Interview: STRIP! Curator of National Football Museum classic shirts exhibition bares all on kit evolution

From Blackpool to Bayern, the new STRIP! Exhibition at the National Football Museum explores the bizarre yet beautiful development of kit culture like never before.

With over 200 classic football shirts on display, the new exhibition explores how our favourite kits have been influenced by different factors such as technology, sponsorship and fashion over the years.

MM managed to catch up with lead curator Jon Sutton ahead of the launch of the highly anticipated exhibition that he has spent over a year working on.

“I’m knackered, it’s been really hard work putting it all together,  but I’m really pleased with the way it’s turned out.”

Having worked at the National Football Museum already, Sutton explained how, in comparison to previous exhibitions, this one stands out from the rest.

“We wanted to strip it back a bit and look at the design, the fashion and the technology changes. One difference is that in other sections of the museum shirts have to be match worn, whereas this is more a celebration of the shirt.”

The colourful exhibition is every football kit fanatics fantasy, with a wide variety of  shirts ranging from the first ever German shirt to display sponsorship, to Cambridge United’s 90s themed 2018 away kit.

With so many shirts on display, the selection process for which tops made the exhibition was excruciating, as Sutton explained.

“We’ve ruled out hundreds. Some will probably disagree with the choices we made for our top 20 but the shirts all had to be themed, and some options didn’t fit with the theme. If it didn’t hit early history, if it didn’t hit sponsorship, it didn’t technology, there wasn’t room for it.”

One of the stand out sections of the exhibition explores the development of sponsorships, and how some clubs nowadays are changing their approach by supporting local charities and organisations through sponsors.

“I really like the idea of shirts having a meaningful sponsorship behind them, for example Blackpool’s ‘Get Vocal’ sponsorship which supports the mental health charity. I also quite like the look of a sponsor on a football shirt, which is why the section features throughout.”

Strip! Also delves into the development of women’s shirts, with the story of some shirts being more extraordinary than the design itself.

“In the Hall of Shame we have an Iceland women’s shirt from the 2000’s. The reason that’s in there is because it’s an XXL men’s shirt handed down from the men’s side by the football federation, which was commonly done for women’s shirts.

“It’s only really in the last decade that manufacturers have decided to change this and design shirts specifically for the women’s game.”

The exhibition is full of interesting and captivating shirts and stories like that, and with so much variety it can be hard to choose a favourite as you get lost in the exhibition. However Sutton still had a shot and picking his personal pick of the bunch.

“I quite like some of the 80s stuff which is quite plain, and my favourite shirt here is the France or Germany one from that era. I also quite like a lot of the shirts that are about in this current era.”

STRIP! Is now open to the public, and can be viewed at the National Football Museum which is open 7 days a week.

Images courtesy of National Football Museum, with thanks.

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