Sunday, 4 November 2012

Neil Cotton: Five shirts from my past

In the latest in a long line of excellent guest posts from writers far and wide, The Football Attic welcomes Neil Cotton from the blogsite Row Z. Neil's unearthed some long-forgotten football shirts from his wardrobe and here tells us how he came to own them and the memories they bring back...

The writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin once said that “Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories” and chaotic certainly seems a good word for the football shirt collection which I recently uncovered nestling in an unassuming, perfectly square cardboard box which had in turn spent the best part of a decade residing forgotten at the bottom of a wardrobe. This seemed to be a collection without a theme or any other sense of order, but as I unwrapped each shirt memories came rushing back as if each were a tiny time-capsule.

England (home, 1995-96)

The story of Euro 96 is a familiar and much told one; the time when football did not so much come home as come in from the cold wilderness years of the preceding decades. In the summer of ’96 it seemed football was truly everywhere and the success of the tournament played in the bright new stadiums that came with the Premier League era spoke of renewal and optimism. Labour would sweep to power less than a year later on the back of D:ream’s anthemic song ‘Things Can Only Get Better.’ Euro 96 also coincided with a transitional period in my own life. I had at long last finished school and was looking forward to the future beyond, but in the meantime my summer consisted of watching the games on TV, spending long evenings in the local park using the cricket blinds as oversized goals and curling in free kicks from a distance until the light finally gave out and it was time to return home and catch Jennifer Aniston in Friends on Channel 4.

Saint-Etienne (home, 1994-96)
Is it OK to develop an allegiance, however fleeting, for a football team on the basis that one of your favourite bands is named after them? I’m not sure either, but this is how the St. Etienne shirt came to be in the collection. St. Etienne (the football team) were once the dominant force in French football but whilst Saint Etienne (the band) reached number 11 in the UK chart in 1995 with the single ‘He’s On The Phone’, St. Etienne (the football team) were but a shadow of their former selves. They finished in 18th place and third from bottom in Ligue 1 at the end of the 1994/95 season, but they were spared relegation when Ligue 2 champions Marseille were denied promotion. The reprieve, however, would only be for one season and they were finally relegated to Ligue 2 the following season when they finished in 19th place. The shirt, perhaps fittingly for a club with its best days behind it, looks to the past with its lace-up collar – fashionable at the time, but strangely something you don’t see much anymore.

Southampton (home, 1995-97)
As a Southampton supporter, the mid-1990s was a miserable time, not for the growing realisation that in the new economy of football my club would never amount to anything but relegation fodder, but for the shirts designed by unfashionable kit manufacturer Pony. The lesson from this shirt is that retro and polyester don’t mix - though Umbro would later show how it could be tastefully done with the clubs 125th anniversary, but as a season ticket holder I was required to own this shirt and wear it week in and week out, pulling on the polyester monstrosity each Saturday morning with the same weary resignation as a teenager getting ready for their Saturday shift in Woolworths.

Millwall (away, 1995-96)
A dull day being dragged around Lakeside was made worthwhile by coming across this in a chain sports shop. In an age of the kind of identikit shopping experience ushered in by mega-malls like Lakeside, the only ever nods to localism were the one or maybe two shirts belonging to lower league clubs hanging alongside the usual suspects; the Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal shirts which you could pick up from Exeter to Edinburgh. For part of the 1995/96 season it seemed Millwall might join these big-boys in the Premiership, but for a spectacular implosion following manager Mick McCarthy’s departure mid-way through the season. At one point Millwall had been top of the league but slid towards eventual relegation on the final day of what turned out to be a poor season. Nice away kit though.

Feyenoord (home, 1994-1996)
It’s strange to think how much has changed in a decade or so. Just take this Feyenoord shirt; now thanks to internet shopping and sites like eBay you could probably find one for sale and place an order in less than 10 minutes without so much as moving from your sofa, but in the days just before the internet really took off this shirt was an exotic rarity which had to be tracked down and snared. I obtained it from Soccerscene on Carnaby Street - an Aladdins Cave of football shirts from around the world - which I discovered thanks an interview with The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton, himself an avid shirt collector, in a magazine whose name I have long forgotten. Like many of the shirts at the time it features a collar, something I think all football shirts should have – I mean would Cantona have had quite the same presence had he been wearing Man Utd’s current sans collar shirt?

Our thanks go to Neil for giving us his football reminiscences. If you've got some football memorabilia tucked away in a cupboard somewhere that you want to tell us about, drop us a line to admin [at] thefootballattic [dot] com and we could end up publishing them on The Football Attic!

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