This article originally appeared in Future Sport magazine. Click here to read the 2020 edition.

Fans who flock to football stadiums around the country won’t have failed to notice the influx of retro shirts being worn on a match day by fans of all ages. In a world of social media and extreme tribalism, this relatively new trend offers a fascinating insight into a fan’s identity and how they relate to their football club. Here, Future Sport dives into the world of classic football shirts…

The Premier League and its mega millions has changed the football landscape beyond recognition since 1992. Huge television contracts have enabled it to become the most watched sports league in the world, opening up clubs to untapped markets of fanatical support.

While this is music to the ears of finance directors throughout the league, lifelong and local fans, who support their team every week and feel their loyalty is taken for granted, have found a new way to prove their ‘authenticity’. As the newfound football tourist wears the latest £60 Nike creation and disastrous half and half scarf, the seen-it-all Leicester City fan will wear the iconic royal blue Fox Leisure and Walkers Crisps shirt from the 1994 First Division Play-Off final.

Classic Football Shirts' general manager Gary Bierton.

The classic football shirt is the new black. At grounds up and down the land vintage shirts of former glories are donned by supporters of all ages; for some because it’s more stylish, for others it’s because their team wore it during an unforgettable cup run.

UCFB academic Simon Mitton began to dig into this new trend among football fans in search of why. However, his research was clear that the classic football shirt must be exactly that – a classic. Not a replica by the likes of Score Draw, but the real deal.

“There are lots of dynamics to buying a classic shirt,” Simon says. “It’s about connection to a club and the length of time you’ve been supporting them. Where were you when your team wore a specific shirt?”

As part of his research, Simon enlisted the help of Gary Bierton, general manager of Manchester-based Classic Football Shirts. The online shop is an Aladdin’s cave of goodies for football geeks and shirt collectors around the world, stocking thousands of shirts from clubs, countries and leagues everywhere. Set up in 2006, the company has blossomed into one of the leading classic shirt stockists, and is regularly visited by kit designers from the biggest brands in sport looking for inspiration.

Their research in this time has shown that their key audience is fans aged 25-34 that have loved the game for most of their life. “If you walk past someone on the way to the stadium and you see an old shirt you think ‘they get it’”, says Gary. “But I also think a lot of fans are very cynical towards their club and towards each other with this kind of ‘knowledge is power’ and ‘nostalgia is the authority’.”

Classic Football Shirts' warehouse in Manchester is an Aladdin's cave for football fans.

He adds: “When you first become a football fan at a young age, you’re completely blind to that cynicism that you’ve got 20 years later. That’s when you’ve hit that demographic where you’re then wanting to look back.”

However, there’s also the collectors’ aspect to rare and classic shirts. Where some like stamps, others prefer Panini stickers. However, the football anorak wants to get their hands on a specific shirt. “Shirts are like vinyl,” Simon says. “There are obsessives who want the whole range of kit, and they want the original. Vinyl is popular once again, but people don’t want the new remastered version of The Stone Roses – they want the original pressing from 1989.”

The 2019/20 season has seen teams whose kits are produced by Nike given third kits featuring the retro-inspired ‘Futura’ logo, with the American brand fully tapping into ‘streetwear’ and 90s inspired fashion.

Gary admits it’s hard to know whether current football shirts will have the same nostalgic appeal in 30 years’ time. It simply depends on how a shirt could take off and pull people’s heart strings.

“If you look at the Spain kit when they won the 2010 World Cup – it’s an away shirt,” he says. “Not many fans would buy that. Same with Holland and the 5-1 shirt vs Spain [World Cup 2014]. That’s a blue kit – who’s going to buy a Holland away kit?! But all of a sudden you find that those are the shirts that then elevate in value.”

It’s the same for even the biggest club sides too, he adds. “The fan that looked at the 1990 Liverpool shirt when they last won the league as the key moment has moved to the Istanbul shirt and that being the holy grail. It then moves to the Mo Salah final this year. The goal posts change and that changes the aura around the kits.”

To find out more about Classic Football Shirts, visit