Football fans haven’t always been able to buy the original version of their favourite team’s official shirt, you know? The game is now as much of a brand and business as it has ever been, so the demand for original football merchandise is huge. For a youngster in Italy though, things weren’t always like that and replica shirts filled the void. Here, Gino De Blasio casts his mind back to the days when finding a AC Milan shirt in Naples was near on impossible. The good old days.
By Gino De Blasio – @ginodb
It hadn’t been long since my family made the move to England. The summer holidays came around quickly, it was probably a blessing. As a six year old, football was yet to enter the everyday parlance that has taken precedence as a man. In the South of Italy, there are three things guaranteed to gain friends, start fights and have your nonna reaching for the rolling-pin; sports, politics and religion.
I was too young to understand politics, even today, for all of my studies, my ability to dissect information that would have left have me flabbergasted normally, I still can’t piece together the political landscape that Italy has carved out for itself. I would later discover that political alliances, geographical regions and populist culture shifts would make up for the hard-core Ultra fan bases of Italian stadia.
Religion, whilst important in my family, was never forced onto me. It was something that was respected, sometimes feared. A reality that exists to this very day. But I was the anomaly, Sport was my calling. In some way or another football, cycling, bocce (like bowls but more manly) became my vernacular. My Italian language skills, whilst remaining prevalent in the family home in the UK, was becoming further enriched every summer. I knew what Catenaccio, regista, bandiera, biscotto, Dai e Vai meant before I could recite my three times table. I still struggle with my three times table.
My summers spent in the South would open my eyes to football, and sport as whole. Moreover I would learn all about the dark side of replica shirts. My first appreciation of the marketplace would come via the town of Nola, through a vendor known to everyone in the area as, O’Pirat. The Pirate.
I must have passed his shop a thousand times, it’s a pretty hard place to miss. It was, to my recollection, the first place I ever heard a Metallica song, and, on the outside of his shop would proudly hang flags and banners of anything but sport. It resembled a culture emporium, on a shanty little street rather than a place that would become a frequent hangout over time. And yet if you were to turn the corner, famous brand names would line the picturesque town, windows adorned with the latest fashions, the Lotto shop with Franco Baresi’s top in full display was the only thing worth noticing; well, for me anyway.
I had, just the summer before, declared my love and allegiance to the Milan colours. A move which would leave my family perplexed and perennially worried for my safety. Maradona was god, street muriel’s were being erected around the Neapolitan suburbs, and his disdain for the Northern teams reflected the cultural divide that existed and still exists to this day. To say you a are a fan of a northern team in the south is like declaring you have diabetes in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
But this love came at a price. Buying anything Milan related in Naples was culturally unacceptable if not physically impossible. I remember seeing Juventus tops, but even in the era of Maradona, it was near enough a hard-fought battle for the South’s second team to get a fair marketplace.
And the South had, still has, it’s own problems. Desperately poor compared to the north, with a black market ranging from the usual contraband to the absurd. All of a sudden, out of cultural necessity and football secrecy, shops and stalls were sprouting la replica and it became as wanted as the original. Sizes made no sense, print colours were either too faded or too bright, the logo’s accurately mis-spelt. If you were going to own a replica it seemed, everyone else had to know about it. That was the reality of calcio in the 80’s. It wasn’t just Milan fans in these shops, Inter, Juve, Roma and Torino all had their place. It was like holy ground, no one was allowed to fight, ultimately we were all victims of supporting the ‘wrong’ team.
But as more summers came and went, my collection would grow. Originally I could only get the “home” kit. il Pirata would roughly estimate how much bigger I would get to keep one for me in the back of the shop. However, his supply & demand in the 90’s got bigger. I was now able to purchase the away kit. This time, the fit was slightly more snug, the logo’s, less embarrassing but still, it wasn’t the original.
La replica would eventually die a death in my home. In 2003 I moved to Florence for a study period; there, I finally had a choice. An original or a street stall replica. Admittedly, the quality was better now than ever before, but finally I could get my hands on a my beloved team’s real top. This would later bring me an inordinate amount of luck, something which I would then pass onto an ex-creative director I worked with. His son, an aspiring tennis player that I would hear a proud father talk of. In a lot of ways, the top which was my luck charm needed a new owner, and I couldn’t think of someone more deserving. Little was I to know that he was of course, a Liverpool fan.
Now when I visit the family, I will pass many a stall, and traffic light vendor who decides that I “need” a replica shirt, but I don’t. They’ve had their time and place. A knobbly kneed youngster to the awkwardly geeky teen, he was the one that could afford the replica who wanted the replica, just in case it got ruined in the tussle of English park games. The days of replica calcio tops were golden ones, but alight with memories of football inadequacies. Tops so big that they could have been used as parachutes, colours that faded so fast, the best high street cleaners couldn’t help. From a distance they looked like the real thing and to the fervent imagination of a six year old, they were the real thing.
Did you delve in to the world of replica football shirts? Buy them on holiday, maybe? Your parents brought them back for you? Give us your thoughts @talkingbaws or comment below.