Warm up shirts, pre-match jerseys, call them what you will, but over the last year or so there’s been a marked shift in terms of how they’re perceived, marketed and worn, with the freedom of the arena opening the doors to some radical designs that’ve left us wanting more. Could it be that we’re looking at a real alternative to traditional replica shirt?

Pre-match jerseys in themselves are nothing new: their purpose is obvious in that they keep the match jersey clean for kick off. A simple enough concept. For years they’ve served that purpose and nothing more, existing as an easily forgettable item in a club’s wardrobe and brand's repertoires and priorities, but something has changed over the last few years. A shift in perspective and a more lifestyle influenced market has seen brands realising the potential for what they could offer, along with consumers seeing them as realistic alternatives to the higher priced and often more reserved designs of first team replica; the pre-match jersey's more extravagant designs naturally lending themselves to a confident crossover within lifestyle circles.


Available at almost half the price of the elite level match shirts, while also offering an option that doesn’t date in the same way, the pre-match jersey has become a realistic alternative to replica jerseys, particularly with fans above the age of professional footballers, who feel a bit uncomfortable dressing themselves to look like they're trying to be an actual player. Brands have started actively marketing them and they often don't feature a sponsor which lends to a retro-vibe which is very much on trend right now.

The reason why the retro shirt market is so popular is that those shirts are no longer worn on pitch. They can be worn as a vintage item, an almost ironic lifestyle piece, that shows a love or affiliation to a club without looking like a fan boy. Of course, that mindset is shifting with more lifestyle led home and away shirts, but there's always something intriguing about a rarer, less mainstream jersey. For brands there's no profit in fans searching re-sale platforms for retro jerseys, so the pre-match jersey is perhaps their way of covering that 'alternative' space.

The trend kicked into action around the 2018 World Cup, with Nike releasing some stunning bespoke options for the likes of Australia, Brazil, Nigeria, Portugal and Croatia that gained a lot of positive attention. The England option in particular though, was widely favoured over the playing jersey that Nike released, with it selling out on its initial release. This led to two bespoke designs being released earlier this year, a move that highlighted the position of the pre-match jersey in the football clothing staple. They were on to something.


Until recently, pre-match jerseys weren’t a consumer option – why would they be? Often they were just bland, watered down reinterpretations of the on-pitch offerings. But all that changed when it was realised that they exist in a space that’s free from the shackles of traditional design; a place where there is a greater level of creative freedom available, with some radical offerings being produced that clubs would be too reserved or otherwise too afraid to put on the pitch. And designers have run with the freedom. It’s a relatively safe place in which to experiment, to gauge reactions, with positive responses potentially influencing future on-pitch designs.

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The trend has gone from strength to strength, to the point where they now feature prominently alongside regular kit releases, at times building upon the themes running through their on-pitch counterparts. Roma’s stunning lightning bolt design that was inspired by Jupiter, the Roman God of the Sky, is expanded on with an all-over sublimated stormy sky graphic on the pre-match jersey. Similarly, Nike's fresh design of the Inter 19/20 home shirt that played with the convention of their regular iconic vertical stripes has been taken to another level for the pre-match shirt.


While Nike are leading the way on this front, they’re not the only ones that have cottoned on to this market, with adidas making waves with their combination with Parley. The partnership has been used heavily in the MLS for several special edition pre-match jerseys over the last few seasons, including the recent Independence Day and Pride collections. And it’s once again being used across the majority of the Three Stripes’ marquee European clubs, with similar tie-die templates for Arsenal, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich, in a move that follows up last season's Parley pre-match pieces.

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The pre-match jersey continues to cement its position within the replica market, with the impact of some of the designs and the positive receptions they receive clearly starting to have an influence on match day shirts, most notably on third shirts, where again, there is more freedom to design. And as long as the creative freedom of the pre-match jersey continues to give us radical alternatives to the sometimes constrained on-pitch offerings, then we’re all for it.

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