As many of you will undoubtedly already be aware, as part of this year’s City of Culture celebrations, this summer will see a public exhibition of player worn Hull City kits and memorabilia that aims to tell the story of the club’s visual identity and its integral place in Hull culture.
This collaboration between amateur collectors, us at the Hull City Supporters’ Trust and the Streetlife Museum in Hull, will explore the city’s connection to the colours black and amber and the club’s intrinsic links to popular culture in the city. Celebrating how football brings together people from all backgrounds, supporters will be encouraged to share reminiscences evoked by a collection of black and amber garb.
One of these collaborators, and the mastermind behind the Tiger Rags concept, is Amber Nectar’s very own Les Motherby. Ahead of the grand opening of the exhibition on Monday July 3, the HCST sat down with Les to talk Hull City shirts, his obsession with collecting, and how the exhibition came to be…
We all know, thanks to your involvement in the fantastic Amber Nectar website and more recently your presence on Twitter, you are a huge City fan. However, away from on the pitch action, what sparked your interest in the aesthetics of Hull City kits specifically?
I’ve been a kit geek since an early age. As soon as I saw my first game as a kid I wanted a Hull City shirt of my own, and luckily that season, 1982-83, was the first in which proper replica City shirts were sold. There’d been some approximations of the Europa and adidas shirts available previously, without a maker logo or club crest, but when Admiral became kit supplier we got replicas in the true sense, and the obsession grew from there. It’s funny that I look back on the 80s, when we had red in the kits, with fondness because at the time I really wasn’t a fan of the red trim, I was delighted when we went back to just amber and black in 1990. I remember a game in 1989/90 when City had a corner in front of the South Stand at Boothferry and I was pressed up against the fence trying to get a better look at the player shirts because I’d noticed a change in the shadow pattern from the start of the season. I guess that was the point where an interest became a full blown obsession.
While Hull’s City of Culture year has so far been a huge success, one criticism could be that the City’s sports clubs, which clearly play a massive role in local culture, have not really been that involved. How did you manage secure your exhibition at the Streetlife Museum?
It was precisely because City didn’t seem to be involved that I decided to do it myself. I’ve no experience of putting on an exhibition, or getting involved with community events, I’m a complete novice and there has been times when the process of approaching a local museum, and applying to be part of the Hull 2017 Creative Communities programme has been a bit terrifying, but I felt strongly that the club should be represented and thankfully both Hull Museums and the people behind Hull 2017 agreed, so I’m glad I plucked up the courage to ask.
I don’t see how you can have a City of Culture year with no mention of Hull City. Culture isn’t just art and theatre and poetry, it’s whatever people do, and what I’ve always done is support Hull City and advertised that by wearing the colours. To Hull KR’s credit, they have gotten involved, they had a Hull 2017 shirt a few years ago and they were one of the ‘bid angels’. I wish City had been more involved, they allowed the multiple microphone recording of the crowd at the Newcastle League Cup game for the brilliant sound installation at Zebedee’s Yard I suppose, but I reckon they could have organised a kit exhibition better than me, but hey it’s me and my modest project that you’ve got!
As well as items from your own collection, you have brought together a number of local collectors to exhibit their prized player worn shirts. Can you give us a taste of some of the rarest or most unusual items that will be on display that us City fans will be dying to see?
I didn’t want it to just be my stuff. To my girlfriend’s bewilderment people do ask to come to my house to see my collection, so just displaying things that I own didn’t seem special. I’m not the only City fan with the collecting gene, and social media allows me to cast envious glances at what other people have, it just made sense to try to have as broad and rich a display of matchworn shirts as possible. I said that I was transfixed by the change in shirt shadow pattern in 1989/90, well one fan has kindly lent one of those shirts which were never commercially available. Only the players got to wear them so the number 7 home shirt, which will have been worn by Garreth Roberts, is an exhibit that I particularly love. The club have lent one of Michael Dawson’s 2016 Play-off final shirts which is very, very cool.
The exhibition will be split into to themes. The first theme, Plurality of Polyester, will run from July 3 to September 3, while the second, International Tigers, will run from September 4 to October 2. What will each theme involve, and overall, how many items will we be able to see at the exhibition?
My biggest concern is that people may be disappointed by how many shirts are on display, but some of that comes from my having a spare room that has a Hull City something or other hanging from every available aperture, and museums don’t work that way, it’s a distillation of the best stuff. We’re limited by the display cabinets and tables that are in the community space at the Streetlife Museum normally, so you’re looking at 20 shirts for each phase and some other items for context, but as well as the shirts there are a series of large banners that I hope will inform and entertain visitors with stories from the club’s kit history.
The first phase is all about kit design and how varied some of the designs used are, hence plurality of polyester. Each table will have a theme, so there’s solid amber shirts, striped shirts, shirts featuring red trim from the 80s and away shirts.
The last phase is about players who’ve worn Hull City’s colours, and at a time when migrant labour is a hot topic politically, I thought it was worth noting some of the foreign players who’ve represented the city of Hull by playing for Hull City, so that’s International Tigers.
In the past you have commented that some people don’t really see old football shirts as collectible historical items, more ‘examples of old polyester tat’. How important do you think your items are in documenting the history of Hull City, and culture in Hull more generally?
To me the playing kit is the most important element of any club’s visual identity. If for some whacky reason Hull City and Leeds United decided to swap their entire squads, we as fans would start cheering for players we would have previously felt inclined to jeer, and to jeer at players we used to cheer. Why? Well, fundamentally because they’ve changed clothes, which makes you wonder if it’s really the laundry we support! Players, managers and owners come and go, club’s move home, some even try to change name, and even though kit design is subject to the whims of fashion and there are changes in material as technologies develop, the colours and styles of kits associated with a club are what provide a sense of continuity and something that symbolises a place and it’s community. I’ve worn City shirts when travelling abroad and been recognised as coming from Hull based on my attire, that speaks to the cultural importance of amber and black to the city of Hull. Do sports fans in Asia, Africa and the Middle East know that blue and yellow are the civic colours of Hull? I doubt it, but show them an amber and black striped shirt and chances are they’ll know it represents Hull.
As many of our members are aware, thanks to the brilliant backdrop to Amber Nectar’s weekly podcast, your extensive Hull City shirt collection has now taken over an entire room of your house. While we know that all of the items are your ‘babies’, if you had to choose just one to save, Desert Island Discs-style, which would it be and why?
Fifteen years after I was outbid for one at an auction, I finally managed to get hold of a 1980-82 adidas home shirt not long back, and I’ve existed in a state of blissed out kit zen since. There are times when I just retire to my ‘kitroom’ and gaze lovingly at it, still not believing I own one. I envisage being shrouded with it when I die!
The vast majority of the collection is made up of match-worn items. Do you have a favorite story that accompanies any particular shirt?
I’ve got a 1999/00 away shirt worn by Mark Greaves that I bought from the son of a former club employee who, err, ‘liberated it’, shall we say, and that son had once heard the player speak in worried tones that his away shirt was ‘missing’ Back then players were issued two sets of home kit and one set of away kit, and told if they swapped shirts there would be a fine of a week’s wages! So when Mark Greaves visited the kitroom for a podcast I asked if he ever faced sanction over the loss of his away shirt and sheepishly pointed it out in the collection! Still, he didn’t hold it against me as he later donated a 2000/01 away shirt to the mini-museum!
Tiger Rags – The Fabric of Hull City AFC will run from Monday July 3 to Tuesday October 2 at the Streetlife Museum of Transport. Entry will be free.