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Slaven Bilic: Football shirts are like your ID

13 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Slaven Bilic: Football shirts are like your ID

Continuing our #PrideInYourShirt series, the West Ham boss on why fans love kits, personal favourites and swapping shirts with World Cup legends

You first arrived in England in 1996 when you signed for West Ham. What are your memories of pulling on the Hammers shirt for the first time?

My first game for West Ham was Spurs away, so it was a big one of course – and we won that game 1-0.

It was a very proud moment, I have great memories of putting on the shirt for the first time and of that day.

It’s the last year at the Boleyn Ground. How important was it for that sense of history to be commemorated in this year’s shirt?

It’s crazy when you think about how many years and seasons the club have spent here.

So many generations, so many fans, so many great moments, big players. It’s all part of the club, for such a long time, and now, it’s a privilege for the fans to watch the last season here, as a player to play in the last season here, and for a manager to be connected with this club in its last year at this stadium.

[The shirt] makes everybody proud and excited for this year.

West Ham

Football shirts provide a lot of excitement for fans when they’re launched. Was this something you experienced when you were young?

It was a different time, and I am not that young now! But it was much harder in my time, especially in my country, to get a shirt.

Apart from the home club, it was much harder to get shirts of the famous clubs from abroad. I remember being so, so happy and it was so special when my dad bought me my first Hadjuk Split shirt.

It was a dream for every kid in my home town. And it still is now, it’s great to see.

Football shirts are special.

I’ve actually just come from the club shop to buy some [West Ham] shirts for my family back in Croatia.

What is it about football shirts that fans love so much?

Well, It’s like ID. It’s your club. If you see someone wearing a West Ham shirt, you know he is that kind of guy, or he’s local, so yes, football shirts are like your ID.

And now, they are very modern, and they are slim fitting and all of that, so they are part of the fashion as well.

Shirts often make for treasured memorabilia – for fans and for players. Do you have any shirts that you’ve kept hold of?

Yes, I used to collect shirts from when I was playing. I have them all in my house, and from time to time I get them out. With them, the memories just come back, you know? You can remind yourself of all these proud moments, big victories, and even some big defeats as well.

I’ve played for the [Croatian] national team in a World Cup, and of course I have some shirts and also I’ve swapped some as well.

Another of my favourites is my first West Ham shirt, the Pony shirt.

Bilic Croatia

You mentioned swapping shirts at the World Cup – who did you swap with?

In ’98 we played against Holland for third place, and I swapped shirts with Patrick Kluivert. We also played against Argentina, and I swapped with [Gabriel] Batistuta.


Why do you think swapping shirts has become such a common tradition among players?

It’s a tradition that has become more popular. Before, the players would only swap maybe after a big game, or after special kind of games, now some are even doing it at half time.

I remember when we were playing, we had less jerseys because the kit man would get mad if you swapped your shirt or threw it to the fans! You would get fined for that.

Nowadays its not such a problem and it’s part of the tradition. As I said, they [shirts] are special for people.

And finally – Do you have any favourite football shirts in world football?

Maybe I’m a bit biased – but we Croatians have a nice shirt with the red and white checks. I have always loved the Argentina shirts, too.

Club kit? I like the black Besiktas one. Strong, simple.


WATCH: Julian Dicks: What West Ham means to me

READ: Lairy Boots, Lucky pants and why being a kit man is ‘not just about turning up at 2pm on a Saturday’