Football culture

The greatest football shirts of all time compiled in new book

'25 years in the making', "A Lover's Guide to Football Kits" by Neal Heard includes some of the greatest and most iconic football kits ever created.

The greatest football shirts of all time compiled in new book

Rarely does a book resonate emotionally as was the case when A Lover's Guide to Football Shirts arrived at the AS office recently. If the iconic Holland 88, St Etienne 76 or Napoli 90 shirts trigger a tingle of emotion and classic brands such as Admiral, Bukta or Patrick take you on a trip down memory lane then this is the book you've been waiting for.

However A Lover's Guide isn't simply a cheap exercise in nostalgia as author Neal Heard also takes time to explains the evolution of the replica kit industry, studies the introduction of shirt sponsorship and explores the influence of music on the world of football kits. This and much more complimented by page after page of some of the most iconic football shirts of the past 30 plus years. Heard's 130 page book has been 25 years in the making and the dedication to detail and passion for the subject matter is blatantly evident in a book that is an essential for all football shirt enthusiasts.

We caught up with the Newport (South Wales) native Heard recently as he explained to AS English the motivation behind the book and offered us an overview on the current football shirt scene with a specific look on the Spanish game.

What was the impetus and inspiration behind the book?

It all started for me attending the Italia 90 World Cup. I remember talking to complete strangers simply on the basis of the shirt I or they were wearing. We may have not been able to speak the same language but the Napoli shirt with the legendary “Mars“ sponsorship led to so many conversations about the merits of Diego Maradona. The game of football and by extension the football shirt is a universal language and part of modern day culture.

What do you attribute to the evolution of the replica shirt business from the 70's to the multi-million dollar industry it is today?

Despite the business having grown steadily, I feel that it's only in the past few years that the replica shirt has become a mass market high street fashion item. I feel that before then they were a little more niche and shirts were just worn by a smaller groups of fans. It's interesting to see the development in shirt culture in the US and how fans Stateside have embraced the idea of shirt culture and shirts as fashion items.

The book focuses heavily on shirts from the 80's and 90's. Is there a lack of creativty and originality in the current output of modern football shirt?

The main reason for not focusing on modern shirts is that they haven't had time to generate memories or become classics. I wouldn't say that the modern shirt lacks originality but what we are seeing are trends. We had a phase in the 90's of weird pattern shirts and the current trend trend to go for the simple designs. It's a cyclical thing.

In recent times Spain has become a major source of creating some of the more “left- field” shirts with examples including 2B outfit Cultural Leonesa's “dinner jacket” shirt. We also had CD Palencia's “muscles” effort... what's your view on these novelty initiatives?

It's a curious trend as Spanish teams are always associated with traditional kits with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Barça and even the Spanish national team kits coming to mind as beautifully aesthetic kits. I think the trend for the wacky shirts is just a marketing approach for these smaller clubs to generate media interest.
I'm a believer of not messing about too much with the first shirt in terms of colour and feel clubs have a little more license with the second or third shirts.

What are, in your view are three of the most iconic shirts in Spanish football history?

I've always loved Atletico Madrid's kit, the way the blue shorts offset the red and white stripes has always been something I've found hugely attractive and even iconic. The Barça shirt is unique and the azul-grana combination works so well too. I also like the simpleness of the Valencia shirt. I like the Zanussi sponsored Real Madid shirt in the 80's but have always felt that they have underachieved with their shirts in the past 10-15 years.

The book is subtitled Volume I, does that mean we can look forward to a second volume?

Yes, I think a second book will be coming out at some point. Not as a way of milking the idea but simply to include the many shirts that couldn't make it into the first volume. I've been approached by publishers to come up with team specific editions but that was never the line of thinking behind the book.

What excites you in the current kit scene?

I think all the brands are upping their game due to the huge profile and attention shirts generate and designers are paying far more attention to detail. I really like the Juventus third shirt this season with the zebra pattern.
I like the new Manchester United blue away shirt. What Le Coq Sportif are doing with the Saint Etienne range has some great fashion nuances and have always been an admirer of Danish brand Hummel and their work with shirts.

A Lover's Guide to Football Shirts is available from:

Amazon UK


Via Neal Heard