Growing up in replica shirts

Posted by John Devlin

Replica football shirts gained Holy Grail status to me when I first discovered football at the age of about 8 or 9. Looking back, there is no doubt that in my eyes it was the kits that put the beauty into the beautiful game. Of course in those days it was only children who wore replica shirts. You hardly ever saw a grown man in the itchy concoctions of the time, (hence the immense rarity of ‘large’ sizes in vintage shirts on ebay nowadays) they were still content to parade their club colours with a scarf, bubble hat or, heaven help us, a rosette. But seeing kids in the park donned in brightly coloured football garb COMPLETE with the telltale authentic manufacturers logo or club badge was always guaranteed to draw a gasp of envy from me.

Growing up in Essex, naturally I was a diehard Liverpool fan (well, it was the late 70s). With my Dad being a Glasgow native I was also genetically programmed to be a Scotland supporter despite my Sassenach accent and residence south of the border. These two facts combined to ensure that my childhood sportswear company of choice was Umbro. My first brush with the polyester pleasure that was a football shirt came when I was 9 and Mum bought me a Liverpool jersey from the market. Sure I was pleased, but something just wasn’t right and although I tried to put it out of my head the absence of the iconic Umbro logo and the prescence of a curious oval Liverpool badge that was sold separately and later stitched on my ever-doting mum indicated to me that it wasn’t an official replica shirt. Consequently I never fully embraced the outfit as an authentic show of my loyalty and affection. The quest to own my own replica jersey went on…

But all that was to change one glorious Saturday morning in the early 80s when walking back from town with my Mum I happened to glance in the local sports shop window and noticed a mannikin sporting a genuine Liverpool replica home shirt that was marked quite clearly ‘half price’. Half price! OK, it was minus the Hitachi sponsors logo so it wasn’t quite perfect (although why I was desperate to publicise the brand of a Japanese hi-fi company wasn’t clear to me) but it was half price which meant there was a fair chance I could persuade my ever frugal Mum to purchase the outfit. She still took some persuading though but I eventually managed to win her over by saying it could be an Easter present – a new concept in our household as up until that date I had never received anything for Easter other than a Milky Bar egg – but she bought it and I could barely keep my hands out of the bag all the way home. On donning the jersey in the front room when I got home the shirt bought extra delights I hadn’t fully appreciated whilst in the shop. Not only was it long sleeved (in those days short sleeved replica shirts were the only variety you could buy off the peg, long sleeved versions were reserved solely for the special Umbro ‘Repli-kit’ boxed sets which also included shorts and socks – but more of those later), but the Umbro logo and official Liver Bird badge were made of felt and not the vinyl iron-on versions that normally adorned replica kits and washed off within six months. No more oval shaped sew ons for me, this was the real deal and I donned the shirt with pride, my face as flushed as the red of the shirt. This was the first Liverpool shirt I owned and I loved it. Had printed names and numbers been commonplace back then no doubt I would have proudly sported Dalglish, 7 on the back.

My joy however was not to last for ever. In fact it lasted mere months as while watching the highlights of Liverpool’s Charity Shield match against Spurs in 1982 my jaw hit the floor. The simple beauty of the Liverpool shirt that had been worn since 1976 was gone, replaced by an audaciously shiny, pinstriped effort. For a second I was devastated. In the blink of an eye my shirt had become old-fashioned and obsolete and I had fallen victim at this tender age to the now standard end-of-season replica kit sales stunt that has since caused many a Daily Mail reader to explode in anger. But then in an instant the horror faded to be replaced by wonderment and excitement at the magnificent new design being sported by Rush, Whelen and all that firmly yanked the all powerful Reds into the 80s. My love of the ever-changing world of football kits was now fully consumated.

Since those fateful few months I have owned several Liverpool shirts, all sadly now lost; the afore mentioned home pinstriped Umbro affair, the yellow pinstriped away shirt that was made from a curious sandpaper-like fabric that managed to draw blood to my nipples every time I wore it and finally the glorious adidas strip from 1985 – incidentally my first ever sponsored football shirt and my last Liverpool one. Back in those days sponsors logos weren’t the norm on replicas, especially if the brand was connected to alcohol. So desperate was I for this adidas marvel when it was launched I even compromised on the size and bought the only size the store had in stock – medium – meaning that I resembled Jan Molby in my prime every time I pulled it on (maybe Jan had the same problem when he bought his shirt?)

john-devlin2.jpgMy love affair with Scotland jerseys lasted longer though and I owned every home shirt from the Argentina 78 commemorative special (picked up second hand at a flea market a couple of years later) through to the last Diadora jersey, each one much treasured and most still knocking about.

But my ownership of Scotland shirts was also not without incident. The first jersey I owned (the Umbro 80-82, wing-collared diamond-trimmed marvel) was bought as part of a Repli-Kit boxed set – which, as I mentioned earlier, was a unique Umbro product that saw a long-sleeved shirt matched up with shorts and socks – all housed in a tidy package. It was actually bought for me from a small sports concession owned by much-maligned Scotland keeper Alan Rough in a Glasgow department store during a trip to visit relatives in the early 80s.

In theory there was no problem with the Repli-Kit concept. In practice it was very different.

