What do you do when you have nearly 3,000 football shirts in your possession? If your name is Arjan Wijngaard, the answer is allocate a room in your house as an exhibition space and log every single shirt in a comprehensive online catalogue.
Recently, These Football Times spoke to Dutch football shirt collector Arjan Wijngaard, the man behind www.voetbalshirts.org and the owner of one of the largest retro football shirt collections not just in the Netherlands but the whole of Europe.
For nearly 25 years, Arjan has been collecting football shirts from around the globe, beginning with an Everton shirt that was given to him as a gift in 1997. With such an enduring reputation, we asked him what drew him to collecting kits in the first place.
“The first question is the most difficult,” he says. “Of course, I liked football in the first place. That is an important thing if you want to collect football shirts. There is no particular reason why I chose shirts, though. Some people choose scarves (I have some scarves as well because if I can’t get a shirt when I visit a stadium or a game, I try to buy a scarf instead). Actually, maybe I’d better have chosen for scarves or pins; they are a lot cheaper and don’t need that much space!”
Take a wander into Arjan’s shirt showroom and it is easy to see what he means. From ceiling to floor, the walls are fitted racks that groan beneath the enormous weight of his collection. The door is an incongruous rectangle of white in an otherwise ubiquitous banquet of colour, while in the window two mannequins stand sentinel in green and blue raiment. It is a veritable sacrarium to shirts – from clubs both grand and meek.
“In general I like to collect shirts from clubs that are not very easy to find,” Arjan explains. “Like lower and non-league, for example, steps 9 and 10 of the [English football] pyramid or clubs from countries that are not known as famous football countries like New Zealand or Tanzania.”
Not that anyone can turn up and take a tour around his showroom, however. Arjan makes extensive use of the internet to display his collection, for he runs a website – wherein he catalogues the shirts by country, club and division – as well as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts all under the banner of Voetbalshirts.org. But what inspired him to begin this online odyssey in the first place?
“There were a few reasons. Firstly, it is to show others what I have. Secondly, for the insurance to prove I had all the shirts if there is a fire or robbery. Also, having my collection online makes it easier for me to see what I’ve already got, especially when I am looking for new ones online and when I am in (fan) shops abroad.”
These are the two main avenues through which Arjan acquires the vast majority of his shirts. Prior to the ongoing global pandemic, he was undertaking around five trips a year to foreign countries in order to expand his collection, with two or three of these visits occurring across the North Sea in Britain. But with flight restrictions hampering his ability to obtain shirts from the clubs themselves, he has made increasing use of the internet.
“I prefer to get them personally from the club shop near the stadium, but that’s not always possible with over 2,700 shirts,” he admits. “Other options are online club shops and, of course, eBay but also groups on Facebook and other collectors here in the Netherlands, abroad and on Twitter. During the years, I have made some contacts all over the world and that is also a fun part of collecting.”
Indeed, Arjan is embedded deep in the football shirt community where he enjoys a prominent and active role as one of Europe’s most dedicated collectors. He presides over a football fiefdom of 6,000 followers across his three social media channels, while his website has attracted in excess of 200,000 visitors. But, he attests, the shirts themselves are not actually the most rewarding facet of being a collector.
“All the things that come with collecting are maybe even nicer than having the shirts. The visits to the stadiums, searching online, getting in contact with people, meeting other collectors and also volunteers that are proud of their club and want to help me to add a shirt or their club to the collection is great. Shirt collecting got me a lot of positive things besides the shirts themselves. Lots of talking about shirts and football and helping each other through our mutual passion of football shirts.”
As much as the community benefits are enjoyable, Arjan must have a favourite shirt, so we press him for an answer, hard as it may be to choose just one from 2,800 options. “There is one old FC Groningen shirt that is a favourite,” he admits at last, “because it is a rare one, matchworn and almost 40 years old.”
Such a rare and antique shirt is the pride of his collection and, like most of his garments, Arjan refuses to wear it for recreational purposes, although not necessarily for the reason most people might expect. “I tend not to wear my shirts because not all of the shirts are in my size (anymore)!” he says. “I don’t wear football shirts very often. I don’t want to damage them. But, actually, some I have double: one for the collection and one to wear.”
Even with such an extensive and valuable collection, Arjan still has his sights on expanding it further, even though his showroom appears to have reached the point of saturation. Even the door bears host to a number of caps hung on pegs hammered into the wood. He has a shortlist of kits he is working through and he reveals to us the one shirt he covets above all others.
“There is one shirt I really want to add to my collection, a matchworn Groningen cup final shirt from 2015. Groningen is my local team and they only won one trophy. The Dutch cup. And as I said before, I like shirts from non-league clubs I don’t have yet. So, if there are people who are reading this and think they can help me with a shirt from their local non-league club, don’t hesitate to contact me!”
Situated as he is in the Netherlands’ north-east, Arjan’s local team and the one he professes to support most keenly is Groningen, best known in recent years for being the boyhood club of Arjen Robben. It was a love affair that began around 30 years ago and which served as something of a gateway into his lifelong affinity for the sport and the kits associated with it.
“Groningen is my local team. I have had a season ticket for almost thirty years and the stadium is only ten minutes away by bike. My opinion is that you always have to support your local team. But Everton was my first shirt. I guess I like to support people’s clubs. Everton, Groningen and Feyenoord really are people’s clubs.”
Though the boom in shirt collecting has been a relatively recent phenomenon, and one which was no doubt exacerbated by a lockdown that allowed people to invest more time and money in starting or expanding their collections, Arjan has been active on Twitter since 2010. He is, for all intents and purposes, one of the old guard, but what does the future hold?
“I have no plans to stop!” he confesses. “As long as I like it and have the space to continue, I shan’t stop.”
By Josh Butler @joshisbutler90