Collecting Shirts – Mark McCarthy Guest Blog

Here’s a guest blog written by Mark McCarthy, who collects match worn Manchester City shirts. Mark has recently brought out a book on his collection (see below) and has written this blog to explain how his collection and interest started.

A visit to my Grandfather’s house on a Sunday evening was something I always looked forward to as a child, but on this particular afternoon in December 1983 it was to change the course of my then 9 year old life forever. He would always have a story to tell but that afternoon’s tale was by far the best yet as he informed me that my cousin (Mick McCarthy) would be joining Manchester City.

I knew nothing about football at this stage  nor did I follow a team or OWN A FOOTBALL SHIRT but I was simply hooked. As the years ticked by it was always my goal or dream really to own a shirt from Mick’s time at City. That dream became a reality when I finally sourced a shirt of his from a dealer who was selling up his City collection.

It was only ever my intention to own just the one shirt, at the time of writing this my City match worn shirt collection now stands at 410 original match worn or issued shirts dating back to the 1926 FA Cup Final, where I have George Hicks’ shirt from the final v Bolton, by far the oldest in the collection.

There was simply something about receiving Mick’s shirt that day which kicked off my passion for collecting City match shirts. The smell and feel of the shirt, coupled with me simply being lost in time reminiscing about the dressing rooms that shirt had been in or battles that took place while being worn during the two seasons it was used by City from 1985 to 1987. It is of course very different these days with the players having so many shirts a season. I recall Mick telling me once that the shirts were virtually counted on and off the players’ backs. A similar story to the one the great Mike Summerbee told me that if shirts were torn back in the day the players would have to get them repaired themselves before the next game. This was still the case in 1996 when Georgi Kinkladze’s shirt was torn and simply sewn up for the next fixture

When you eventually find or trace a shirt from of a player whose poster would don your bedroom wall as a kid kind of keeps the kindred child spirit alive  in the collector. Players from days gone by are far more approachable and will always have time for the fans of the clubs they played for.  

Now City weren’t exactly setting the world alight in 1983 and after declaring myself a blue I immediately received some serious abuse from school mates who just couldn’t get the heads round why I’d chosen Manchester City, and equally wouldn’t believe I had a relative that had played for the club. 

I was totally obsessed with City which virtually took over my life. Unfortunately there was hardly any, in fact NO media coverage of City at this time, and even more so as we were in the old Second Division so I’d often have to get the latest news by scrolling through teletext or by ringing the City ClubCall line.

One day I returned home from school to find that the TV and video were missing from my bedroom as my Mum had sold them off to pay for the massive phone bill that I’d run up! 

I first got my chance to see City play live in November 1985 as were due at Luton Town, which is only half hour from our home in Milton Keynes. Manchester to me in those days was just a place I dreamt of going and Maine Road seemed a world away. After many months of badgering my parents to take me and with no chance of a fixture change in those days they finally gave in. My Mum kitted me out from head to toe in blue and white City colours and I couldn’t have been prouder on my way to watch the Blues. 

The walk to the ground felt amazing and we entered the first turnstile we saw. Off came the coat to reveal my pride but after a few minutes and constant dirty looks, we realised something wasn’t right and we appeared to be on show. As the chants of ‘City….City’ went up from the opposite end of the ground it dawned on us that we were in the wrong end of the ground and needed to moved quickly. 

This was 1985 and was certainly an experience for a then ten year old. The stewards promptly threw us out and my dad was seething as we headed back to the van to go home, I was distraught but he finally saw sense and we headed back to the ground where he had to pay again at the right turnstile and again I was hooked. The atmosphere in that tiny away end was electric and I couldn’t help but watch the many characters I was surrounded by. Everyone seemed to know each other and I wanted a part of it. 

For the record we lost 2-1 – Typical City !! 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of collecting for me is the groundwork that goes into finding a shirt or the buzz of the unearthing a shirt. Always look for a shirt in the least expected places you’d think of finding one as you just never know who may have collected a shirt along the way or how. If you don’t ask then you don’t get is the number one rule.   

I’m sure I speak for all collectors when I say that opening a random online message that start’s with the words “I have this shirt if you are interested in it.” Then the shirt turning out to be one of the most difficult shirts to find is a buzz only a collector will understand. I was contacted recently with that exact message asking did I think the shirt was genuine. It turned out to be Mick McCarthy’s issued long sleeve chequered style away shirt from the 1986-87 season which was used just seven times in that campaign, not by Mick though as he refused to wear long sleeved shirts.

The shirt had been given to a young City fan by his next door neighbour who used to work in the Maine Road laundry  room!  Always believe the shirts are out there as 9 out of 10 times they are.   

A question I’m often asked, as I’m sure all collectors are, is what’s the favourite shirt in my collection. This is a difficult question considering the numbers to choose from but at the moment it would be a 1967/68 Colin Bell Umbro home shirt worn by arguably City’s greatest ever player, during a title winning season. One that runs it close is a more modern day shirt but equally as great a player in David Silva,  from City’s fixture v Watford on 21st September 2019, during City’s 125 anniversary celebration. 

The shirt was a gift from City as a thank you for displaying 11 shirts from the collection in a mock up dressing room at City Square before the match as part of the 125  anniversary celebrations. I was asked to drop off the shirts at reception for the City Square team to display but duly explained that although I was more than happy to bring the shirts…. I  wouldn’t be leaving their side.  

My lad and I spent a fantastic couple of hours meeting & chatting to fellow Blues while giving them a bit a history behind each of the 11 shirts I’d brought to display (at the same time also keeping a very close eye on the kids with burgers and drinks in hand approaching  them!). 

I was asked if we’d like our seats upgraded to the legends lounge as a thank you but of course declined as I had a much better idea in mind, cheekily asking for a shirt of the greatest City player I’ve seen play live in my time watching the Blues. Although the City Square match day manager, a lovely lady, said she’d ask but said it would be very unlikely…. but if you don’t ask then you don’t get as they say. 

Once the display was finished and the shirts were safely packed we sat back and enjoyed a stunning 8-0 City win, captained by Silva who would just happen to open the scoring in under the first minute of the match. I’d completely forgotten I’d even asked ‘that’ shirt question as we made our way back to Piccadilly for the train journey home after the game. I was interrupted by a phone call half way there from the lady at City Square to inform me my request had been granted and could I make my way back to collect the shirt which was waiting at the City@Home office for me……….. I’m pretty sure it was the quickest walk I’d ever made to collect said shirt, fresh from Merlin’s back and still completely wet through…. First thing I did was…….Yes you’ve guessed it…….Sniff the shirt!   

As far as the future is concerned for my collection I certainly don’t see any signs of it slowing down as yet. I have a target in mind for a number of shirts to reach……….. Well a man does need a hobby!

You can buy Mark’s book direct from the publisher here:

https://www.conkereditions.co.uk/shop/

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