Behold, the Scarf- The History of Soccer Scarves
A History of the Soccer Fan’s Favorite Accessory Apparel
Its beauty lies in its simplicity.
Its value is multiplied ten-fold by its versatility.
And its authenticity is certified in its organic growth, having become ubiquitous in a truly global game.
Behold, the soccer scarf. A textile of contradiction, it is a relic of football’s formative era, all while exhibiting an eternal youth to fans of all levels of investment in their team, for generation upon generation. The history of supporters’ scarves is about a cottage industry gone crazy and a modest swath of knitwear that is constantly adapting yet its essence remains unchanged.
Where would we be without our supporters’ scarves, anyway? Certainly the stadium atmosphere would be relatively inert and drab. Fortunately for multitudes of impassioned patrons this cloth equivalent of the soft Swiss Army pocketknife can seemingly do it all: provide warmth or shade; tribal membership or individuality; static signage or flamboyant action.
What began as a finely woven accessory to ancient Egyptian queens had become a woolen staple of the working class by the mid-19th Century, when a sport whose seeds were sown in Britain was rapidly being exported around the world. The scarf has now followed suit.
Just Add Color
It’s impossible to answer who donned the first supporters scarf, contends National Football Museum collections officer Peter Holme. However, scarves were unquestionably among the first articles created to express support of one’s favorite club.
Shortly after teams began wearing “shirts of a fixed color, there were occasions – for example, at big games, such as cup finals – when the fans wanted to show their support,” Holme reports. “At first colored ‘favors’ (ribbons) were worn. Then, into the 1900s, we start to see rosettes, painted rattles and colored hats or clothes.”
Sure enough, an examination of online photo and video archives finds, at first, only assorted shades of grey. In the early 20th century, spectators were almost exclusively male, wearing what would be considered business attire a hundred years later: white-collared shirts with neckties; tweed jackets; long, dark overcoats. It was also the age of hats; rarely does a bare head appear.
A visual sweep of the terraces finds the working-class blokes in flat caps; next are straw hats and an occasional bowler. They might just as well be outfitted for the theatre or church services.
A film from a 1927 Wolverhampton-Arsenal clash depicts fans celebrating goals by waving white handkerchiefs. Photos from 1929 mark the arrival of the aforementioned rosettes, pinned to lapels.
Granny Did It
Finally, a sighting. A brief British Pathe´ 1934 clip from Arsenal’s FA Cup fourth round tie versus Crystal Palace yields the first prize of the hunt: the bar scarf. Seconds into the silent film, as fans fill the Highbury terraces, a solitary figure, a man wearing the requisite dark overcoat and fedora, is seen with a scarf of rotating bands of color, most likely red and black. He wouldn’t be alone for long.
In 2018, Sunil Vidhani’s family will mark 50 years in the business of manufacturing custom designed soccer/football scarves, along with other accessories for fans. Their factory, which is a long time partner to Ruffneck Scarves, is located just north of Leicester, in Nottinghamshire, England. Vidhani knows of no existing documented history of the scarf, but he’s certain that it all began with just such a scarf as seen at Arsenal.
Author and behaviorist Desmond Morris’s detailed exploration of the game and its traditions, The Soccer Tribe, noted that “scarves owe their origins to the need to keep warm on the freezing terraces of the damp and draughty British stadia in the dead of winter.”
“Generally, they were handmade scarves–granny scarves,” Vidhani contends. “They were literally hand-knit, with alternating bands of color and hand-stitched with fringe at either end.
“These were scarves knitted using needles, by mothers and grandmothers,” adds Vidhani. “That’s why they are referred to as ‘granny scarves.’”
British grannies must have burned some midnight oil in the coming years. Photographs from 1935-37 show an ever-increasing number of fans draped in scarves. Sheffield Wednesday, Millwall and more Arsenal supporters are seen wearing bar scarves at the stadium and train depots. However, the boom time for scarfing Britain would have to wait until after World War II.
A Boy and His Scarf
It was on the eve of the war that Robin Chalmers was born on the outskirts of London. At the age of 8, the war ended and football once again in full force, Chalmers joined his father for the first time at nearby Stamford Bridge.
In those days, the Chelsea ground was mostly standing areas, hence a capacity of nearly 80,000. Being a young lad, he was awestruck by the atmosphere. The sheer size and roar of the supporters impressed young Chalmers and his brother, and it cemented their lifelong allegiance to the Blues.
“People didn’t wear bright colors,” Chalmers recalls. “It was mostly dark overcoats, hats and, of course, scarves. That’s the only way they could show their affiliation was a scarf.”
Shortly after that first match, Mrs. Chalmers surprised her boys by presenting them with homemade scarves of their own. “She knit it at night while I was asleep,” he shares, “and, all of a sudden, there it was.”
