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?)
My 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.