When tasked with finding every jersey in MLS history, where would you start?
Way back to the league's inaugural kits ahead of the 1996 season, with the colorful LA Galaxy kits of yore? How about through the 2000s — including the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion — or backtrack from today, as the league prepares to enter its 25th season? With another two expansion sides taking the league's current total to 26 in 2020, it's a bit of a challenge, to put it lightly.
But it's something Classic Football Shirts took up without hesitation.
"You’re almost on a treasure quest of sorts," Gary Bierton, general manager of Classic Football Shirts, told MLSsoccer.com. "As soon as the guys from MLS were pretty much like ‘can it be done?’ Yeah. You can’t really help but take that challenge up.”
The Manchester, England-based retailer of soccer kits — nostalgic and new — from across the globe are about 85% complete with their quest, Bierton says.
Classic Football Shirts came into existence to satiate the appetite among supporters for memorable kits from years past, ranging from decades ago to even knockdown prices on recent kits. Liverpool's 2005 Champions League winning shirt? Sure. The Netherlands' classic orange 1988 European Championship winning shirt? You bet. AS Monaco's full kits from last year, too, plus everything imaginable in-between. (For more info, the BBC did a wonderful profile of the company last year.)
Recently, though, Classic Football Shirts began putting together exhibitions of some of their best and most unique classic kits, one of which was in conjunction with New York City FC.
“Essentially, we started doing exhibitions and building an archive of match-worn shirts a couple of years ago," Bierton said. "We ended up in New York during the World Cup doing an exhibition with NYCFC. We’ve been working on expanding our collection."
Now, they're embarking on finding every single MLS jersey in league history. The hope is to display their nostalgic MLS shrine in the coming months, similar to their exhibit with NYCFC.
It's not easy tracking down all the old threads, of course. While cautious not to reveal their trade secrets, Classic Football Shirts have gone about acquiring all of the kits across multiple fronts, including eBay as well as directly from brands and clubs.
A few shirts, in particular, have given the gang particular trouble.
"Certainly, a few of them have been quite the journey to find," Bierton said. “The inaugural season away shirts for most teams have been really difficult. And there’s a MetroStars kit that sits in the office that I had never seen before. There’s a certain era – like 1999-2001 – where certain teams become quite difficult to find. You get to kind of beyond 2006 and that’s where it’s fairly straightforward. In a weird way, it mirrors the commercial impact of the league in the long run. I mean, David Beckham (who joined the LA Galaxy in 2007) is always going to sell you more jerseys.”
On a personal note, Bierton still holds up the inaugural LA Galaxy kit, the Metrostars 1997 jersey and any of the late 2000s Galaxy shirts as some of his personal favorites.
The Manchester United supporter hopes these classic MLS kits will soon be as readily available as those from his beloved United and others around Europe.
“American supporters have this idea of what the nostalgia is with football shirts, but have only really started to figure out the connection with their own teams," Bierton said. "I’d love to be able to buy those Galaxy shirts from ’96, the MetroStars from ’97 the same way I can readily buy a Manchester United kit from that season. But that’s where our interest has piqued.”