The problem in one word? Sizing. Okay, maybe it was me, maybe I was an odd shape (maybe I still am) but although the shirt and socks fitted like a dream the shorts seemed to be a completely inappropriate size. Perhaps they had slipped in from another Repli-Kit box produced for a seven year old? To say they were snug is an understatement. I won’t go into detail but let’s just say that when my wife announced that she was pregnant a year and a half ago I breathed a sigh of relief as it was proof that although they may have brought tears to my eyes at the time, the shorts had not caused any permanent damage. The fear that had haunted me for nearly 25 years since I first perserved with wearing the Scotland Repli-Kit shorts every time I played football finally dispersed.


13 Responses to “Growing up in replica shirts”

  1. john Says:

    that scotland kit from espana 82 was indeed a classic!

  2. john Says:

    the 80-82 version of the scotland strip always reminds me of joe jordan! diamonds down the sleeve and names on the back!! as i’ve said the strip after was a favourite of mine and i’m english!

  3. Matt Says:

    Yes I remember that Scotland kit too. Sure beat the pants off the England one I had from ’82 with the wierd blue & red panels on the shoulders!

    The Liverpool red home & white away kits from ’78 though are still without doubt the best. I had my mum cut the number 7 out of an old pillowcase for the home shirt and everyone called me Dalglish when I wore it – perfect!!

    Loved that kit so much I couldn’t resist buying the retro replica a few years ago – the first footie top I have owned for 20 years…..

  4. Rich Johnson Says:

    My first ever ‘replica’ kit was also a Liverpool one (half of the family from there so until i took a proper interest in football, I supported them) and like yours it was also a massively unofficial one. I can still remember arguing with my mate who I now realise had the official version, both of us claiming to have the current kit. The fact that mine was justa plain red top with no badges or sponsors in sight didn’t stop me. The first official replica I ever got was a youth’s size Cov one from 86/87…the lack of sponsor bugged me, but they didn’t come with it on. I had to wait till we’d won the cup and struck a deal with Hummel before i could step out proudly bearing the name ‘Granada Bingo’…glory glory days!

  5. Alan Thompsett Says:

    Brilliant memory joggers:

    My first official Arsenal replice kit was a boxed umbro set.

    My parents brought me the admiral England shirt 75/6 (one of the best ever kits) – hovever they couldn’t stretch to the shorts. (I did get the socks). Instead of the official shorts I was presented with a pair of naff dark blue shorts – and here comes the best bit. Down each side was stitched a white stripe of “wonderweb” – and here comes the even better bit – half of that white stripe had been coloured in by red felt-tip!!!!! If you did that to a kid know they would be on to Childline – but I quite happily wore them (red stripe fadding dramatically with every wash) until my next birthday when I finally got the shorts.

  6. John Devlin Says:

    Nice one Alan – I just love people’s first memories of replica shirts. They often involve a slightly homemade angle don’t they? Unfortunately the ‘wonderweb/felt tip’ shorts probably wouldn’t cut the mustard with today’s brand savvy children!

  7. Andy Burton Says:

    My first replica kit was Crystal Palace 1969-70; Claret with blue pinstripes/amber trim. I still have the shirt and socks – although my parents bought claret with blue tops originally and had to change them. The shirt was sold ‘bare’ – the Crystal Palace ‘script’ badge was sold separately and had to be sewn on! I also have the original ‘Ajax’ strip – the first ‘nylon effort’ incidentally made by ‘Admiral’.

  8. John Devlin Says:

    I’ve heard this before Andy – that ‘replica’ shirts were sold but were essentially just plain jerseys with, as you say, sew-on badges. If you get a second to email over a pic I’d love to see it.

  9. john Says:

    our local sports shop sold ‘Manchester United strip box sets’. This was when admiral was producing the kit, the box sets wernt admiral though,carnt remember the make but the kit were red shirts,plain white collar,no badges,plain white shorts and black socks with red and white tops(2 white stripes instead of one) needless to say i wasnt pleased to recieve this one xmas!! luckilly i soon got the proper admiral kit for my birthday.

  10. John Devlin Says:

    Nice one John – I remember a few years ago my friend and his wife had a baby boy. My friend is an absolute diehard Gooner so I bought his son a baby version of the classic 97-99 away kit with the navy chest band – a Nike replica with JVC logo etc – for his first birthday. I was quite embarrassed when I found out later that my friend’s wife’s parents bought him a baby ‘Arsenal’ home shirt quite similar to the not-entirely-authentic version you talk about! No badge, no logos – nothing. I wasn’t trying to be flash, I just wanted my present to be an authentic replica!

  11. Kids Football Shirt Says:

    I can still remember arguing with my mate who I now realize had the official version, both of us claiming to have the current kit. The fact that mine was just a plain red top with no badges or sponsors in sight didn’t stop me.

  12. Ian Hough Says:

    I am a Man United supporter, so it was Admiral, not Umbro, for me. I remember getting my first ever real United kit for Christmas, around 1977. It was the first one to feature the stripes on the collars and cuffs. I can remember a succession of United replicas from the early 70s; the first being the basic white crew neck, the next was the collared one with the V-shaped white patch in the middle at the throat, and then the one that I got, which had the stripes. The V had been done away with too, in favour of a more relaxed spliced centre.

    British kits didn’t hold a candle to French ones, though, and a couple of years later everyone was walking round in Le Coq Sportif Saint Etienne shirts, which was simply AMAZING.

  13. John Devlin Says:

    Hello Ian – thanks for your memories! The early ‘replicas’ were just stock shirts I think weren’t they with separate sew-on patches. Once Admiral ‘invented’ pre-made replicas the whole football market changed. I also remember the LCS St Etienne shirts (with the horizontal pinstripes?) – superb shirt, love to have one now that a) fitted me and b) didn’t cost a bomb!