An exhibition that champions the very best from the football shirt archives, we spoke to Neal Heard about his curated collaboration with Jacket Required. An event that transcends the creative and cultural world of a game that has brought so many good threads, it's one you'll want to clear the calendar for.

So Neal, let's hear about your exhibition 'The Art of the Football Shirt', what’s it all about?

“Well I think the thing that is interesting for me and this exhibition, a real reason I’m happy about it, is because it’s coming at things from a fashion and design angle. For too long, football shirts have been seen in that kind of retro way where people automatically say “do you remember that Coventry City awful brown shirt from the 1970s or whatever”, there’s always more of a retro way they’re looked at rather and I totally get that but for me the scene that surrounds football shirt culture has totally moved on.”

“For me, I wanted to look at this from a design and fashion industry angle and so when Jacket Required spoke to me about doing it, I was over the moon. They’re one of the most respected fashion trade shows out there and they’ve just done an exhibition that looked at Massimo Osti and Stone Island so there’s obviously an interest from people in street culture and fashion so for me, even more than doing something like this with a football museum or the FA or something like that, this was a great opportunity to bring a different angle to the culture around football shirts. As crazy as it sounds, it’s nice to come at a football exhibition without it necessarily linked to the game.”

“Football shirt culture is moving away from football and for me that’s why I’m pleased with this exhibition - it takes a new angle on the fashion side.”

Do you think the fashion world adopting a football look has never been more present, or never been more cool than it is now?

“Totally, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve spoken to plenty of people in the industry about how the culture around the game is changing and it’s going to be massive. For me, it’s a bit like, whatever you think you knew about football shirt culture before, you need to forget about it. It needs to be looked at a fresh and almost started again because it’s a bit of a year zero for me. This change is something I think has happened over the last year to two years. It’s gone at an exponential speed and become part of popular culture and football shirts are part of a lifestyle movement now.”

“When football shirts are being worn by top grime artists and top hip hop artists in clubs, it kind of gives you a flavour as to where football shirts have gone now. They’re not just worn by people who follow their teams, they’re not just worn by people who are interested in collecting them, and not just for those people who have been into the game for a good while. They’re like a basketball shirt or baseball cap - they sit in that space now and have gone outside of the place or boundaries they’ve always existed in. That is a really, really new thing.”

It’s a pretty exciting new wave for the game. There’s been the ‘against modern football movement’ but this next level of exploration is fascinating, wouldn’t you say?

“Yeah, for sure. Being honest, I’ve always been a little torn. I may have been one of those people who didn’t like modern football and used it as a mantra and part of that is still with me but for this side of things, the fashion world, it’s actually an improvement. It’s not doing something to degrade the game in the way new stadiums have or ticket prices have. Charging so much that people can’t get into a game and fans being priced out - this movement doesn’t have that bad angle of modern football that maybe we’re all against. It’s actually reclaiming something we’ve loved and always loved in the shape of our club colours. Like you said, to be able to do that in another way, to re-appropriate it and effectively grab it back is something to celebrate rather than fear the change. It’s a good time that opens up new markets and is only going to get bigger. As long as it doesn’t go too far or too soulless with it then I think it is a good thing.”

What do you think of the retro styling coming back in some of the shirts that we’ve seen launched for next season? Orlando Pirates and Manchester United away as two examples.

“Well interestingly, we’ve actually got two guys from adidas coming over for the event to give a talk. For me, it’s interesting as I think there’s a realisation that some of these classic shirts are just so great for being different. It’s nice to do a homage in that way. I think it sparks fresh imagination for the future too. It’s nice to recognise those greats but it’s about looking forward too. The invention of new designs that someone else may want to copy in twenty years is the most exciting prospect.”

“The reason we all love all the shirts we do is because they were out of their time - they were so crazy and so wild that they excited us. They were groundbreaking shirts that caused a stir and left an indelible mark. I think it’s all going to go crazy again especially with the capabilities we have and the new spaces football shirts are moving in.”

What is it that makes some of the football shirts you’ll have on show, just so special to you?

“There’s masses of reasons really and luckily with the expanse of the exhibition, it allows me to touch on all the various things that we all like about football shirts. I don’t want to not speak to any of the kit lovers angles if you know what I mean. So I haven’t ignored the 70s for example where it’s a little more plain though classic. There are those shirts in there and then it goes right up to the day so then we’ve got things like Patta and Palace and the collaborations I’ve been doing with Lovers so for me it’s been nice to appeal to everybody. If you’re into shirts from whatever era or whatever reason, and even if you’re not into shirts, you can appreciate the exhibition.”

“People not interested in football can dig this exhibition. If you’re into lots of things from design to fashion to how it plays into politics, music and even a bit of history in there, then there’s something there for you. I don’t just say that to big it up, that’s the way we’ve curated it. There’s 150 shirts which basically are there for everybody to appreciate.”

Do you find that when you talk to a football fan, or even a non football fan, about football shirts, there’s quite a wonderful sense of excitement no matter what age?

“It’s a superb question. I think for people like us that have this connection to the shirt, there’s no better symbol that ties us to the game. For me when I go to an event or go to the pub or whatever, I know that the minute I got a football shirt out of my bag, there’s going to be a massive emotion or interest coming back at me. It may not be anything to do with your team - you may have connection with Bristol City, Newport, England or Wales but as soon as you see the shirt, it sparks something and a conversation will begin. People will start reeling off distant memories or explaining details about shirts they have a connection too - everything is tied into the shirt and for me, it’s amazing the reaction that they get.”

“It’s a conduit to passion in a good way and I don’t think there’s many possessions that can have such an effect. That’s why I really enjoy any event connected to a football shirt because it’s always going to be a positive energy and not many things in life elicit that kind of response. They cross time and space. You can connect with a Brazilian who can’t speak a word of English who will point at your shirt and try and talk to you about it, and you’d try and do exactly the same back. That can be of any age too, it’s a real universal language."

An exhibition that will land with shapes on shirts from all over the world you can enjoy 'The Art of the Football Shirt' from This Wednesday at The Old Truman Brewery in London.

The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL
26th July - 10am-7pm
27th July - 10am - 5pm

Photography was taken at The Neal Heard pop-up store at Number Six London, on Brick lane.