Sport & Leisure History Seminar 2019 #4

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Monday 25th February 2019

It’s a real pleasure to be one of the convenors for the British Society of Sports History sponsored Sport & Leisure History seminar series at the Insitute of Historical Research. And this term we have a diverse range of speakers and subjects to pique the interest of the historically inclined.

Our next paper will be given by Dr Chris Stride of the University of Sheffield who will be talking to us about the fascinating history of replica football kits. Come on, we’ve all got our favourites, although I do hope Vinnie Jones in a Leeds strip isn’t one of them.

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The abstract for Chris’s paper is below … come along for polyester pomp and an analysis of the rise of the replica.

For anthropologist Desmond Morris, writing in his seminal 1981 study of football culture The Soccer Tribe, ‘the adornments of the followers’ were of much interest. However, despite the continuing presence of the scarves, hats and flags Morris described, it is likely that a similar study carried out in the 21st century soccer landscape would relegate them to a mere footnote beneath a single, overwhelmingly favoured item of match day clothing – the replica football shirt.

Child-size football kits had been packaged and promoted as replicas since the late 1950s, and after shirt designs were first copyrighted in 1974, became an increasingly lucrative industry. However, at this point in time shirts were not marketed towards, nor worn by adults. Using both quantitative analyses of data gleaned from 1000+ crowd photos, a similar number of programme adverts, and a survey of fans to model the growth in purchasing and promotion of replica shirts from 1975 to 2000, it is possible to identify the phases of adoption, from the trailblazers, through wider adoption, to today’s ubiquity.

Three key stages of adoption are identified. First,  the wearing of shirts by a small hardcore of fans in the 1980s, inspired by their popularity as cup final fancy dress in the 1970s, wardrobe inertia in those who had worn them in their early teenage years, and social changes in leisurewear, most notably the growing acceptability of sportswear as street fashion prompted by the 70s jogging boom. Wider adoption was, however, suppressed by the threat of violence at matches, a residual sense amongst older fans that football shirts were for children and players only, and the lack of any meaningful distribution network or marketing strategy to adults. Second, a late 80s boom, as the infrastructure for football’s future hypercommodification begins to fall into place, the threat of matchday hooliganism recedes, and the football shirt becomes a fashion item in a brief period of cross-polination between football and music subcultures and the euphoria of Italia 90. Finally the birth of the Premier League and a rapid gentrification and commercialisation of the game sees a new, older market for football shirts rapidly developed and exploited by focused marketing and design.

This is only the one of a number of series of stimulating talks to be held at the IHR in the S&L series. For the details of seminars forthcoming in 2019 go to the IHR’s website. The talks take place in the John S Cohen on the second floor – doors open from 17:15 and the seminar to start promptly at 17:30. I hope to see you there.


Academia History London Sport

f1insburyparker View All →

Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).

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