Q&A: Neal Heard
If you’re not one of his nigh-on-9000 followers, you’ll be glad to learn that Neal Heard’s Instagram is an excellent place to feast on a sartorial smorgasbord of sneakers and soccer shirts. Viewed by many as the-last-word on such, his 2003 published Trainers is the definitive book on trainer culture. This year, he’s thankfully gotten round to publishing the bible for his other great love; the football shirt.
A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts is a self-proclaimed high-end coffee table book that looks at the cultural and stylistic history of jerseys, and explores the special place they hold in the hearts of children and men-children alike. We caught up with him to get the low-down.
CL: Hi Neal, I’ve just finished reading your book and it’s excellent. As way of an introduction, right now my top five are; Tranmere away 96-98, Atletico Madrid home 97-98 with the Marbella sponsor, Tranmere away 89-91, Gremio Paulista home 91-92, and Croatia home 95-97.
NH: I like it! I’m getting more into the mid 90’s shirts at the mo. Stuff I wasn't mad on back then.
CL: Can you tell us what it is about shirts that inspired you to publish a book about them?
NH: When it comes to writing, If anything, I class myself as a popular culture archaeologist, and football shirts, as well as trainers, fall into this category for me. Something maybe over-looked or seen as an interest of the great un-washed, but which to me, have as much importance as many exhibitions in the grand galleries.
CL: Not all the shirts featured in the book are yours, but it was important to you to find people who did own the rest in order to photograph them. How did you go about that?
NH: The first thing was to think which one collector had a collection which had as many as possible of shirts off my 'hit list’. With the wonders of modern communication and social media, I was able to source a few people, and then simply contact them, explain me and my past, use the Trainers book as a means of illustration and then go from there. This lead me mainly to Jesse in Holland. He simply agreed to fly in with his amazing collection for a great weekend of chat and photographs.
CL: Sounds like a lot of fun. What did you enjoy most about putting the book together?
NH: In all honesty it was mostly just one long indulgent pleasure, slightly ruined by the logistics of orders, spelling and dates checks. But probably the best thing was getting in contact with like minded kit nutters the world over!
CL: Tell us more about your own personal favourite, the St. Etienne 1981 home shirt.
NH: Well, as you know, it’s very hard to have an absolute favourite shirt, but the St. Etienne 1981 jersey would be a constant top 5 member. The thing is, this isn't due to any team loyalty, as say Newport county would be for me, but solely because I have always been smitten by the aesthetics of the Jersey, and I suppose Platini and Johnny Rep only added to the glamour and exoticism.
CL: So what’s your own collection like?
NH: I have a small, ultra fussy collection of around fifty super rare or interesting shirts. To be honest, even with the dawn of the internet, I was always more interested in the hunt and chase than the kill. The very fact these shirts were rarer once was part of their attraction for me. You either had to be very lucky or had to travel, and the ability to buy shirts, or anything, with the click of a button and a google search takes half the fun out of it for me. So even today I don't buy as many as one would expect. I suppose, some of my faves, are from the early days of shirt swaps, which are some of my Brazilian shirts I swapped with Brazilian’s at Italia 90.
CL: What was the first shirt you owned?
NH: Would have to be the Liverpool 1978/79 era, and Scotland from the same time too, as I was a Liverpool fan as a kid and loved Dalglish. I Also had the ’76 Wales Admiral shirt, but not in ’76 I don’t think!
CL: You say one of the reasons for there being a lack of recent shirts in the book is because they haven't had enough time to gain cult status, so which shirts from the last 10 years do you think have the potential to become iconic?
NH: Well some shirts become iconic because of someone or some team wearing them or simply that they're beautiful or bonkers! Even though we have had some amazing sides, Spain and Barca for instance, who I adored, their shirts left a lot to the imagination and just haven't stuck. I loved the France 2011 Breton stripes shirt, and think it's so aesthetically pleasing it'll end up being appreciated even though the side weren’t. To be honest I think as shirts went full circle, as in back to classicism, they were quite a bit underwhelming for me. They are just about getting back to being interesting again.
CL: What’s your favourite shirt from the 2016/17 season then?
NH: Juve's zebra striped third strip out this season, that'll stand the test of time, especially if worn on some big occasions.
CL: Yes! I totally agree. So, trainers or jerseys?
NH: Got to be shirts now. Trainers have become so overdone and overhyped, and for me the shirts scene now reminds me of how the trainer scene was. More purists and less band wagon jumpers.
I still love a good trainer, but it's all become a little too easy and too ubiquitous in my honest opinion.
CL: Does your collecting go further than trainers and football shirts?
NH: I actually try not to collect anything! I think it's a bit of a sickness, though I could collect or collate almost anything. Without wanting to sound too worthy or Bono like, I actually think, what with all the world’s problems and poverty, it's madness to spend time and energy collecting shirts, trainers, records or whatever. Though I do love to collect them all to some extent, it's something I actively try not to enhance!
CL: There’s a very interesting chapter in the book about the culture crossovers between football and music. What music are you in to?
NH: Without being a total bore, ‘a bit of lots' could be applied. If I did my top ten albums or bands I would probably be a child of my times. As in the Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen, Dinosaur Jr. I also love Lover's Rock Reggae, and soul like Womack and Womack, etc. BBC Six Music is pretty near the mark, highly eclectic and open minded, but I can say I hate nearly all Hip Hop and Rap since De La Soul!
CL: Lastly, seeing as in the book you interview Juergen Rank, Senior Design Director at Adidas, have you any idea why they never get tempted to stick the old trefoil logo on kits every-now-and-then?
NH: [Laughs] I actually spoke to the Adi designers about this, and they totally get it, but to be honest the more they push the performance logo, the more I am starting to like that too, when I had been staunchly against it for most of my life.
To buy either of Neal’s books, or to keep up with his blog, visit his website.
Words by Tom Filer. Follow Tom on Twitter.
Below are some of the music related shirts from the book: