A Retrospective

WITH our brand-new range of retro Argyle shirts about to hit the shelves in the Argyle Superstore, Dan Whelan caught up with the company behind the production of the shirts, The Terrace, and Argyle's Head of Marketing Jamie Yabsley to learn more about the power of nostalgia...

There is evidence that yo-yos existed as far back as 440BC and this toy has experienced a number of renaissances during its long history, most famously in the 1960s.

Fidget spinners, the gadget which provoked the ire of teachers back in 2017, have declined in popularity in recent times but will no doubt have their own resurgence one day, although hopefully not in our lifetime.

There are countless examples of things we thought society had grown out of coming back into fashion later down the line.

Flares were trendy, then an abomination before becoming trendy again.  Foods like pulled pork and salted caramel are having their day currently and I eagerly anticipate their revival, as I reach my twilight years, after a period in the doldrums.

Inexplicably cowboy boots are, just now, creeping their way back into the public's affections as are, thanks to the popularity of Tommy Shelby and his band of merry thugs, flat caps.

There are those among us of course who will pompously claim to have owned, used and worn these things regardless of whether they were mainstream or not.  These people should be avoided at all costs.

Retro football shirts are proof that anything you own is worth keeping hold of, just in case it happens to come back into fashion.

There is a real appetite for kits of years gone by at present and Argyle have taken full advantage of this trend by releasing five replica kits from past seasons.

Jamie Yabsley, Argyle's Head of Marketing and brains behind the operation said:

'I think ultimately we knew that supporters for a number of years have been looking for official replicas of the retro shirts.

'When we first launched our partnership with The Terrace earlier this year the reaction was incredible but I think the overarching question was 'what about the kits?'

The shirts in question offer everything you could want from a retro kit; they are aesthetically pleasing and afford supporters the opportunity to take a plunge in the warm waters of nostalgia and relive some of Argyle's most successful seasons.

The remake of the 95/96 season kit, sponsored by Rotolok , has proven most popular with fans probaly because it conjures up memories of one of the finest days in Argyle's history: the Wembley play-off final victory over Darlington.

My dad was there that day in 1996 when Ronnie Mauge's goal secured a 1-0 win as Niel Warnock guided us out of the murky depths of the Endsleigh Third Division.

'The Wembley '96 kit has been by far the most popular which is probably the ugliest out of them all but I think it’s the nostalgia side of it and it’s from a great time.

'Some people buy them because of that ‘I remember when’, ‘I was at the game’ and whilst there is definitely that reminiscence factor to it I think they’re just cool,' he said.

The 1988 Sunday Independent kit has also proven popular with the Green Army and Jamie singles this one out as his personal favourite.

'That was my first Argyle shirt, bought as a gift in 1988. I’ve still got it actually, we used that one as one of the templates to compare. That’s our second most popular,' he said.

The retro range comes courtesy of a collaboration with The Terrace who are specialists in retro kit culture.

'Being a football fan I have seen what The Terrace have done and would put their work into that cool category. I had seen them launch something and it just looked really good so I opened up a conversation and it led from there really.

'We had a conversation on the Sunday and two weeks later our online store was up and running and we were selling personalised retro mugs and towels immediately,' Jamie said.

According to co-founder Carl Sewell, The Terrace started out as a Facebook page posting funny football pictures but since then it has morphed into a company which prides itself on providing quality products and re-establishing the connection between a club and its fanbase thorugh merchandise.

'We had this idea one day which stemmed from conversations about how football merchandising had become a little stale.   There was a massive lack of connectivity with fans; not every fan wants to buy a mousemat with a club badge on. We always say that football fanbases are built on loyalty and pride and that connection with the club they grew up with and that’s how merchandising should be,' Carl explained.

The Terrace's first offical club partnership was with Argyle's biggest rivals Exeter City, a connection that came about through social media.

'When we aren’t licensed with a club we don’t use badges and we avoid trademarks the best we can. We just focus solely on patterns of shirts. We did an Exeter City '93 mug, which is a crazy shirt pattern, and the club retweeted it so we used that opportunity to contact them.

'It was a really quick process and it was greeted with huge reaction and then naturally when one club does something there are others who are watching those clubs and it kind of has a knock on effect,' he said.

The Terrace's appeal does stretch beyond Devon, they now have licenses with a number of league clubs and recently annonced their first Premier League licence with West Ham United. And it is not just the product that is appealing, the business model is highly beneficial to football clubs, too.

'West Ham have been brilliant. They had a similar vision to us and they were really open to our ideas and what we wanted to do.

'The big attraction of what we do for clubs is our store is set up on an on-demand format. We hold no stock so every time an order is placed it is printed to order.

'That’s attractive to clubs. A football club will go and buy 1000 phone cases and stock them in the club store and six months later all the phone models that they are stocking get upgrades so all that stock becomes dead stock,' Carl explained.

The focus for The Terrace is very much on creating a connection with fans and this approach, along with football supporters' appitite for all things retro, has been a succesful concoction.  But why is retro booming at the moment?  Carl's philosphy makes a lot of sense.

'Without speaking out of turn, the current era that we’re in is lazy.  It’s whatever is the easiest option, the quickest option and the quickest way to make money.

'You take 1994 for example, the kits were splash patterns and all these different designs.  You look at now and there’s not really any creativity in it and the reason for that is that it is cheaper to keep it plain as it’s easier to produce it in bulk.'

Carl knows what he is talking about, there is a great deal of research that goes into producing The Terrace's products, much of which involves delving into the archives and looking at old football shirts.

'When we study kits you can see round about the Sky Sports era, when there’s more money floating about the higher level, people are wondering how to keep as much money as possible and that’s by lowering the longevity of the creative element in football.

'Go back to the 1990s and take Manchester United as an example. If I say to anyone 'name me a United kit from the '90s' the first thing they will say is the green and yellow away kit with black toggles, because no one else was doing it. They will say the red shirt that’s got the Old Trafford pattern printed on it.

'If you look at most clubs now for the last six years they’ve had pretty much the same shirt just with a different piping colour or a different collar cut and it’s a shame to see,' Carl said.

The constant lamenting of the greedy nature of football, particularly at the highest level, has become the soundtrack of football. Many supporters are disillusioned with a game that, in many cases, seems to have become less about the fans and more about money. Carl believes that the retro culture provides a means of escape for those fans.

'Retro is so popular right now because fans remember a time when football wasn’t so cash orientated, it’s as simple as that.

'People in their mid-thirties and forties and fifties remember a time when going to football was a 30 quid shirt and 15 quid ticket and you bought that shirt on the first day of the season because it was something unique and now it’s just lost that appeal and there’s not a lot of connection,' he said.

The Terrace is making a name for itself in the arena of sports merchandise with more official partnerships with clubs expected over the coming months.  With this kind of success comes reponsibility, something which Carl and his colleagues take very seriously.

'It is great for us that we can offer something for fans. Yes we want to make money, we want to be able to pay ourselves a wage so that we can do what we love on a full-time basis but we don’t need to make millions.

'At the end of the day this company is run by two people who are football fans themselves and I think that’s the difference.

'We keep our prices affordable but the main thing is that football is a community and the most important thing for us is we need to support football as well,' Carl said.

This humilty in the face of success is indicitive of the message that The Terrace wants to send out to the football community.

Their various philanthropic activities futher confirm the company's commitment to giving something back to the fans who buy their wares.

The Terrace's chairty partner is the suicide prevention hotline CALM which aims to reduce the appalling number of suicides in the UK, particularly among young men.

There are various items on their website for which 100% of the price goes directly to CALM.

The Terrace also sponsors Milton Keynes-based amateur side Bletchley Park FC and provides the club with kits and pays for repairs and renovations to many parts of their ground.

'I’m not here to say how amazing we are, there’s a lot of companies that do a lot for charity. We just try to always help the little man. We firmly believe that we can make money but still give support to people,' Carl said.

Another charity that The Terrace has been supporting more recently is the Motor Neurone Disease Association which did so much to help former Rangers captain Fernando Ricksen before his tragic passing at the age of 43.

'His funeral was last week and Rangers fans kept emailing us saying 'can you put a Ricksen mug up, he’s a legend for our club.' We have to treat those kind of products with care and caution because we do not want to profit off the passing of someone.

'We put the mug up and said 100% of the profit will go to the MND Association. It’s a little bit of time and effort for us but that’s just time, I can give my time to something that’s a good cause because that’s what our business is about. Rangers fans bought 200 in 48 hours.

'It shows how much football fans connect to their clubs, it shows how much they remember the legends, it shows how much they want to support through their club,' Carl said.

Stories like this are important to tell, especially in the hostile climate we find ourselves in currently when all we hear about on the news are updates on our impending doom.  Football can do this, it has its bad points but there few other things that have such a stong power to galvanise people, to bring us together.

Whilst the Fernando Ricksen mug was very much about commemoration the jury is out as to whether the retro movement is powered primarily by fashion or nostalgia.

Many Argyle fans werent alive when the club were playing in the Beacon or Sunday Independent kits but that hasn't stopped them buying them.  For them those particular shirts holds no nostalgic value, they bought them because they liked the look of them, as simple as that.

'Retro is cool now.  We’re in a generation where image is so important and I think because of that football fans want to wear something cool and different. They don’t want to wear a plain white shirt because the 45 people to the left of them and the 50 people to the right of them are all wearing the same shirt,' Carl said.

The Terrace's collaborations with the likes of Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City demonstrate that these clubs are listening to their fans and giving them what they want.

As supporters, can we really ask for much more than that?