“It was blue and white stripes, nothing fancy like they have now,” he says. “It was quite long, about six feet, and about a foot wide, and it would go around my neck and down to at least my kneecaps. She made it quite thick, too. You could wrap it around in case it was cold.” Various other accounts of that era tell of granny scarves up to 10 feet in length.
Soon all of Chalmers’s classmates were wearing similar scarves, knit by their mothers. None of the clubs produced scarves, let alone operated shops in which to sell them.
Chalmers and his scarf were inseparable, especially on match days. Until, that is, a couple years later and a home victory over the Gunners. Outside The Bridge, the two un-escorted boys encountered some older, bigger Arsenal fans. Robin and his brother had their prized possessions stolen, an act that embitters Chalmers to this day. Never fear, however. Soon his mother was back at work, knitting replacements.
“She was a dressmaker when she was young, so she was very quick at anything like that,” he notes. “She could really crank out the stuff.”
Chalmers never knotted the scarf. Rather, he wrapped it around his neck and, when Chelsea scored, he grabbed it and joined others in a celebratory mass swirling of the scarves. And there would be lots to celebrate, particularly when Chelsea won its first English championship, in 1955.
More Scarves, More Possibilities
Throughout the Fifties, scarves became a favorite Christmas gift throughout Britain. Some kids, wishing to make scarves appear more worn, would wash them multiple times, so the colors would bleed a bit.
Clearly, by the onset of the Sixties, the scarf had surpassed all other accoutrements in becoming emblematic of one’s tribe, one’s club.
The game was changing. More and more women and families were attending matches. As color photography became the norm, these bolts of color burst forth out of the grey in grounds throughout the land.
Poor Granny. And Mum. And Aunt Bertha. The demand for supporter scarves was far outstripping the capability of their caring fingers. At the same time, businesses saw an opportunity. Simple knitting machines that made onion sacks, said Vidhani, were modified to knit bar scarves. Same basic design, but it was now uniform in appearance and readily available to an increasing number of fans flocking to football matches.
“Not until the Sixties or Seventies did people say to themselves, ‘Hang on, we could actually make some money making scarves,’” claims Vidhani. At the time, the manufacturer would sell directly to fans. There were no club shops, per se. And at that stage, he adds, football clubs were much smaller operations and delighted just to see their colors displayed amongst the crowd.
Supporters were also discovering all the possibilities of scarves. Twirling was united by massive stretched scarf displays. Held above the head horizontally, when performed in unison it was becoming a bold spectacle, sometimes aimed at opposing supporters but more often as a visual accompaniment to the singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
“It is the display of proud supporters,” author Morris contends, “who feel an urge to pay homage to their heroes with a huge blanket of tribal colors.”
Walls of scarves became ever-present at Anfield, Upton Park and, up north, Celtic Park.
Adds Morris: “(Scarves) have become much more than neck-warmers. Not only are they still worn in the comparative warmth of the spring cup finals and in August at the start of a new season, but there is an increasing tendency to wear them tied to the wrist rather than around the neck.”
Scarves worn on the wrist was also a telltale gauge of the fan’s commitment, indicating not only a loyalty but a “hardness.” A “hard” fan, Morris wrote, “is one who is prepared to stand in the pouring rain or freezing cold” and will “join in the ritual battles with rival fans, skirmishes with police and various minor acts of hooliganism.”
Beyond Bars, Beyond Britain
In 1978, seeing an absence of anyone focusing on creating accessories for football fans, Sunil’s father, Kishan Vidhani founded his company. The initial project was producing terri-towel wristbands featuring club names. Intrigued, one of the big English clubs asked what more Vidhani could do.
He realized that if he modified an old jacquard sweater machine that knit patterns into the fabric, suddenly scarves could go far beyond bars. “He thought, ‘Why not knit the club crest into a scarf?’” says Sunil Vidhani. “We showed Manchester United and other clubs these scarves with their crest, and I remember very clearly United booked our factory for 25,000 scarves at a time. In fact, all the big clubs jumped on board. That’s when the football scarf business really boomed.”
During the early Eighties, supporter scarves became much more than just a British craze. Increasingly, scarves permeated Europe, and detailed designs were clearly visible in Spain and France. Germany, which was a few years behind in merchandise development, presented an even bigger opportunity with giant clubs like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke.
Besides the jacquard and bar scarves came the first screen-printed, polyester scarves which could be quickly created to celebrate championships and cup finals. However, they were better suited for stretching and mounting on walls, not so much for winter warmth. Still, the possibilities for using scarves as a promotional vehicle seemed unlimited.
