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Collecting football jerseys in Kyiv

Serge and Polina had realized their dream with Stunner, a vintage jersey store; now they travel around Europe pursuing the same football passion

Collecting football jerseys in Kyiv  Serge and Polina had realized their dream with Stunner, a vintage jersey store; now they travel around Europe pursuing the same football passion

Stunner was Serge and Polina's dream, a store that could bring the love for football in all its forms to their nation by specializing in selling vintage jerseys from around the world. Then the Russian invasion of Ukraine made it impossible to keep their shop open, and Serge and Polina became two of the many refugees who found a new home far from Kyiv, continuing to work remotely amidst many difficulties on their project. Among the many countries they have had to cross is Italy, where they got to experience for the first time the excitement and culture of our football culture by following some of the first matches of the new league. 

"The thing that impressed us most about Italian stadiums were the supporters. The fact that stadiums are at least 80% filled and fans are wearing their team’s colors. Compared to the attendance in the Ukrainian Premier League, it’s almost hard to believe that people can be so invested in their local team. Also, each stadium that we’ve been to so far has its own unique atmosphere — matchday at Juventus Stadium has this family vibe to it, as a lot of parents take their kids out for a game. At San Siro it’s the chemistry between the Curva Sud and the team, you can literally feel the home field advantage in the air and the first question you ask yourself is “How can someone expect to beat them here with this kind of support?”. Stadio Olimpico di Torino is pure oldschool, this stadio almost works like the time-machine — we haven’t spotted a single fan checking their smartphone during the match and Curva Maratona was loud for the entire 90 minutes. Great vibes."

For Serge, his passion for football began because of Roberto Carlos' left foot. "I remember I was just fascinated reading articles in football magazines about this super powerful Brazilian left-back who had a killer left strike. My parents must’ve noticed it, because on my 7th birthday I got my first-ever football shirt — a bootleg 2001/02 Real Madrid with my favorite baller’s name on the back. Ever since that Roberto Carlos shirt, I was hooked. Any pocket money that I had was instantly spent on yet another bootleg shirt from a local market. Naturally, as I was growing out of my precious collection, the appetite for the new stuff grew along. Stunner is where it led me". 

Also for Polina love of football has firm roots: "Recently I found a diary from my teenage years where I documented my emotions on Shakhtar winning the UEFA Cup back in 2009. According to what I wrote I didn’t have the best of days, but then this victory happened, and it gave me the emotional boost I needed. That’s exactly why I love football, it can turn your day upside down. Before I joined Stunner, I was not that interested in football shirts. But then Serge introduced me to this world and I understood what’s so cool about them. You can create the whole look around a vintage football shirt and combine it with skirts, jeans, cocktail dresses and even high heels. So it’s fair to say that our entire stock is my collection".

Indeed, the football jersey has gone through a profound evolution, entering the world of fashion and lifestyle. A challenge that Stunner has chosen to bring to Ukraine as well. "True, and that’s exactly why we decided to start a retro football store in Kyiv. In our opinion, football designs are being unfairly neglected when it comes to wearing them casually. And meeting people in our store, we realized that a lot of them still see a football shirt primarily as something you could only wear to a stadium or a pub on a matchday, when in reality it’s so much more than that. Basketball jerseys, for example, made their way to the wardrobes back in the 90s, thanks to hip-hop culture. Football designs have a very rich history and deserve to be viewed as fashionable elements as well — that’s our main message with Stunner. In recent seasons this fashion shift is becoming more and more obvious with such loud releases as Adidas x Humanrace collab, or Venezia with their instant classics that are desired even by non-football fans. It’s a pleasure to witness this positive dynamic."

Their path, however, was interrupted by the Russian invasion, which compromised years of work forcing them to flee, leaving everything behind. It is a sadly common story in recent months, but fortunately their love for football helped them even during these difficult times by creating relationships that later proved to be crucial. "We came to Brussels just one day before the full-scale war began in Ukraine. Damien from Classic Soccer Jerseys was very kind to accept us in his office and provide us with all the necessary equipment to carry on with our work. As painful as it was, we had to close the store in Kyiv, but since then, we’ve managed to rebuild our stock here and continue processing orders."

"It’s safe to say that our business helped us to live through the first months and not lose our minds. We fully devoted ourselves to the goal of saving what we’ve managed to achieve with Stunner so far and were working 24/7 for that. Whenever there’s a crisis in your life it’s important to find a thing that will help you overcome it. To be honest, we’re very proud that in our case, it was the thing that we built ourselves."

Serge and Polina have certainly not stopped since they had to hurriedly close Stunner's physical location in Kyiv, finding new ways to pursue their dreams. "Recently, we’ve been trying to evolve from being just a retro football store into more of a media resource on football culture. Where apart from buying a vintage jersey you could also discover something interesting on this matter, find inspiration in other peoples’ photos or stories. We live day by day now, so it’s hard to make plans for the future. But as long as we’re in a city with the stadium and there’s a game on the weekend — we’ll grab our camera and be there."

Football remains a sport capable of uniting cultures that are different from each other but united by the love of the collective experience of the game, a force that even the Ukrainian league has decided to harness to keep a warring country united by starting the new season despite the many risks and distortions of playing while a short distance away there's a war going on still. "I see why they made this decision to start the club season despite the war — football was supposed to become a symbol of our nation’s strength and send this message to the entire world. But, to be honest, Ukrainian club football is not the best thing to send this kind of message with. If I had to describe our league in three words, it would be scandal, drama and farce. Even in peaceful times, it was not the most attractive thing to watch, not to mention how challenging it is now. In sports only one team has this power to unite our country, and that’s the Ukraine national team."

Polina echoed him: "I agree with everything Serge said above, sadly. One thing I’d like to add, so you can understand the whole picture — matches are being interrupted whenever an air-raid siren goes off. Which means that everyone present on the stadium must follow into a bomb shelter until there’s no threat of the enemy attack. And that may happen several times during the match. For example, it took 4 hours and 26 minutes to finish the match between Rukh and Metalist on the first gameweek, because the siren went off three times. It’s hard for everyone involved — fans and the teams."