Dylan Jones on football shirts

Last updated at 15:16 19 May 2007

Dylan Jones gets irritated with football fashion and hooligans: "The terraces used to be catwalks for gladiatorial fashion – now you can’t go anywhere without meeting a fool in a football shirt"

A few years ago there was a rather brilliant contribution to the letters page of a national newspaper, the gist of which was that women’s Olympic football was a completely alien game to the one we’re used to (ie, the one played by men).

"They did not spit every two minutes," wrote John Starkey from Stafford.

"They did not dive. They did not feign injury. There was no arguing with the referee. There was no deliberate effort to get an opposing player sent off." Etc, etc.

I would imagine that these women were not the sort to wear their football shirts to restaurants, nightclubs or funerals, either.

When did it become socially acceptable to wear a football jersey so freely off the pitch?

And I don’t mean playing kickabout in the local car park or going down the pub with your mates. I mean everywhere, all the time, with impunity.

It sounds a bit jumpers-for-goalposts I know, but there can be few more heart-warming sights than a chap playing park football with his young son, both of them clad in replica shirts.

But does dad really have to wear it to his place of work? Especially when his place of work is a hospital? And he’s a porter?

Sure, he’ll look marginally less ridiculous if the shirt hails from Italy, Spain or Brazil (yellow always looks good, unless you’re Norwich, of course), but he’ll still look like a chav.

And these men appear to be everywhere. We have just had the most idyllic family holiday, a week or so in the Maldives, at a resort called Baros.

As we mucked about in the warm, shallow water, with little to do but sunbathe and sleep between bouts of cocktails and gastronomic excess, we were vaguely aware of various Italians, French, Australians and Germans, swanning around and quietly keeping themselves to themselves.

It was like paradise, only with better food and better-behaved neighbours.

But having experienced something of an epiphany, we were brought down to Earth with an almighty estuarial bump when we turned up at Male airport for our flight home.

As I walked into the Gents, a shorn-haired Oompa Loompa walked out, wearing training shoes, three-quarter-length trousers and, you guessed it, an England shirt.

It was like coming out of La Scala only to be confronted by a drunken hoodie from Basildon.

Just why do some British men find themselves unable to travel abroad without a football shirt?

You can see them, slack-jawed and gormless in their gold chains, gold bracelets and gold earrings, in Dubai airport (the most unpleasant modern airport in the world).

If you couldn’t tell they were English by their calf-length tattoos, their knock-off Hillfiger shorts, their bellies and their inability to understand foreign currency, there’s no escaping the Number 9 shirt (possibly because they have problems counting any higher).

This is the wilfully ignorant face of modern Britain. A uniform that says, ‘I’m normal, I’m a geezer’, in as much of a normal and geezerish way as possible.

In the olden days when, week in, week out, hundreds of thousands of grateful, flat-capped Lowry figures would cram into Anfield and Old Trafford, the grey two-piece suit was the leisure uniform of choice, a badge of largely proletarian honour.

It may have been Burton, it may have been demob, it may even have been both, but it was definitely a suit.

By the Seventies and Eighties, the terraces had turned into catwalks, gladiatorial fashion shows where you showed off the latest urban street style, or more accurately, your new Armani, Tacchini or Fila.

These were places where your dress sense was analogous to your fighting prowess, arenas where you could be ‘taxed’ for wearing a too-trendy shirt.

In those days, wearing a Pringle jersey could really set you apart from the boys; the only problem being that you could often walk home without it.

But you rarely find that sort of imagination any more. Now that men’s fashion has become so mainstream that every potential customer has his own entry point into luxury-brand Valhalla, football grounds have become seas of complacency.

No one dresses up to go to football any more, not even the designer yobs of yore, and the hordes of obsessive compulsives who pour into football grounds these days tend to wear billowing blue jeans, nondescript trainers, lager tans and the ubiquitous football shirt.

The last time I looked there was no Hackett, no Burberry, no designer signage of any shape or size.

In fact, the last well-dressed punter I saw at a game was a large fellow wearing an oversized black-and-white ski jacket advertising a Northamptonshire curry house.

In my world, he shall forever be known as the Bengal Tiger.

No, the men who wear football shirts don’t just do it to show a) who they support, b) how normal they are, or c) how lazy they are; they wear them because they think it’s cool.

Which, my friends, it isn’t. There’s only one type of person who should be allowed to wear a football shirt, and that’s footballers themselves.

Ironically, as wearing a football shirt increasingly makes you look like a contented member of the underclass, there has never been a more acceptable time to wear a rugby shirt.

Because of the cycles of fashion, they no longer make you look like a demob Sloane, a Fulham estate agent or an off-duty royal.

Go down the All & Sundry these days and you’ll see that rugby shirts are being worn by one and all.

Wear a Chelsea strip, however, and you’ll probably be stopped at the door. And trust me, you won’t be asked for your autograph.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ

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