Collector Series - Dan Andrews (shirthitsthefan83_)

Vintage Football Shirt Collector Dan Andrews (shirthitsthefan83)
Words – Dan Andrews, Photography – Walt Escobar McNee

For me, shirt collecting is like any main hobby – it’s the thing you think about the most. At work. Out and about. Anywhere. The place your head goes to in the quiet time. But for the many, it can never turn into your 9 to 5… It wouldn’t be 9 to 5 though, it never could. It would be all-consuming. So it stays as a hobby that will never go away; one that you will always feel defines you that little bit. Maybe it’s the unobtainable nature of the hobby that makes me love it so much.

Portsmouth Rail Social Club

Being Portsmouth born and bred, my allegiance was always going to be blue. And as the son (of a son) of a Pompey fan, I was fully expecting that thin, square present on my 8th birthday to be the glorious Portsmouth Influence home kit from that season – as worn in the heartbreaking FA Cup semi-final loss to Liverpool. But as it turned out I unwrapped an Arsenal 1990-92 home kit – it’s raised badge and sponsor, THAT fabric pattern, and THAT AFC detailing on the collar. It was glorious. All of it. And that’s when I became addicted to football kits.

β€œI don’t even like Arsenal, I support Portsmouth,” is a thought I remember – but I did love Ian Wright, and my dad loves saving money. It transpires that the 1991/92 Pompey kit wasn’t in the sale, but this Arsenal kit was… And in that moment my old man’s Fagin-like penny pinching demolished any sense of absolute tribalism I should feel for any team’s colours (excluding Scummers and Genoa of course – I have standards). This just opened my mind to the design, the look and feel of the shirts, the colours and the patterns.

I don’t think I picked up Optimus Prime again.

Vintage Football Shirt Collector Dan Andrews

Some time later in life those two worlds would collide again. In 2005 Arsenal came to town – the β€œInvincibles” side had been held twice by Portsmouth two years before, and leading up to this game Thierry Henry referenced Portsmouth as the hardest of fixtures in that historic season… Fratton Park quickly showed it’s appreciation, singing for Henry a few times in following games – cementing a love affair between Pompey and Thierry that culminated in the great man donning Lua Luas’ shirt after the game in 2005 and applauding the Fratton faithful post-match in the centre circle. 

And, as a result, a 2003/05 Pompey shirt with Henry Fan on the back became my youthful effort of admiration for one of the best that ever played the game.

Vintage Football Shirt Collector Dan Andrews (shirthitsthefan83)
Shirt Collector Series - Dan Andrews

Since that ever-important 8th Birthday present, collecting evolved for me as a slow burner, picking up Pompey kits at the end of season sales or trapesing around car boot sales & charity shops with my mum and grabbing the odd bargain; I remember picking up the rangers 94 home kit at a boot sale being a particularly great moment as Gazza-mania was rife at that time.

It slowly moved on to picking up a kit on every holiday I went on. Even then my fastidious approach to original items was being honed, it would have to be a genuine shirt from a legitimate sports shop. By this time my mum and dad had separated – my mum had bought her own hairdressers, and was happy to spoil her only child. And, I shamelessly took advantage. I made it the only thing I wanted when we went away – only one shirt though, it once took me 5 days to pick between a Porto 2003 away kit and a sporting 2003 home kit while in Albufeira.

I thank my mum endlessly for these days; she just wanted me to have a great time and forget the divorce. I barely noticed it as a result, and I think this gave the collecting a real sense of adventure (in a time before mobile internet, when you had to seek out a local shop, ask hotel staff, buy a tourist map, spotting a bloke in a local club shirt and try to get directions to find woven treasure).

I was in my mid to late teens, I should’ve been on Estrella and Sourz in Malia with my mates but here I was stalking the back streets of the grand harbour in Malta with my mum and finding a 2002 Valletta FC home kit with its beautiful Konika sponsor and sleeve cuffs – the red and yellow badge, stunning. Looking back I felt like the polyester precursor to Dan Brown. I still remember the happiness from that shirt and the happiness my mum had seeing me with it.

