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What to Wear to the Match: An exploration of Spanish supporter culture and wearing the kit, Part II

In this series’ second and final part, Mikeie Reiland looks at nostalgia’s influence at Atlético matches and football’s broader appeal in the fashion world.

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Club Atletico de Madrid v Valencia CF - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

“El escudo no se toca”

Based on what I observed in Madrid, Atlético supporters operate differently. They seem to wear the kit whenever they can. Since they take a lot of pride in being rojiblanco, they almost always choose the home kits (primera equipación) over the away kits (segunda), although they seem to make some exceptions for some of the dark blue offerings from the early 2000s.

Nike has tried to modernize the kit in recent years, adding some additional design features like jagged, diagonal slashes along the stripes and the chest. However, Atlético Madrid supporters seem to derive particular pride from their long-term support of the club. “Del Atleti se nace, no se hace” is a common refrain among the club’s fanbase. “You’re born an Atlético supporter, you don’t become one,” both in the sense that your family passes its love for Atlético onto you and in that you must be born with a particular set of values — hard work, humility, etc — to support Atleti.

As such, Atleti fans often opt to wear older kits — from the Luis Aragonés managerial era or even before — as opposed to the most recent jerseys with the Plus500 logos. Phil Kitromiledes, the cohost of the Spanish Football Podcast, mentioned that he often sees kits from the ‘90s, the ones with the Marbella logo, at Atleti’s home games. Atleti fans are creatures of habit, and the recent Nike home kits just don’t seem to do it for them.

Olympique de Marseille v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Europa League Final
Saúl Ñíguez of Atlético Madrid celebrates with fans after victory in the UEFA Europa League Final between Olympique de Marseille and Club Atlético de Madrid at Stade de Lyon on May 16, 2018 in Lyon, France.
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Perhaps that refrain — “you’re born an Atleti supporter, you don’t become one” — helps clarify the disconnect between the fans and the club regarding the new badge. Atlético have become a more global entity, taking a “Great Leap Forward” of sorts onto the world stage by signing a partnership with the Chinese Wanda Group and opening the Metropolitano. The Wanda sponsorship and a sleeker, modernized new badge seem calibrated to draw new fans from different markets — Asia in particular — which may conflict with the “se nace, no se hace” sentiment. During this past season, supporters collected tens of thousands of signatures on a petition to change the badge back and frequently protested during matches, chanting “¡El escudo no se toca!

“Hands off the badge.”

As of July 2018, some supporters still hadn’t made peace with the new badge. When the club unveiled their new away strip — beautiful, baby blue, perhaps a nod to the club’s Uruguayan center back tandem — supporters on Facebook weren’t having it. Some of the top comments:

“You’re just destroying our shirt and our badge. You know where you can stick it.”

“Another year in which I won’t buy a jersey. After everything that happened last year you all continue ignoring what the supporters are saying about the badge. At least consult us, no?”

“If you put the old badge on it, I’ll buy it. Until then, nothing.”

One fan just posted a picture of the old badge.

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Atleti’s fan base values tradition over change, hard work over flash and the old over the new. They’ll cheer Fernando Torres no matter how many times he blazes over and whistle Antoine Griezmann just days after he’s delivered a European title. There’s beauty in all that, but there’s also a dark side — an unwillingness to progress, perhaps, and a distrust of difference.

As an Atleti supporter, it’s impossible to deny the Frente Atlético’s foul history, which includes connections to Generalísimo Franco, Nazism and racism in general. You could read the controversy with the badge as a strike against the club’s attempts to modernize and globalize. (Here’s a more recent example.) It might be a bridge too far to say that there’s a whiff of xenophobia to the proceedings, but there’s more than a whiff of xenophobia about the Frente and it’s important to understand that ultra group’s context.

As such, supporting Atleti isn’t as straightforward of an underdog, working class, progressive story as it seems. If you want that narrative, you’ll need to hop on the metro to Vallecas, where the neighborhood club has returned to LaLiga after two years out.

