There can be a certain charm to collecting without any clear focus.
Adding to your collection over time is a satisfying process, as your wardrobe gets more and more colourful each passing month. Whether it’s through end-of-season sales or a big money trade conducted across multiple continents, one of the beautiful things about football shirts is that there are virtually limitless directions you can go down if you want to start collecting.
All that being said, there might come a time when you want to focus your kit collection. Perhaps you’re running out of space in your aforementioned wardrobe, or you’re wanting to maximise what you’re getting out of your spend each year.
Here are some tips on how to focus a collection no matter your preferences or budget.
Before we dig into some ideas for focusing, it’s important to take stock of what you already have.
As soon as you reach the point where you consider yourself a shirt collector (this can come about with basically any amount of shirts, even just a handful!), a quick sense check is important for many reasons. It’s especially important if you’re wanting to focus your collection moving forward, as you’ll struggle to set any sort of goals without understanding where you’ve got to up to this point.
If you’re the super organised type you might want to get a spreadsheet of some sort going. There are all sorts of benefits a spreadsheet will bring moving forward. There’s nothing wrong with simply making more of a mental list, though. The key here is that you don’tneed to gather granular information but rather that you want to find out what sort of shirts you have so that the process of identifying areas of focus (as I’ll run through shortly) can be smoother.
So you want to figure out things like, how many shirts do I have from a particular team? What about different brands, or leagues? Maybe you come to take stock of your collection and you realise you’re building up a strong set of shirts from Mbappé’s career. All this information, even if it’s generalised, is useful.
And now, the meat of this subject’s sandwich.
What are the areas you might want to consider focusing on? There are so many to choose from; this list is far from exhaustive. In most cases you’ll probably be choosing more than one area to prioritise, and often your areas of focus might change over time. Here are some ideas to get you going though.
Perhaps the most obvious way to focus your collection is to choose specific teams to collect shirts from.
We all gravitate to our own team’s shirts, even if we support teams who typically have unexciting home shirts (sorrySpurs fans), and in many ways even the most unfocused collections will likely have at least a few shirts from a certain team already.
If you want to focus your collection around specific teams though, you’ll be changing your mindset from just picking up the odd shirt here and there to filling in as many gaps as possible. As a Liverpool collector for example, the otherwise forgettable 2013 home shirt has some value to you. If you want to collect Germany shirts, don’t forget about the 2017 Confederations Cup design.
Why not collect from a team in your home country and a team or two from overseas? I’ve never seen someone collect shirts from rival teams, but maybe you can be the first (you’d be a braver person than me if you did!).
Another popular focus area is shirts from a particular league or country. This broader focus has a lot of appeal in comparison to the more restrictive team approach.
Many leagues such as the J.League in Japan are famous for football shirts, and if you were to focus on J.League kits you would be guaranteed to have an interesting collection no matter what team or year the shirt was from. Any particular league will also have the possibility of a league-specific sleeve patch, a nice little detail which can tie kits together and make for a great photo.
The sheer diversity you can have within a league or country is also pleasing. Collecting the same kinds of shirts is satisfying in its own right, but it can be particularly enjoyable getting hold of different manufacturer’s shirts or different club shirts just for the fact you can see a greater variety of materials, styles and details. A league or country focus helps you to have some sort of direction whilst also having plenty of diversity.
In a similar vein to focusing on a particular league or country you could look at shirts from a specific competition.
You often see collectors trying to collect shirts from a World Cup for example, and this sort of Panini sticker book approach is a really fun way to focus your efforts. Things can get tricky (and expensive) if you’re casting your mind back to an older tournament, and you can take things up to another level entirely if you want to restrict yourself to just buying match worn shirts from the competition, but the end goal of a collection of shirts that perfectly capture a moment in time is mouthwatering.
The idea of collecting shirts from a particular brand will seem quite alien to the average football fan, but for shirt collectors like you and me the idea is quite familiar.
Say you are partial to adidas shirts. By focusing your collection on adidas shirts you’ll be able to explore your passion for the brand through the medium of kits from all over the world across different eras. You’ll be able to see how the three stripes have been utilised in different ways, and get deep into things like fabric technology and how a brand’s player spec approaches might have evolved.
This is another broad area of focus which can be indulged in at any level financially. With bigger brands especially you’re guaranteed to be able to pick up some bargain sales items or scale up to some matchworn goodness.
As a sort of sub-focus area to the brands discussion you could pick up shirts from a particular template.
The word “template” inspires fear in many fans, but real ones know that a well-executed template can be a truly beautiful thing. Just look at all the variations of the adidas Ipswich template (Holland ‘88). In recent years more collectors have grown nostalgic for the memorable templates of the 00s such as Nike’s Total 90 or adidas’ Teamgeist. There are lots of options, and there are few pictures more satisfying than a range of shirts in the same template with an array of different colours.
In 2023 it’s quite common for fans to engage in football primarily through the lens of one particular player. You only have to look to the cult surrounding players like Messi and Ronaldo to see how passionate people can be regardless of who the player is playing for.
This shift in how football is consumed can also be seen to some extent in the collecting market. Collecting kits from every stop in a player’s career can be a fun challenge which, depending on the player, can bring a nice dose of variety. This variety ramps up if you include national team shirts.
One particular wrinkle with player collections specifically is that you will typically see namesets with the player as part of the collection criteria. This doesn’t strictly have to be the case, but in general the impact of a collection will be much greater if you can grab kits with your hero in the varying name and number styles they’d had over the years.
A lot of the time a player-centric focus area can act as a good sub-collection. Consider branching out this way if, for example, you have a tonne of shirts from a particular team already. After all, if you’re aRoma collector you probably already have most of Totti’s career shirts.
For one final idea, you could go down the artistic route and collect shirts of particular colours or patterns.
I absolutely love seeing how different shades can be utilised across a set of shirts. It’s a simple thing, but when you see a collection of green shirts for example you can appreciate the nuances of how a darker green might look in comparison to a brighter, more ‘electric’ green. Perhaps you’re enamoured with the recent blackout trend, why not start collecting blackout kits on your travels? You can have your own “top 10 blackout kits” in your hands before you know it.
This is another good potential sub-focus if you’re already collecting for specific teams, unless the colourway you’re looking to focus on is super niche. Having said that, it can be a lot of fun discovering clubs you never knew existed before because they play in a more obscure set of colours.
It’s never a bad thing to make some sort of wishlist once you’ve identified any areas of potential focus. This can be as simple as a growing list on your notes app of choice, or a spreadsheet much like we talked about in the ‘Take stock’ section.
If you’re comfortable using platforms like eBay, you might want to set up search alerts for specific teams or shirts. This is especially useful if what you’re looking for is rare or difficult to find from online retailers.
There are some great regular ‘Wanted’ threads on Twitter too, where you can reply with your hitlist and open yourself up to listings and offers from other collections. If you’re willing to play the long game, you might even gather a reputation as a certain type of collector over time by being active in the community, which opens up a world of possibilities.
There’s great freedom to be found in football shirt collecting. Any of the focus areas we’ve talked about today can be built upon or experimented with; it’s more important to enjoy what you’re doing rather than try and fit yourself into a box. Hopefully some of the ideas have been interesting, and if I’ve missed out any good suggestions send us a tweet@thefootballsc!
Collection of retro and vintage football shirts from the early nineties to the present day. All 100% original and shipped from the UK. Browse our shirts from Premier League clubs, Serie A, International and more.