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The temple of football jerseys: Classic Football Shirts

We visited the temporary store that just opened in Manchester: a collectors' heaven

The temple of football jerseys: Classic Football Shirts We visited the temporary store that just opened in Manchester: a collectors' heaven

In Manchester it's not as cold as I thought, I have already taken my ticket for the big-match scheduled for 7:30 pm, United against Juventus, and I'm happy to take a walk in the heart of the city, between the Northern Quarter and Spinningfields up to Barton Arcade, Deansgate. It's just past midday and I'm already in front of the entrance of the new Classic Football Shirts' pop-up: the world's best football jerseys (and not only) website has opened a temporary store in 'its' city just a few days ago. In fact, more precisely in Manchester, where everything was born and where they have their headquarters, including the immense warehouse, really close from the Etihad Stadium. On showcase, and of course, it's not a coincidence, there are two vintage sweatshirts of Manchester United and Juventus. Inside, however, the flow of fans, random visitors and more fans (especially Italians, who have just picked up their ticket at the National Football Museum which is just a stone's throw away) is huge but there's Paolo Brambilla, the Operations Manager of Classic Football Shirts that, despite the amount of work to do, is waiting for me.

I had already met Paolo in London last summer, in one of the four pop-ups opened by CFS in the city, all in a proximity from the other, located on the East side. And it's from that meeting that we start our chat again, even if Paul has to keep both his eyes open: the crowd is notably growing and shortly before my arrival he confesses to me that they have caught a thief who had just tried to steal a very expensive shirt, and they can not really afford it to happen again. We are in the room where the best jerseys are hung, a sort of museum where real collector's items are found, shirts that often cost hundreds of pounds.

For the occasion the main wall was entirely dedicated to Cristiano Ronaldo and until a few minutes before my arrival was the set of a video: there are all the jerseys that he wore during his years in England in order to capture the attention of all the people entering, and so that they can spend some minutes to fantasize about what the Portuguese has achieved in the UK. 'We have only been open for four days and the number of visitors has clearly exceeded the initial estimates, which were still high, and if this continues, it will force us to extend the deal to stay here, which ends in December' - said Paolo, happy but also worried about the possible evolution, which will force him to maintain very heavy working schedules. 'But the real boom was in London, especially thanks to the Rivington Street store, five minutes walk from Old Street tube station. It was opened during the World Cup, an event that has reached incredible levels of enthusiasm: we managed to sell over 6,000 England shirts in less than a month, and it was not surprising to see people show up with cash for an indefinite number of jerseys, bought for, who even know why?'.

Classic Football Shirts is a story that began in 2006, when a couple of friends started collecting shirts in the Fallowfield student house, in the Greater Manchester suburbs. As the timeline that is depicted on the walls of the store's ground floor shows, Doug and Matt started expanding the collection to create a true reality, and why not, even a fashion wave. The purchase of the first prestigious jerseys, the first office, the relations with football teams and important sports brands, collaborations (the one with Sheffield FC, for example) and important projects (some time ago we told you about Fabric of Football) until to reach the last step: open physical stores that live parallel to the website, where in 2007 the order number reached 500,000. Paolo tells me that he is the oldest of all in the company, even more than the two bosses who are younger, and expects that the expansion of the company may lead, by the end of the year, to exceed 60 people between managers and employees. Paolo explains to me which are the two great macro categories on which Classic Football Shirts are based: 'There are vintage jerseys, the most unobtainable ones, which have an immense symbolic value (and even more economic), and I immediately think Germany at the 1990 World Cup, and then there are those that are part of the 'clearance' category, all costing less than 20 £, they are the most disparate and they quickly sell out'. Both have a unique history and are sold differently. In the store there is the embarrassment of choice: in my hands, I take the jersey of the Hearts of OAK, and then again that of Columbus Crew, Olympiacos, Oviedo, Messina, Grasshoppers, Schalke 04 and so on. All crammed next to each other completely randomly.

Shirts, of course, are all 100% original (even if some customer is surprised when the shop clerk reassures him, maybe perhaps he's not in an official store and thinks it's impossible!) and are divided in an orderly manner: in addition to the classic ones we find in the appropriate room, and at the 'clearance' mentioned above, there is a section dedicated only to the English ones, one to those of the national teams and one to the two clubs of Manchester, United, and City. Although there's a continuous flow of people heading towards the cash desk with full hands, the stocks of jerseys seem never-ending, and Paul tells all those we see for sale come from: 'Many jerseys we buy from collectors of all over the world, which are often unaware of the value they have in their possession; many others we buy directly from clubs, brands or shops, and we often do him a big favor because otherwise, they would not know how to sell them, a problem that always happens much more often when suddenly the technical supplier changes'.

Sometimes I take some breaks from my conversation with Paolo and I also start rummaging through the shelves, zapping between one category to another. But what amuses me most is to observe the reactions of the people close to me, who sometimes stop even for ten minutes to contemplate a shirt: again with Paolo we talk about the sense of fashion in the vintage collections, the importance of aesthetics in the world of football (in my mind is this old article written by The Guardian) and above all the nostalgia effect that is produced by the shirts that are on sale: 'It's all an emotional issue - he explains - due to the fact that observing, and often even touching a shirt can evoke old emotions and old memories. You can think of the pitch where you played when you were little or the place where you saw the game where you saw your favorite player score, whose shirt at that moment is in your hands. We always say that you have to pay attention to customers' faces when they are not at the cash desk, but when they look at a t-shirt closely. Why should they buy an anonymous shirt from a Nike store when they can choose a jersey that can help them dream or remember something? Walking around the store I understand the philosophy of Classic Football Shirts, and part of their incredible success, because it is really the place where you can find the shirt you've always looked for, but also the one you would never expect to catch. In addition to the jerseys there is much more that surrounds you: a series of bucket hats from Lazio, posters of Juventus, sparse copies of magazines like Mundial and Glory, beautiful Jimmy drawings on the walls, the long Umbro jackets that were used by Man. United players when cold. What a beauty!

It was late, and before saying goodbye to Paolo, let's talk a bit about what they expect for the future: sales, as you will have understood, go very well throughout Europe (the English market only comprises 30%), but also in Asia and in the United States, and maybe it's time to push a little bit on the accelerator and exploit the wave. Some time ago it was rumored on Twitter of the opening of other pop-ups around the world, to please the many fans around the world who are tired of making orders only on the internet: Paul cannot reveal anything to me, but confirms that it's an idea that they dealt with concretely and that we could soon learn more about. I cast one last look towards the shirt paradise that's before me and I go out, of course, it will not be the last time.