The Fire’s upcoming friendly against Aston Villa promises to be a memorable one not just for the fans in attendance, but for the Fire players as well. The Premier League is often considered the best soccer league in the world, and chances for MLS players to compete against Premier Leaguers are rare – even for those who have or will in the future play overseas at some point in their career. And while they will certainly take away memories from the match, many will also come away with something more tangible: a jersey from an opposing player.
According to FIFA’s website, the first recorded instance of jersey swapping occurred in 1931. France had just beaten the dominant English national team 5-2, and the French players asked their opponents for their jerseys as a memento of the victory. England – going against many a stereotype of Anglo-French relations – obliged their rivals and swapped shirts.
Since then, the exchange of jerseys after a match has become a fixture of the sport. It is particularly common in international friendly matches, where tensions are lower than league matches, and many of the players may very well never play against each other again.
“It’s fun,” said Fire defender and international veteran Arne Friedrich. “When I was younger [I would trade with] some [of my] idols. But nowadays I don’t trade my jerseys anymore. I have plenty of them in my apartment at home, and it was a good time, but now I guess it’s over.”
“Well I think most people come and try to get Arne’s jersey, and that’s probably why [he doesn’t want to do it anymore,]” laughed Fire captain Logan Pause. Pause, however, still enjoys the tradition, as well as the international friendlies in general.
“It’s one of those fun games,” he said. “Bringing a team like Villa over here, and competing against guys that play at the top level -- it’s great for the fans and obviously great for us, and swapping jerseys is something that they’ve been doing in soccer for a long time.”
The Fire have played quite a few high-profile friendlies in their existence, particularly since their move to Toyota Park, which has led to some nice additions to players’ jersey collections.
“I have some [good jerseys,]” said midfielder Marco Pappa. “I have AC Milan, Manchester United... Everton, when I came here it was my first match with the team, so I didn’t get any jersey. But I have some nice jerseys from the friendly matches.”
As for the process of the swap itself, all of the players had different approaches. Pause said that he now mostly just swaps with friends that he has made throughout his long professional career. Pappa admitted that he has tried to pick out some of the more famous international players and ask for their shirts. The one thing everyone agreed on, though, was that the swap itself should not be planned out in advance.
“[Only] in the end of the game,” said Friedrich, who also added that he would never ask to trade a jersey after he lost. “If you’re asking [about jersey swapping] before, you’re not concentrating [on the game]. If you’re just focused on changing the jerseys, that’s ridiculous.”
That kind of philosophy must be music to a manager’s ears before a high-profile friendly like the one this Saturday. But Fire coach Frank Klopas also admitted that he still has as soft spot for the tradition over a decade after his playing career ended.
“I do [still have a collection of traded shirts, although] unfortunately I’ve given a lot away,” he said. “To friends... friends that have kids, kids that play soccer.”
“But I still have some that are dear to my heart. It always surprises me, when I look up and I clean stuff throughout the house, jerseys pop up here and there, which is a good surprise.”
Klopas said that there were a few jerseys he didn’t want to give away in a trade, such as his US National Team jersey from the 1994 World Cup. He did trade in other international matches, though, and names a Brazil Copa America jersey as one of his favorites that he owns.
Obviously Klopas no longer wears a jersey on matchdays, so he can’t quite take part in the tradition anymore. Does he now trade dress shirts with the opposing manager instead?
“No,” said Klopas, “we just drink a good glass of wine after the games.”
Click here for tickets to Saturday’s international friendly vs. English Premier League side Aston Villa.