«Take the Maradona shirt, for example, the one with the Mars sponsor. As a shirt itself, it’s plain and simple, but if Napoli had worn it during an average season, no one would hardly remember it, but it was worn by Maradona the most infamous player ever when Napoli were enjoying over due success, and as soon as anyone anywhere sees it who knows their football, they will think of the little Argentinian genius and the end of years of a hurt for a football mad city...» Neal Heard does not introduce any revolutionary concept when answering to my question about the iconicity of some football shirts. And besides, why should he? Isn't it reassuring that things will crystallize there, in our common consciousness, and become one with what we've always known? Probably yes.

Neal Heard, Welsh, worked as a brand consultant for some of the biggest clothing brands, and his work is made of real passion. Already in 2003 he had published a book quickly became cult, Trainers, dedicated to sneakers and the impact they had had on pop culture. Now he tries it again with A Lover's Guide to Football Shirts, a beautiful coffee table book, in which you'll find the main stories of the soccer uniforms of our century, accompanied by intertwining with the art world, music, advertising... In short: a trip in the fashion world applied to football.

Neal Heard's world Our interview with A Lover's Guide to Football Shirts's author  | Image 2

Getting lost in Neal's Instagram profile is an unmissable experience, a daily sweep in something you didn't know, and that will show you his love for the most visible part of the game in the world. I reached Neal over the weekend to talk about Italy, brand strategy and, of course, football.

 

Hello Neal, I’m glad to reach you for this interview, thanks for your time!
Hi Francesco, thanks for getting in touch and your interest. It’s nice to know the book is being appreciated all over the world, especially in Italy, a country close to my heart.

Neal Heard's world Our interview with A Lover's Guide to Football Shirts's author  | Image 0
 

What’s your relationship with Italian football and with Italy in general?
Well my Nonna is from Sora, so I am part Italian! Obvioulsy it’s a stylish country, and I was a 80’s Casual and knew of and respected the Paninaro scene. Also loving all the obscure (to us then) Italian fashion/sports  labels, like Fila, Kappa, Ellesse etc....But I think for most football fans, and especially people of my age generation (40’s) then Italian football culture including the shirts, left a deep mark. This was mainly because of a show named Football Itlaia, which was hosted by the excellent James Richardson on Channel 4, and this was the first time, UK fans were able to get a feel for and proper look at Seria A. Also, the league was at it’s most powerful and glamorous then, with great players, and Gazza with Lazio was big for the British.

I recently saw a picture on your Instagram: you’ve been in Italy and you digged a lot of incredible fashionable '90s football shirt, in particular from Fiorentina. Where did you find them? (I’m so jealous)
Haha, that was not all of them! I have been collecting jerseys since the late 80’s and some I bought at the time and some I have sourced over the years, either in vintage shops/sports shops or through swaps.

Una foto pubblicata da Neal Heard (@nealheardtrainers) in data:

Some time ago on nss magazine we talked about the appearing of the sponsor logo on the football jersey and how it changed everything. You also talk deeply about this in your book so I’d like to ask you: what do you think has been the main change drove by the introduction of the sponsor logo? I read an article about the Fiorentina jersey recently and how the Nintendo logo helped to create one of the most iconic jerseys ever… 

We would call the logo in your instance, the Sponsor, as in the company which pays to put their name on the teams shirt. But also as important is the brand logo, as well as the teams logo (team badge) all these features are examples of branding, and branding has become more and more important. Remember, most teams played without the shirt makers logo being on the chest until the 1960’s. Now we take overt manufacturer logo placement as a given. The examples of Sponsors has only enhanced this overt branding, and basically branding sells.
Surely all of us would rather our team was sponsored by a ‘cool’ brand rather than one which is more mundane or un-glamorous. This interest in the sponsors has been picked up by shirt collectors like me way before it became mainstream like today. In the UK the Inter Jersey with Fiorucci sponsorship was always loved, as we all mistakingly imagined it was the Fashion house, and obviously, with all due respect this doesn’t have the same pull knowing it’s a Salami supplier. I think the teams are missing an important aspect when they fail to take into account the ‘glamour’ of the team sponsor and the impact this can have on shirts sales and even the clubs allure.

Una foto pubblicata da Neal Heard (@nealheardtrainers) in data:

What are your standards in the evaluation of a shirt? I mean, what is that makes you say: “wow, this is amazing”?
Well it’s all different isn’t it. Good design is a must, but one man’s meat is another mans poison as we say, and fashions move with time. Also, it’s not just sartorially speaking, it’s the moment the shirt was worn in, the memories, these all impact on the importance and fondness we feel for a shirt.

I read your favourite shirt is the one from 1976 Saint Etienne by Le Coq Sportif. We, as nss mag, were in Romilly Sur Seine to attend a tour in the LCS factory and we could test how good they are doing shirt. But why did you choose that one as your favourite shirt?
Actually it’s the 1981 St Etinenne Jersey is the one in my top 5 (the pin stripe hoops with Super Tele Sponsor). This jersey makes it as, number one, I think it’s just beautiful design. Green is rare and the pinstripes and even the sponsors logo just work for me. I love LCS jerseys, and the logos great, but also it kinda captured the romance of football for me at the time, especially European football, Jonny Rep and Platini, even the name of the team, mystique dripped from the shirt for me.

Una foto pubblicata da Neal Heard (@nealheardtrainers) in data:

The whole football jerseys world is now living a kind of “reinassance” period, brands are more and more interested in collaborating with the football team and the jerseys are becoming trendy again. Why do you think is happening?
Again, time has passed , the game is changing and has changed, it has more hype now, it is truly universal, teams have genuine fan clubs around the globe. There is money and hype pouring out of the game and overt branding is having it’s moment and football shirts are the extreme of overt branding on one garment, the club bring their story and logo and brand, as do the manufacturer and then the sponsor, there aren’t many other garments where three brands work together for one, and on the backdrop of passion then it’s pretty hard to beat.

Neal Heard's world Our interview with A Lover's Guide to Football Shirts's author  | Image 1

Your book “A Lover’s Guide” was an incredible success, and if I’m right is now out of stock. What was the main purpose that drove you to write it?
I wanted to share the love.

What is rightn thinking on season 2016/17, your fav jersey?
I love the Juventus 3rd Jersey with the zebr
a stripe arms. I'd like also to mention the St Etienne Jersey from LCS . The ASSE shirt, is kinda opposite, as in it's classic and elegant and I love the new polo shirt style neck LCS have developed with the 'stretch' technology to finish it off. Great design.

Neal Heard's world Our interview with A Lover's Guide to Football Shirts's author  | Image 3
 

 

Neal will host a party in Milan - December 11th - to celebrate his book. We will keep you update!