As with the increased prevalence of kits in Spain, perhaps the explanation for the love of older kits is actually simpler. Our own Robbie Dunne emphasized the rebellion against modern football angle, and that Atlético supporters indulge in nostalgia more than most groups:

“I guess it’s a little bit like the Vicente Calderón and the pride fans took in that stadium,” he said. “It might have been falling apart, but it was theirs and they loved it. It was a symbol of what Atlético were before modern football took over. In a way, you could say it’s an act of defiance and solidarity against modern football. Football fans, in general, love nostalgia, and I guess it’s nice to wear jerseys with names of players like [Diego] Forlán on the back. Suppose it reminds them of a more authentic period.”

LaLiga journalist and “Hijacking LaLiga” author Euan McTear agreed with Dunne, remarking that Atleti supporters wear kits to demonstrate their close bond with their club.

“Personally, I think it’s a pride thing,” he said. “That’s not to say Real Madrid fans aren’t also proud of their team, but I think it’s natural to feel even more pride in your team when [they are] theoretically the underdog in the city. You naturally want to show your colours more when you’re the minority.”

McTear said that the badge has made a significant impact, as he knows Madrid-based Atleti fans who bought a new shirt this year. Instead of going to the club store, they went online and found shirts with the old badge. They didn’t want to be seen wearing the new badge because they didn’t want to provide their tacit approval of the change. According to McTear, hardcore Atlético fans see tourists and children as the target audience for the new shirts.

McTear also said that even before the badge, there was always a tendency to wear old shirts — especially since tradition has always mattered a great deal at the club.

“There’s a nostalgia to these old shirts, and I think fans want to honor the legends of the past, those whose names are on their back, like Aragonés, Simeone, Forlán and Falcao,” he said.

McTear referenced the early part of the millennium — that bust period that involved relegation — when Atlético’s squad seemed to turn over from week to week. When Atleti earned promotion in 2002, Fernando Torres was the senior member of the squad. As such, it didn’t make sense to buy a player’s jersey other than El Niño’s because he might have left the following week. McTear hears echoes of that period in supporters’ tendency to wear the old shirts.

Atletico Madrid v Valencia
Atlético’s captain Fernando Torres celebrates after scoring a goal during a Primera Liga soccer match between Atlético Madrid and Valencia at the Calderon on March 13, 2005 in Madrid, Spain.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In spite of the protests in the capital — and the “against modern football” narrative —Atlético’s shirt seems to be selling as well as ever, perhaps because the club has tapped into non-Spanish, less historic and more forgiving markets. Deloitte’s Football Money League reported that Atleti’s commercial revenue — sponsorship, stadium tours, merchandising and other commercial operations — rose by €17.3 million between 2016 and 2017, the club’s largest leap in that area in the past five years. While the team reaped the benefits of switching stadiums for the latter part of 2017, at least some of that revenue came from merchandise. So the kit is selling fine.

That said, it’s a near-impossible task to predict consumer habits in Atlético’s fanbase. This is a fanbase that flocked to the team store in droves to buy Juanfran’s number 20 shirt right after he’d missed the decisive penalty in a Champions League final. So while fans — likely including those new global supporters — continued to buy shirts in 2017, it’ll be interesting to see sales numbers for 2018, numbers that will reflect a full year in the new stadium and a full year of the new badge.

Ultimately, if you want to wear appropriate attire to an Atlético match, you can’t go wrong with an old kit. You can opt for either a blank jersey or a shirt bearing the name and number of one of Cholo’s trusted lieutenants: Gabi, Juanfran, Koke, Godín or even Raúl García.

Football as fashion

Football has always informed fashion. The world’s most cosmopolitan game belongs to everyone, and the fashion industry has always tapped into that. In that aforementioned Reddit thread, one user from Trinidad and Tobago (the scourge of the USMNT) wrote that Trinidadians often wear football jerseys as daily shirts when they’re out and about in the city. One South African user wrote that he wears his Manchester United shirt to go clubbing.