I am not a cool person, but why should I care, I’m happy. Who would anyone be to deny someone else’s happiness.

Vintage Football Shirt Collector Dan Andrews (shirthitsthefan83)
Vintage Football Shirt Collector Dan Andrews (shirthitsthefan83)

Fast forward 15 years, it’s about 2018, I’m married to a very beautiful and understanding wife, and we are living in our first house together, a small two up two down terrace. I split the second bedroom with a partition wall so I could give her a walk-in wardrobe, and so I had a home office as I was self-employed fitting curtains and blinds (while telling myself I was a furniture designer – a passion project masquerading as a career).

As we were lying in the bed one evening, my wife looked to her left to the knocked through doorway that went through to the wardrobe.

“What are all the shirts doing over there?” she asked, before turning back to look at me, referring to the eight boxes of around 150 shirts on the top shelf of the wardrobe…

She had my attention.

“If you are just going to keep them in boxes then what’s the point?!”

My design brain switched on, it was a brief, a task that required a solution. eBay was now my payday treat, so the collection was just growing, and boxes are no means to display these works of art.

The next few evenings were spent reconfiguring a setup to the office room and drawing up a specially constructed unit to house and display the shirts, as well as shelves, hangers and space for shirt related art work. Within three months the metal frame units had been built and the space filled up. The new space wasn’t the only thing though, all of a sudden, something I had always loved was being brought to the fore, like best friends who finally fuck, get married and have kids.

Vintage Football Shirt Collector Dan Andrews (shirthitsthefan83)

And so, my house is a building site; it’s a Victorian terrace blighted by half a centuries-worth of momentary inspirations and modifications, all of which have left a trail of the worst tradesman-ship imaginable. Now it’s being stripped bare. The line in the building sand has been drawn.

The once-structured setting of rails, boxes and shelves I had in my previous house – a whole room designated to football shirts – is now gone. Reconstruction is the way forward now. The stripping of the house back to bare brick to start again is essential. It’s the mental balloon that’s being stretched and over-expanded to hold the hobby together in my brain.

The goal will be for the 600 odd shirts, jackets, training tops, shorts, boots, artwork (not to mention the endless complimentary panini stickers that accompany purchases), to be properly housed and displayed once more in their own beautiful custom designed space – My most prized possessions being my Portsmouth 80s away kits and my Sampdoria Asics sets. The Pompey ’83 away in particular took 10 years to find in my size, and the ’89 away was a lucky buy from a website in Poland – both were especially monumental ticks off the grail list.

Collector Series - Dan Andrews
Vintage Football Shirt Collector Dan Andrews (shirthitsthefan83)

The look and pattern of a shirt is always the initial draw for me. I’m a sucker for a pattern, but my practical collector’s mindset will always need the shirt to be in my size so I can wear it. That’s imperative to me – shirts are designed to be worn. To not wear them is pointless in my opinion.

Matchworn shirts, BNWT, BNIB isn’t important in my eyes, it’s about the design. Condition isn’t everything either… I want it to smell like cigarettes and the Gradinata Sud. I want a small pull, a bit of loose stitching. I want to know the kit has had some fulfilment… I want some truth in it all.

The balance of a shirt is important too, the right typeface of the sponsor, the cut, the sleeve cuffs, jacquard, the use of the different fabrics – it all counts. Maybe the sense of nostalgia is in there too; a feeling of the moment of that kit, the players, the location of that club. This draws me to Italian kits a lot – that feeling of a bouncing curva, the beers, the pausa leant against a cafe counter… But the final test is how it feels in my hands and how it looks on.

These may not be everyone’s ristretto, but any creativity is viewed subjectively, everyone will differ. There aren’t any wrong answers, there aren’t any right ones, no one can tell you what you should and shouldn’t like. With the sheer volumes of new kits endlessly hitting the market, the choice is almost limitless, and so the grail list is never ending – much to my wife’s frustrations about my hobby, my hobby that will always be slightly out of reach.