What is flocking?

Once upon a time it was something of a taboo to get the name and number of a football player on the back of your football shirt.

Though many people still consider a personalised kit to be childish, there’s been a growing interest around name and numbers alongside the surge of interest in shirts more broadly. Naturally, many people have been drawn to classic shirts with the name and numbers of legendary players of the past, and the enduring appeal of Batigol, Ronaldo or Baggio has seen the price of some personalised shirts rising by the year.

For today’s Collectors Club piece, I wanted to explore a traditional style of name and numbers which continues to possess a certain charm. 


What is flocking on a football shirt?

Flocking is a technique which involves placing small fibres on a surface to create a textured finish. It’s a process that has been traced as far back as 1000 B.C.E., and over the millennia flocking has been used in a variety of contexts from the beautification of surfaces, to practical situations such as the need to create more friction or to reduce reflectivity.

In football, flocking became the go-to method for names and numbers on shirts. Most flocked name sets were flocked on a separate piece of material before being heat pressed onto the kits, rather than flocked directly on the surface.

When were flocked name sets used on football shirts?

Although numbers had been used on football shirts for a large chunk of the 20th century, most numbers used to be stitched on as separate pieces of material directly onto the shirts in the early days. By the same time player names became more widely used though in the early 90s, flocking was the go-to for many nations and clubs.

When the Premier League introduced a league-wide typeface for the 1997/98 season, namesets were made from a material called “Lextra felt”. Although felt as a material is not technically flocking (felt is made by pressing fibers together, rather than placing fibres on a surface) you’ll often see felt name sets discussed under the umbrella of flocked name sets, as the texture is very similar.

Lextra felt was phased out by the 2013/14 season, to be replaced by plastic applications. Today it is very rare to see a flocked name set on a football shirt.

Why are flocked name sets no longer used?

Despite the premium look and feel of flocked names and numbers, the practice was phased out by the mid 10s in favour of plastic applications. The changes were largely due to performance reasons, with flocked or felt name sets being much heavier than alternative methods.

Other methods like sublimated name sets also provide much higher durability through multiple washes; something which is particularly important for fans.

Can you still buy flocked name sets?

Yes, there are a number of independent sellers who specialise in printing including flocked names and numbers. Reputable sellers will even have original deadstock of the same flocked name sets as used in the 90s and 00s.

Recently, there have also been a number of outlets printing old shirts with original name sets. Some collectors frown upon this practice, but if the printing has been done with original materials and in a process faithful to how it would have been done at the time, there should be nothing to worry about from a value perspective. If the printing has been done shoddily or with modern name sets on a vintage shirt though, it’s worth pausing for thought if you’re concerned about things like value.

Phil Delves

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