'Maradona's shirt sold for £7.1m - but I got myself bargain at UK football fair'

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The Retro Football Fair took place at the Custard Factory in Birmingham
The Retro Football Fair took place at the Custard Factory in Birmingham

Ahead of the 2023/24 Premier League season, supporters will be aiming to get their hands on their club’s new shirts.

A regular sight on the terraces, official merchandise is a huge business. An even bigger business could potentially be retro shirts. Some supporters are turning to the past to get their hands on much-desired shirts of yesteryear.

Just take a look at Diego Maradona’s matchworn ‘Hand of God’ shirt that was sold for around a massive £7.1million at auction. There can still be bargains to be picked up however, as I found at when attending a recent Retro Football Fair.

Having been made aware of the event on social media, as a football shirt collector, I knew that there would only be one place I was potentially going to pick up a stunning set of shirts. So, I jumped on a train, hearing the distant cries of my bank balance.

Taking place at the Custard Factory in Birmingham, I was struck by how many stall holders there were - and how many shirts were on offer. There was everything from modern shirts, to those from the 70s, whilst there were also collectables such as playing cards, canvases and even a programme from England’s 1966 World Cup victory at Wembley Stadium.

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Speaking to one of the organisers, Sam Cornish - the face behind footballshirts101 - the idea originally came from there being a gap in the market for a vintage fair specifically for football shirts. Meanwhile, with brand new football shirts costing on average north of £60, he claimed that is the reason why fans are now turning to vintage shirts.

Speaking to Mirror Football, he said: “I think it has a lot to do with the price of brand new shirts, I think it’s just absurd that they can charge £110 for the new Liverpool shirt; it’s just the same as last year with a little white bit on the collar.

'Maradona's shirt sold for £7.1m - but I got myself bargain at UK football fair'The Retro Football Fair took place earlier this summer

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“Other than that it’s exactly the same. People can’t justify that but people want to wear a football shirt to support their favourite team or nation, so they would rather spend thirty quid on a shirt that’s going to appreciate in value rather than a shirt that’s gonna depreciate in value as soon as you buy it.”

That is an assessment that another of the organisers, Tom Rainsford - otherwise known as circa88football - agrees with. “The price of new football shirts, so the fact that you’ve got the likes of Adidas and Nike who are offering some amazing athlete-specific products,” he said.

“But then If you look at the general fan stuff it’s not the same standard and yet the prices are still going up like 10% every two years.”

'Maradona's shirt sold for £7.1m - but I got myself bargain at UK football fair'The Retro Football Fair saw some of the world's greatest football shirts on display

The business of looking for a shirt to buy then started - and there was certainly plenty to take my fancy from all corners of the globe. Immediately, a teal-coloured Barcelona third shirt from the 2019/20 shirt caught my eye and was very quickly secured.

When looking through one of the various racks, I was also approached by a fellow browser, who asked about the shirt that I was wearing, and where I’d managed to get it - the 2021 Atletico Mineiro Manto da Massa effort in case you were wondering. The Barcelona shirt that I’d purchased was then followed up by an equally eye–catching Real Betis effort from the 2020/21 season.

After a few hours of going around the various stalls, and taking part in a competition to identify a random shirt - I plumped for a Rangers 90’s shirt - it was time to leave, but only before a stunning Napoli 1991 jacket had caught my fancy on the way out.

Ellis Platten - the face of the AwayDays YouTube channel, and a driver behind the football shirt space on the platform - believes such events are only the start for a growing community of collectors.

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Speaking to Mirror Football after the event, he said: “They are really valuable, especially to give independent sellers a voice. For people to go and chat and just see football shirts is an amazing thing.”

Speaking about why he thinks interest in football shirts has risen sharply, he thinks it's down to a few reasons. He said: “I think it’s loads of different things. I think fashion is a big part of it. It’s transcended, you’ve got people like Drake wearing a Juventus pink shirt which was quite a watershed moment.

'Maradona's shirt sold for £7.1m - but I got myself bargain at UK football fair'A number of shirts were on sale throughout the day
'Maradona's shirt sold for £7.1m - but I got myself bargain at UK football fair'I managed to pick up a 1991 Napoli jacket at the fair

“It’s the biggest sport in the world. I think a lot of it is nostalgia as well. There’s a lot of clamour for 90s and early 2000s kits which has been in my opinion down to people looking back on their favourite players.

“Lockdown was another big real spike in it. Collecting for everything just went through the roof, everything went mad. People realised that there was a real value to them. They’re wearable pieces that you can invest in.”

With my new (and old) shirts in tow, I headed for the exits delighted with the day's work - although my bank balance might not agree.

Daniel Orme

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