Read My Vest
A new book celebrates the now-dead art of the footballer’s hidden message... yeah, thanks, FIFA
Philosophy and football rarely mix. It’s hard to imagine toe-driller Darius Vassell delving too deeply into Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal works on existentialism, while Robbie Savage is either post-modernism’s purest of thinkers or a shouty berk who would probably argue with a tree – if only it knew how to answer back... “You’re wrong,” the former Leicester midfielder-turned-professional wind bag has almost certainly never shouted at an in-bloom larch, “it’s not summer.” A new book, however, is looking to prove that the average footballer has more in their locker, via the medium of clandestine T-shirt theologising. Disgusted by FIFA’s ban on players displaying any form of message in 2014 – Edinson Cavani was booked for unveiling a T-shirt in support of Chapecoense after a recent goal – graphic-design duo Craig Oldham and Rick Banks were keen to recall the often deeply personal, political or philosophical meaning behind homemade undergarments. The result is I Belong To Jesus, a book dedicated not to religious fundamentalism, but Kaka’s 2007 Champions League-winning tribute to his maker and other trend-setting footballers with a message. “Kaka’s message really stayed with us,” Barnsley fan Craig tells FFT. “Footballers are people with messages and the rule change is a certain form of censorship. I thought, ‘well what a f***ing shame.’ “Players are perceived as rich, selfish t***s, who are disconnected from the fans. This was a footballer’s last line of raw self-expression; they actually care about things other than themselves. It felt like a landmark moment if this creativity was going to stop.” So, Craig and Rick set about collating the best T-shirts, shin pads and masks with which players have used to celebrate. For $40, you get the book (which cleverly opens top to bottom to mirror taking off a shirt), as well as an I Belong To Jesus T-shirt and a captain’s armband. But not, sadly, Nicklas Bendtner’s Paddy Power pants. “Researching it was like an emotional trigger, like when music takes you back to the time you first heard a song,” says Craig. “They weren’t always just flippant gags, or ‘I love you mum’, but there are personal stories to be told.” Billy Sharp’s touching “that’s for you son” tribute to his newborn Luey, who died aged just two days old in October 2011, springs to mind. “That one is unbelievably poignant,” explains Craig. “The referee used some common sense and didn’t actually book him. That’s what this book is all about. Why punish him? “I like Robbie Fowler and the dockers, as well. It’s rooted in Liverpool and the community. “Then there’s good old Mario Balotelli’s. The kit man at City didn’t have any punctuation, so he started cutting up letter Ps to make question marks.” Ah, Mario. Why always him?