A (BRIEF...) HISTORY OF THE FOOTBALL SCARF
It’s a banner you can wear. Cheaper than a jersey, less obvious than a full kit. And it’s somehow become a must-have in the high fashion world.
How did the football scarf become what it is - derided, collected, coveted?
Where did that bold, slightly scratchy polyester fabric come from (and could it conceivably work as a sieve?) Why the tassels? And why the same, uniform length on sale outside pretty much every club in the world? Nobody’s sure, but factors including cheapness, warmth, and the accessory’s ability to turn any outfit into a show of support have all propelled it to ubiquity.
As most fans know, about a hundred yards from the entrance is about as close as much of this merch has ever got to any sort of officiality, with plenty of it being mass-produced in huge quantities and sold in souvenir shops year round. Artistry is rare and anything goes, though an avid fanbase has built up to chronicle at least the designs, if not the raison d'être.
Comme des Garcons SHIRT SS13 scarf. Image by hypebeast.com
A (short) History
Many fan sites and collectors first trace football scarves back to Britain in the 1900s - later than you might expect, and in fact contemporaneous with Corinthian FC. Other neckwear connoisseurs claim it was the 1920s. Either way, there’s actually photo evidence of the Corinthians looking good in striped scarves (though probably not polyester!), and it’s generally agreed these scarves developed to battle Blighty’s freezing temperatures as you showed your team allegiance. The shot of colour meant a lot in the era when black and sombre clothes were commonplace.
Another theory suggests these scarves are the last remnants of the time when caps, rosettes and pins were worn to show team colours; scarves just happen to be the most practical item left from that list, one we still regularly wear today.
A Symbol of Friendship
If the beginnings are disputed, one thing everyone can agree with is that the subject of half-and-half football scarf is, suitably enough, pretty divisive.
These split scarves feature two rival teams and are designed to celebrate a single match rather than allegiance to one club. And that’s where things have gotten problematic.
Rarely licensed by official teams who don’t want to promote a rival, they’re churned out by unofficial sellers and are often seen as being made for those who don’t understand or care about the Beautiful Game. The worst offenders have gone viral for misunderstanding the subtleties of the enmity between, say, Leeds and Millwall and plastering the names of two die-hard enemies together on the same bit of fabric!
But there’s a flipside to these souvenirs, in line with the Corinthian Spirit. They were actually created to celebrate the friendship between two teams and often featured shaking hands in the middle. It’s a refreshing reminder that even the lowliest piece of merch can stand for something.
How They Got Cool Again
Think of the team scarf and your mind will conjure up colours turned up to 11, slightly skewed club logos and tacky fonts like Mistral and Comic Sans running amok.
In fact, browsing through collections of old football scarves serves as a bit of a primer in the recent history of fonts and sporting design. The limited palette and shape actually makes for some punchy, innovative graphics and a bold playfulness as this collection shows that might suggest why the fashion world has picked up on them in recent years.
There’s also something about the colour that feels refreshing among moody black, perhaps why Comme des Garcons SHIRT - whose designer Rei Kawakubo has always drawn from outside the bubble - first paid homage in the mid 2000s, and has continued to since. Kenzo, Gosha Rubchinskiy, and, inevitably, Supreme, have since got busy with their knitting needles plus, most recently Stella McCartney, whose debut menswear collection was inspired by 80s casuals.
At best, these are a celebration of the terrace: at the other end, they can be seen as fetishisation of working class culture, used to add a little novelty to the seasonal merry-go-round. Vogue has hyped them, calling them ‘deliciously tacky’. And Complex has provided a stinging backlash.
The ‘soccer scarf’ has even found new popularity in the States, aligned with the Squarespace-powered, side-hustle zeitgeist. Companies have sprung up offering custom scarves to order, emblazoned with anything you want - whether it's the latest Marvel movie or a fake team you made up. In fact, it’s the US that seems to have the most soccer scarf websites right now, dwarfing Europe’s charmingly homespun collectors.
Ultimately, it’s the here-today, gone-tomorrow nature of the fan scarf that maybe makes it so collectible. The thrill of the unknown, bedroom graphic designers applying their unintentionally kitsch grasp of fonts and colours to iconic teams has created a canon of scarves, and plenty of people to collect them. And long may they reign!
Plus, let’s face it - it always looks pretty cool when the singing breaks out and the wall of scarves comes up, doesn’t it?
Buy Corinthian’s luxurious merino wool Club Scarf here, inspired by the historic Corinthian FC club tie – once called ‘the most exclusive club tie in England’.