The Beautiful Game: O Jogo Bonito

About 5 years ago, I stood with drink-in-hand at a bar in Dubai watching England play Wales. Euro 2016 was a bit of a low point in my “National Team” life but it sparked something in me. Something that Dubai didn’t have yet. Yeah, my wife wouldn’t understand but something that most football fans would lap up and yearn. The idea of RetroSportif was born.

Rocking a fresh trim, adidas Sambas and my England away shirt from Italia ‘90 (original I might add!) I was approached by a lad who had just shelled out 600 dirhams for a pretty lifeless version of the new “Three Lions” top. I think it is fair to say that he wasn’t particularly pleased about his purchase! The next hour or so involved me giving him therapy through nostalgia. We chatted through some classic goals, cult heroes, past tournaments and horribly beautiful shirts. After the game, I went on a Football shirt buying frenzy. I had always had my own collection and didn’t really fancy the rubbish that was being produced by the top manufacturers. It felt like the everyday football fan was being taken for granted. We were being offered merchandise that lacked imagination, but we were having to pay a hefty sum for the privilege. Nope. Like many, I wasn’t having it. I remember my dad wearing some belting adidas Arsenal merch. Why can’t we have it? You have only needed to look at the hype around any Gary Aspden inspired adidas Spezial drops to know how hot it all is. The LG collaboration. The jackets mate!  Football, fashion and music were closely aligned and still are. An opportunity for the working classes to break their 9-5 monotony and envelope themselves in a subculture. The UK movement was live. The UAE need it too.

Italia ’90. My first memory of a major tournament. Soon to be World Champions, West Germany, taking on our very own UAE side. The Germans went on to win the match 5-1 but they didn’t get it all their own way. 

I spent the next 18 months or so picking up stock and just learning about the shirts again. Spending evenings ending up in Serie A YouTube wormholes, watching clips about the UK casual culture, and reminiscing about my football experiences of the early 90s.  

Stewart to the right. Lineker and Howells to the left. Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is you know…….OHHHH I SAYYYYY……BRILLIANT!

14th April 1991. I am pretty sure this was the moment that I fell in love with football. What a goal! Gazza (legend) thumping in a free kick into the top corner of THOSE Wembley nets (they need bringing back) in the Semi Final of the FA Cup before racing across that carpet with his teammates in tow, grabbing at the screaming madman! So electrifying. So iconic. Strange response from an Arsenal fan right?!

It was the first time that I was absolutely devastated by a game of football. I had seen a fair few Arsenal games on the TV before during the 1990/91 season all of which had been positive and led to us going on to win the league that year. I remember just being absolutely fascinated by that Gazza goal and how it just grabbed me. Now as an adult I think I know why the goal made the difference but as a 6-year-old, I think I was just stunned how a game like football could be just so important to people who were watching it. My Dad, Uncles, and the fans I could see on the TV losing their minds. So visceral. So emotive. 

The Summer of 1991. Arsenal had just wrapped up the league title and the stadium tour remains a vivid memory. Look at that pitch. Iconic stadium. Oh I miss Highbury.

My brother and I sat on the steps of the Highbury entrance. New Arsenal Adidas kit purchased and in the bag all safe and sound.

My first live game was just after this in May when Arsenal beat Man United 3-1 at Highbury. As both a parent of two and having been to a couple of big evening matches recently, I think my dad must have been a lunatic to take me there! From then on, I was hooked. The programmes, the kits, the magazines, the TV programmes. I was invested. I’d nail my lunch at school just so I could get down to the playground first to play. At home, anything that was remotely spherical got the Robert Jarni treatment! I’d use my school bus money to buy Premier League stickers on the way home. Championship Manager stole a lot of my teens too! I’d sit in some lessons planning my transfer policy.

Wow. Look at this pair of absolute worldies! My first 2 Arsenal shirts as a youngster. adidas and Arsenal produced some gold back then and the partnership has returned in a big way recently.

When I was about 6 years old, my uncle was 20 and still living with my Grandparents about 300 yards from where I lived. When he was at work, I would take myself up to his room and sift through his ridiculous Subbuteo collection. I’d set up the stands, sit the people down as carefully as I could, construct the scoreboards, put the nets on the goals, set up the advertising hoardings, turn on the floodlights (yep!) and then write out programmes of the teams, a preview and copy fictional tables and results from games who went before. A dream afternoon! My Nan used to get Match magazine delivered weekly too and I would put the posters on the wall. 

Football was and still is an obsession BUT there is nothing quite like 90s football.

Another example of adidas just getting it spot on. Ireland and adidas were a wonderful partnership weren’t they?! That trefoil. The colourway. Oh I love this era of adidas merch.