Book Review: The Football Shirts Book – The Connoisseur’s Guide by Neal Heard

When it comes to winners and losers in the beautiful game, forget the trophies, the players, the managers, we all know the real competition is in the shirts. And this is a competition all fans get a say in. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing better than your team rocking an absolute beauty – even if the football on the pitch doesn’t match – and even more so if your rivals are sporting an absolute stinker. Undoubtedly, throughout the course of footballing history, there have, without question, been the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. Although, in truth, most football shirts are neither universally revered or hated – there will be some fans who think the bruised banana is the epitome of cool and others who think shirts couldn’t get much worse. But the thing about football shirts is that they will always cause discussion and debate, and Neal Heard’s, The Football Shirt Book adds brilliantly to that dialogue.

As a football shirt collector and a rather talented designer (his Newport County 2019/20 design deserves a place in this book), Heard is well placed to curate this collection and he selects some 150 iconic shirts that every collector should have or want. His focus is largely on the older shirts after 1966 which have had more time to reach iconic status, but there is a range of clubs and countries represented, with Stockport County lining up alongside Tibet, and Greenbank Under-10s, sitting side by side with Margate FC. With literally thousands of shirts to choose from, I don’t envy Heard the monumental task of whittling the shirts down to a book-sized selection, and inevitably there will be those shirts that fans will find missing. After all, whilst there is a degree of consensus in terms of collectables, judging a football shirt is subjective. The iconic label does help to some degree – who in their right mind could ever exclude England’s 1966 World Cup winning number or Brazil’s 1970 offering, but fans will certainly have their own opinions on which shirts should and shouldn’t make the cut.

The selection of shirts is split into different sections, including those that mix pop culture and football, those that have iconic branding and those that are chosen purely for their beauty. For me, the majority of these sections worked, but it was a shame that, perhaps because of sheer dearth, the politically minded section was a little lighter on offerings – not because I have any political interest, but the stories and aesthetics of these shirts were particularly interesting. Part of me did feel that it would have been nice to have shirt categories visually as well, i.e. hoops, stripes, colourways, and additionally perhaps dedicated pages for particular teams/nations known for iconic strips, but this is just personal preference. Again, purely subjectively, I wasn’t always sure on how or if shirts were ordered in a particular way and felt that a chronological order may have been useful in some instances.

The styling and design within the book are both great and each shirt is given substantial space with only minimal text to introduce it and offer some interesting titbits. For fans who are purely interested in the aesthetics of the shirt therefore, the shirts are clear and well-presented. Indeed, the whole book, in keeping with the sartorial focus of the subject matter, is extremely stylish, including page layout and colour, which really add to the quality of the book. In addition to the shirts themselves, there are some brilliant features which supplement the main sections, including ‘favourite five’ selections from various contributors, as well as interviews with a designer and collector, and I would have welcomed even more of these. I did think the ‘favourite five’ features could have been slightly better displayed with accompanying shirts, especially those not given much focus in the main body of the book, but the feature itself is a really fun one and one that fans can engage with and debate.

Indeed, one of the great strengths of this book is how accessible and interactive it is, so much so that you don’t even have to read the text if you don’t want to, to be able to enjoy this book – you could literally just look at the shirts. Although the book is pitched as a connoisseur’s guide, and shirt enthusiasts will probably have greater familiarity with most of the shirts featured, to me the book works regardless of your knowledge. In fact, for someone unfamiliar with a lot of the shirts, I think the book works just as well, if not better, allowing them to discover shirts for the first time. As something of a novice myself, whilst I have to admit that I disliked more shirts than I liked and therefore fail miserably in the connoisseur stakes, there were a handful of shirts I fell in love with that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t read the book, and I imagine most fans will find the book worthwhile in introducing them to at least one hidden gem.

A few points where I thought the book could have been improved included having more shirts from the lesser nations, leagues, and teams, but obviously these are not necessarily iconic in a wider context. Goalkeeper shirts, on which designers tend to let loose even more, are lacking – admittedly fewer football fans hanker after a No:1 shirt, but there have been a few iconic ones historically, albeit perhaps for the wrong reasons, including that England 1996 away monstrosity. However, as I said earlier, it’s clearly an unenviable task trying to whittle down the thousands of shirts on offer, and whether your favourite team is featured or not, whether your favourite shirt makes an appearance or is conspicuous by its absence, whether you love the choices or hate them, this book is a great starting point for anyone interested in the world of football shirts and wanting to not only learn about some of the most iconic jerseys in history but also sharpen up the sense of their own preferences.

