The football shirt is a pretty complex item. Alright, it might just look like a bit of polyester to some, but when you add in such factors as nostalgia, regional pride and… er… big shiny logos, then it becomes a whole lot more.
Rob Armin is a fully-fledged footy-top hoarder, and has managed to turn his passion into a full time career via his work at the aptly titled Classic Football Shirts – a shop that sells everything from the time-honoured icons to some very obscure gems.
We talked with him about his favourite shirts, how the internet has changed collecting, and his predictions for the classics of tomorrow.
We also borrowed a few of his shirts for a bit of a kickabout…
First things first, when did you start collecting football shirts? When did it go from you just having a few old shirts, to having a full collection?
I had shirts from as early as five or six as my parents would buy me the latest Sheffield United shirt, but what really triggered it for me is my old man started to get me obscure shirts. He would get them cheap and very few people would know they were out of date, so to say.
I recall the hedonistic days of the 90s when Stolen from Ivor and JJB started to carry random and rare shirts from Germany and Japan, from as little as £5.
Can you still get stuff cheap like that, or with things like eBay and that, are people a bit savvier these days?
I think eBay has taken this away to some extent in every field. But it can still happen, you can find bits in charity and vintage shops for sure.
How has the internet changed things?
The internet has made it too easy, but for completists like me it means that shirts that were once always going to be out of reach are now relatively easy to pick up.
Are more people into this stuff now?
For sure, it’s growing week by week. It’s a cliché but football is the global sport and with that comes a global fan-base.
It's good that you've managed to turn you hobby into a full-time job. You lot sell hundreds of shirts on your site. Is it hard to keep up with demand? It's not as if there's an endless supply of old shirts.
There will always be shirts we struggle to source, and then a holdall full of them turns up in someone’s garage or we find a box of dead-stock. There isn’t much we haven’t seen pass through our hands now.
There will always be ones we have had too that we wish we had kept. The aim is to keep up with demand as much as possible and source shirts that people didn’t even realise they wanted.
Is there ever stuff that's too good to sell? Stuff you'd want to hold onto?
Hundreds of items. I work with players buying the bits they no longer want. From those shirts we have built an archive that we exhibit the world over.
The prices of this stuff can vary quite a bit. What are the reasons why one shirt might be loads more than another?
It’s all about collectability. The rarer the shirt the higher the value and when you add numerous collectors searching for it this drives the price further still.
Is there one you still haven't found?
There will always be the odd one that is a struggle. But to be honest the most frustrating element is finding something and not being able to get it.
Do you have a favourite era for the shirts? They've definitely gone through a few changes over the years.
The 70s and 80s were great — really classy with big badges and trefoils. The 90s were bright and over-sized, and the 2000s were a bit of a dry spot. My favourite shirt is the France 2011 away — such a cool shirt.
I like the current World Cup shirts but I’m a little concerned about the rehashing of classics rather than the making of future classics.
What do you reckon the future classic of this World Cup is?
Everyone is talking about Nigeria, but they fizzled out. I have a feeling France will make the final and wear the away shirt, which is stunning. If they win it then it’s undisputable.
For me the best ones are France away, Croatia away, Nigeria home and Japan home.
Good choices. Have you found any oddities during your hunt? I imagine a few interesting things much show up from time to time.
We’ve found some really strange ones. We recently got an England 1986 shirt from a player with Birmingham 92 on the front. He was involved in the campaign to help Birmingham win the right to host the 92 Olympics.
A worthy plight. Why do you think some people are drawn to collecting stuff? Where do you think that mentality comes from?
I guess it’s just a compulsion, you get one or two of something, and then you go down the wormhole and 20 years later you are known as that guy who collects.
What else do you get up to when you're not sourcing obscure football shirts?
I collect records and I travel with work. So whilst I’m away I’m always looking for a record shop and a sport shop.
Sounds good. Any wise words you'd like to end this with?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you are wasting your time. Collecting is a hobby. I know people who don’t seem to have hobbies or interests, and I genuinely don’t know what their purpose is in life.
Thanks to Natalie Armin for the help with this.