I’m not one of those fashion guys. I’ve never been stylish. When I’m out and about, I do my best to look presentable, and I wear stuff that I like to think looks alright, but that’s pretty much as far as it goes for me. The second I get home, I fling on a knackered pair of Sports Direct trackie bottoms and I’m basically in my happy zone.
I think that’s why I’ve always felt a deep distrust towards anyone who wears jeans at home. Jeans are, by definition, uncomfortable. Why would anyone wear an uncomfortable item of clothing to eat crisps and watch Netflix in? It’s downright suspicious behaviour, is what it is.
But even I know that now, at 39, I’ve reached a stage in my life where I can’t get away with wearing a football top in public any more. Olay say there are seven signs of ageing, but this is the one they don’t tell us about. I’m fine with the baldness and the diminishing eyesight and the weird new eyebrow hair, but my sudden inability to pop down to the shops in a Napoli away shirt is an absolute killer.
I should point out, before I go any further, that there are two exceptions to the rule: 1. When I’m at a football match, and 2. When I’m playing football. Unfortunately, it’s rarely warm enough for Scenario 1, and I’m rarely fit enough for Scenario 2. (Vitally important footnote here: football shorts are an entirely different kettle of fish, and remain my go-to bottom-half-wear when it’s sunny and I’m at home, or I’m going swimming, or I’m doing any form of exercise.)
But anyway, here’s the problem. I just love football shirts so bloody much. They’re quite possibly my favourite things in the world. Even after doing the occasional clear-out and shoving a pile of them on eBay, I still have loads of the things. And I still buy them, too. I recently bought an Italia ‘90-era West Germany shirt off eBay just because I’ve wanted one forever and I couldn’t resist it any longer. I’ve never worn it. It sits in a bag at home, with the tag still attached. But bloody hell, I’m proud of it. And knowing it’s there to come home to makes my days better. I barely look at it, but that’s not the point. I know that it’s there if I need it, and that brings an old man (me) some comfort.
For the football shirt fanatic who can no longer wear football shirts, holidays are especially tough. Right up until my late 20s, if I visited anywhere abroad that had a local football team, I was doing everything I could to get my hands on that team’s shirt. I still have at home an Atalanta top from a trip to Bergamo, a beautiful long-sleeved Benfica number from a city break in Lisbon, and – perhaps best of all – a Monaco shirt from when I went to see St Johnstone play there in a UEFA Cup tie.
There’s a snobbery aimed at people who choose to wear football tops on holiday, but I can absolutely see why so many do it. When you wear your team’s shirt abroad – especially if it’s a lesser-known team – there’s a sense of pride in seeing other people squinting awkwardly at you as they walk past, trying to clock what team you’re wearing. When I was 14, I went on a family holiday to Portugal, and at the airport I wore a particularly gaudy mid-’90s St Johnstone home shirt. While going through security, two armed Portuguese policemen hauled me out of the queue and pulled me to one side. The scene, as I remember it, was basically akin to the first five minutes of every single episode of ‘Banged Up Abroad’. But it turned out they just liked my football top and wanted to know what team it was. To this day, I like to think that those two guys have only heard of St Johnstone because of that fateful day.
Maybe I should ignore social pressure, and the hateful judgemental eyes of Joey Public, and just wear whatever the crap I want. Maybe I could turn up at work in full football kit – not just the shirt, but the shorts and socks as well. I could even treat myself to shin pads and boots, so that I could make that lovely clomping noise with my studs whenever I walk over to the printer or into a meeting.
Then again, perhaps the world just isn’t ready for that. I might just be ahead of my time. Maybe I’ll start with the Sports Direct trackies, and work my way up from there.