So whether you’re a shirt collector or just a casual observer, a season ticket holder or an armchair fan, an England supporter or an Estonia supporter, a Premier League follower or a Primeira Liga follower, this book will certainly be of interest and will get readers responding, be it in agreement or disagreement with the shirts on offer.

(Ebury Press. September 2017. Hardcover 144pp)


Jade Craddock


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FA Cup 2010/11: Three – It’s the Magic Number

The great thing about January in the football calendar is the FA Cup 3rd Round. Some teams never make it this far and their fans are left to dream about what might have been. For those that have battled through the early rounds the adventure can take a further twist with a tie against a “big” club in the 3rd Round. Clubs coming into the Cup at this stage can view the competition as a distraction from their dismal League campaign or from the goal of attaining promotion. However you view it, like the Grand National, the FA Cup 3rd Round captures the attention of the nation.

Whether your club has won the Cup or not, fans have their own special memories. Fulham have never won the FA Cup, although did reach the Final in 1975 losing 2-0 to West Ham. Whilst the run to the Final had some highlights in a record breaking 11 game journey to The Twin Towers, my most memorable games don’t come from that season and may in fact seem strange choices. What makes them stick in the mind is that they both occur in a period of change and very much have a sense of foreboding, although for different reasons and in different circumstances.

The early 70’s in Britain was a time of economic strife and especially of rising inflation. One of the government’s methods of dealing with this was to cap pay rises. This measure caused unrest amongst trade unions in that wages were struggling to keep pace with spiralling prices. By mid 1973, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had encouraged their members to work to rule, which resulted in coal stocks slowly diminishing. This, combined with the effects of the 1973 Oil Crisis, drove up the price of coal. The Tory government under Edward Heath entered into negotiations with the NUM, but were unable to strike a deal. Therefore in order to reduce electricity consumption, and so conserve coal stocks, a series of measures were announced on 13th December 1973 by the government, including the “Three-Day Work Order”, more commonly known as the Three-Day Week, which came into force at midnight on 31st December 1973. What it meant was that commercial use of electricity was limited to three consecutive days each week. In January 1974 as an eleven year old I was too young to understand any of this. In fact nights sat without power listening to the radio and playing family games by candlelight were more of an adventure than a hindrance. Although I’m sure my parents didn’t quite see it in the same way.

Just five days into the Three day Week, it was FA Cup 3rd Round day. Fulham drew then fellow Second Division rivals Preston. Incredibly given the situation in the country, football continued pretty much unaffected. There were some knock-on effects though. Fulham like other clubs had hired generators to aid their electrical supply and I clearly remember seeing and hearing the machinery situated at the back of the Cottage. Games were also brought forward to 2pm so that less time was required for putting on floodlights. Programmes too were affected, with a four page black and white edition on sale. Nearly 7,000 turned out that day and the Fulham faithful were rewarded with a 1-0 win and progress into the 4th Round and a home tie with First Division Leicester City later that month.

By 1986 Fulham had dropped into the old Third Division and there was an air of crisis around the club. The promising side that missed out on promotion to the First Division, losing 1–0 to Derby away on the last day of the 1982/83 season, had gradually been sold off as the club had debts to pay. By now I was in my early twenties and knew it was a club in turmoil. Not only was the team struggling on the pitch, crowds dropped lower and lower and the ground showed serious signs of neglect. Therefore the FA Cup 1st Round in November 1986 came as a blessed relief from the doom and gloom of life in Division Three and crisis off the pitch. After a draw at Edgar Street a 4-0 win in front of just 3,562 at the Cottage over the Bulls saw Fulham progress to Round Two. By the time Newport County visited London in December 1986 for the 2nd Round fixture, the club was in dire straits. However, a 2-0 win over the Welshmen was secured and a glamour tie was hoped for in the next Round. Lady Luck had a chuckle as she sent Swindon Town to Fulham in January 1987 for the 3rd Round game and the visitors went away with 1-0 win. By this time with the club “gagged” as part of a property development deal to build on the ground, rumours about the future of the club became wilder. The reality was that in 1987 the club was perilously close to going out of business. However, this didn’t come to pass or thankfully did the ill-advised merger attempt with QPR.

Whilst today the club is not facing the crisis of that 1986/87 season, in 2011 all is not well at the Cottage as the team start the New Year hovering around the Premier League relegation zone. Thank goodness for the FA Cup 3rd Round….Bugger! Peterborough United at home – could be a banana skin! Whatever you team, try and enjoy this weekend…