that’s the way it’ll go then? More and more personalisation, more and more specific to regions, trying to nail down different markets – like the home shirt will be for area X and the away for Y, and then the third is for a more international audience?
NEAL: Yeah i think so. I think that’s going to be one of the really big things. Like you sat there now going away for the weekend, probably won’t think about wearing something showing you’re West Ham unless its a tiny little pin badge or something, something tiny. So don’t you think the time will come where you can actually wear something that’s tidy with West Ham on it? Or Liverpool or whoever. And the stuff at the moment is pushing it that way, making more and more things that are actually tidy, to the point where you can show your club loyalties in ways that aren’t naff.
SAM: Do you think that this resurgence of club merch and streetwear and similar influences brought in are actually getting people excited about what football clubs are doing again? There were definitely a few years where it seems like nobody gave a shit.
NEAL: I think so. This is an example of where where we are ahead of the curve. It’s not often, in these days, that the brands are actually behind the curve ‘cause, you know, they are so often listening to us and stuff like that and paying attention. And I think with football shirts they were like five years behind the curve. There were some great shirts in the World Cup, but it’s not about just taking old shirts and reinterpreting classics, it’s about doing something new that pushes the boundaries. Despite the fact I’ve written the book on vintage shirts, I don’t want to see them shirts reinvented.