Football Objects: The Scarf

Football, as we’ve noted here on The True Ball before, has a great material culture – the sport abounds with items from its history. In this short little series, we are going to take a look at some of this material culture. In the days before choreographed positioning of coloured cards to create a design like that seen recently at the Celtic Barcelona game at Parkhead, or the almost ubiquitous wearing of some piece of replica kit, colour was brought to the football match by fans through a medium that was both functional and fashionable: the scarf.

The connection between football and the neck-warming scarf is an obvious enough one to make – as a winter sport, having a scarf round the neck was probably a sensible move when standing on blustery terraces for fans. From humble two-coloured striped scarves to those carrying messages, the football scarf has gone through a lot of permutations over the years, but as a way of flying the colours of your club, it remains one of the best means of doing so.

The football scarf of course, is not exactly the same as an ordinary scarf you’d buy in any old menswear shop – the material and stitching is quite different, they are invariably much shorter (ideally so they can be spread above your head in full span displaying the club name/message etc) and are generally more boldly coloured. As the website for Fangcan limited let’s us know, albeit cynically, the football scarf “the essential of clothing which sets soccer fans apart from any other group of fans, has a storied tradition of being the badge of honor for soccer fans all over the world…By wearing a scarf, you let other soccer fans know that you “get it”.  By getting it, it means you don’t need a noise meter on the scoreboard to make it look like the crowd is into the game coming in from the commercial.  It means you are there to support your team.”

On the website of Ruffneck Scarves, a football scarves specialist website, we are informed “By the 1970s, the scarf had become a staple ingredient of a fan’s dress.  Clubs began making their team’s scarves at the team shops.  The designs expanded and became more intricate.  Team names and badges were placed directly onto the design, and there were even special scarves made for large matches like the FA Cup final, which displayed both clubs’ colors.”

Football, of course, like just about any sport, tends to attract obsessives for whom collecting the material culture of the game is as important as what happens on the pitch. On a Dutch website for those whose passion is collecting football scarves, they write “The football scarf has always been the most popular fan attribute. Rosettes, umbrellas are out, flags, caps and banners are back again, the number of club shirts in the crowd has grown the last 5 to 10 of years but the scarf was and will be number one.”

As well as Ruffneck, and collector sites like the Dutch one, there are those who specialise in producing scarves like Savile Rogue. Here we take a quick look at the three main categories of football scarf:

1. Your basic club-colours scarf

No one does this better than Liverpool, it pains me to say…. This proves that power of the football scarf, its effectiveness, is the collective wearing of it rather than the individual.

(above): In recent years….

…and in the 1970s

2. Your slightly-fancier home team AND away team scarf

Usually these were only produced for special occasions like cup finals, and helped mark the rarity of the occasion but today they are more common at most matches, nevertheless they are usually only available on the day so still retain a certain special quality.

3. Your political message scarf

When many Manchester United fans wanted to display their displeasure with the Glazer takeover of the club back in the mid-2000s their means of doing so was principally through the wearing of scarves in the colours of the club as it was when it was Newtown Heath, green and gold.

And then there’s this James Connolly Celtic FC scarf:

As well as containing James Connolly‘s image, lyrics from a ballad about Connolly also appear. It reads:

“God’s curse on you England, you cruel-hearted monster,

Your deeds they would shame all the devils in hell.”

Whatever your colours, when your heading down to the match don’t mind your replica jerseys, get your scarf round your neck and take part in one of football’s great traditions.

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