Additionally, as a small example, Adidas Sambas have long since permeated mainstream culture. There’s a decent chance you saw kids at your middle school rocking those gum-soled black shoes with the white stripes and the big tongues and wanted a pair for yourself.

Your parents actually may have experienced the same feelings. Your children probably will, too. Now 65 years old, the Sambas are Adidas’ oldest continuously-produced sneaker. London-based culture writer has called the Sambas “Europe’s equivalent of the Air Jordan.”

Once a behind-the-scenes fashion influencer, soccer has recently taken center stage in shaping and defining trends. Prestige brands like Supreme have designed their own soccer jerseys. Websites like Hypebeast are penning multi-part listicles about the best streetwear soccer kits. Koché — an up-and-coming, “disruptive” French brand — actually stitched the PSG logo onto several new releases in its December 2017 line.

Even the supporter scarf, the last bastion of authenticity among official soccer apparel, has forced its way into the catalogs of the world’s hippest clothing lines. There’s some irony in all this, as the scarf — the democratic unifier for club supporters, the one thing everyone brought with them to the match — has become a status symbol, a commodified luxury.

As such, there’s been a palpable shift in the past decade or so in terms of how mainstream fashion views the beautiful game. And the Internet has played its part.

You already knew that Drake — the G.O.A.T. in terms of understanding how the internet works — would get in on the jersey action. In June 2016, he posted a selfie wearing that pink Juventus kit on Instagram. He caused enough of a stir that GQ — who had named Drake one of the most stylish men alive earlier that year — felt compelled to write a piece about the picture.

Ultimately, Drake probably didn’t wear that jersey because he cares about the Old Lady’s most recent Serie A fixture. In all likelihood, he wore the jersey because he also wore pink sunglasses and held a glass of rosé. Monochromatic seems to be the move, and Drake — who has identified himself as a fan of the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Houston Astros, Kentucky basketball, Alabama football and Texas A&M football at various points in his career — almost certainly cared more about the look than the club.

Drake’s photo with the Juventus kit actually inspired GQ to write a second piece about how to wear a soccer jersey for fashion-conscious non-soccer fans.

  • Pick one that looks good on you.
  • If you don’t follow the team, don’t try to use language like “supporter” or “football” or “kit.”
  • Buy throwback jerseys.
  • Wear your jersey with basic white sneakers.

The humble soccer jersey waded further into the mainstream this past summer in the form of Nigeria’s World Cup home kit. The Nike kit’s clearly got an awesome design, including a unique color scheme — pale lime green, black and white. Its pattern — jagged, slashed stripes across the sleeves and chest — also catches the eye.

But this shirt became a big deal thanks to the Internet Hype Machine. Nike released images of the kit in February and Twitter exploded. Streetwear blogs wrote about it. British rapper Skepta wore it at a concert. British model Naomi Campbell wore it in an Instagram selfie. Nike claimed that they’d sold three million jerseys on pre-order alone. After the World Cup started, USMNT starlet Tim Weah — who is both young (18 years old) and fashion-savvy, noting that he loves playing for PSG because he loves shopping on the Champs Elysées — wore the kit when he picked up with a rec team in New York City.

On the pitch, the young Nigerian squad acquitted itself well, fighting tooth-and-nail throughout the group stage and eventually falling victim to a typical Leo Messi wonder goal and an atypical Marcos Rojo strike. A moral victory, as far as they exist.

But the buzz continued. GQ compared the jersey to a hyped-up sneaker, legitimizing it as serious streetwear. The jersey remains sold out on Nike’s website and currently sells for an average of $200 on eBay.

So when you see a cool person on the streets on NYC, Paris or Los Angeles, it wouldn’t be totally ridiculous to see them in the Nigeria kit, a pair of Sambas and a pair of joggers — a trend which seems to derive from those Adidas soccer warm-up pants footballers have worn for years. Soccer has taken over fashion more than ever before.

Remember those Stone Island jackets we mentioned in Part I? The jackets with a history that’s inextricably linked with English hooliganism?

Drake didn’t stop at the pink Juventus kit. He started wearing Stone Island as well.