The scarf was becoming both synonymous with soccer passion. The stretched scarf pose developed into the universal photo opp for new player and manager signings. And, sadly, mass displays of scarves also marked memorials for disasters such as Hillsborough and Bradford.
It was nearly impossible to satiate the fans’ voracious appetite for scarves. Because of they were both affordable and available in an array of designs, scarves were always a hot commodity.
“We just couldn’t meet the demand,” admits Vidhani. “We were running 24 hours a day, producing 5000-7000 scarves per week. Around 1992 the demand became so immense that we had to look at new technology.” As a result, new computerized machines replaced the original jacquard knitters.
Approaching the Millennium, scarf popularity was trending toward global. It was now vogue throughout western Europe and, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, flooding into the eastern reaches of the continent. Scarves were also appearing with increasing frequency in Africa and Japan. Still, there was room to grow.
North America: The New Frontier
Following the 1994 World Cup, soccer could once again claim a beachhead in America, and the advent of Major League Soccer afforded an avenue to create new traditions.
One of the emerging customs was supporters’ groups, both for clubs and country. They were organized and grown organically, and members were zealous in their backing. With their rhythmic clapping, elaborate signs and incessant singing, they created a lively atmosphere for the fledgling league.
Then along came an expansion club that would fan the flames of that supporters’ passion and create a cauldron of color and energy throughout a stadium on the shores of Lake Ontario.
As the founding director of business operations for Toronto FC, Paul Beirne sought to create a genuine match day experience for a truly cosmopolitan crowd, and one with close ties to European soccer. At the same time, TFC was looking to acknowledge the investment of their inaugural season ticket members.
Beirne wanted the gift to be authentic and soccer-centric, not some random, trashy trinket. He soon settled on the scarf, and in so doing, Toronto set in motion the scarfing of North America in 2007.
“We wanted to achieve those authentic photographs you see, that imagery, that moment when everyone is standing and holding their scarves in the air,” remembers Beirne. “If we were to rely on people organically buying scarves, it might take years. We wanted to give it a kick start, and it’s that thought that caused us to attach the (first game’s) ticket to the scarf.”
Voila! Before the Reds had kicked a ball at BMO Field, Beirne and TFC had their moment. As 20,000 fans rose from their seats to greet their new team and sing the Canadian anthem, they proudly unfurled their new red scarves.
Later in the season, there was a counterintuitive response to the scarf displays. “You get that iconic moment when they are raising the scarves, but by game 5 or so, the other (non-season ticket holder) fans are seeing it, and so they want a scarf,” says Beirne. He notes that Toronto, despite already gifting 14,000, was the runaway MLS leader in scarf sales that season.
Two years later, made a second leap forward, now on the West Coast.
Seattle Sounders FC entered MLS and, borrowing from the TFC playbook, issued scarves to all 22,000 season ticket members. Then, Beirne says, Seattle took scarfing to another level. There was a highly visible “Scarf Seattle” marketing campaign. A golden scarf was awarded to a deserving honoree and, prior to first kick, came the command to all fans for “Scarves Up!”
A Global Phenomena
By the time MLS turned 20 in 2016, the wearing, stretching, raising and twirling of supporter scarves was rampant throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to MLS, scarves accounted for 10 percent of all licensed merchandise sales in 2016. Beirne said 10 years earlier, he scanned crowds and saw virtually no licensed scarves. And it was pervasive beyond MLS matches.
A supporters’ scarf is now commonplace at any soccer game–internationals; women’s and lower division pros; collegiate, high school and youth clubs.
“I fully expected scarves to be part of the game here,” confirms Beirne, “but I did not expect it to do so with such speed and veracity. It’s gotten so completely huge. We brought it (scarves) to the forefront, but Seattle took it to another level. Seattle elevated it and became symbolic of something much more than just what you wear around your neck.”
Vidhani now produces a broad spectrum of scarves, including lightweight, polyester versions featuring high-definition, digital graphics. The market has exploded far beyond soccer and the game’s original bastions. Now a variety of sports at multiple levels are being supported by swathed fans on each continent (yes, he has shipped to Antarctica) as well as Caribbean nations. In addition, groups of all kinds–philanthropic, political, corporate–have opted to identify members using custom-designed scarves.
While there will inevitably be future technological advancements to how scarves are created, the chief reasoning for fans wearing them may not.
“When groups go to a game, they are associating themselves with their fellow fans, and a scarf is used to show they are part of that tribe,” suggests Vidhani. “Since the beginning, people have lived in tribes, and now, rather than a shield or an emblem, the scarf is a means to show which tribe you belong.”
Written by Frank MacDonald
It’s that splendid time of year again; when the leaves start to turn, when the temperatures recede back to comfortable normalcy, and when soccer season really gets going. In the past few weeks, numerous leagues have begun play, ranging all the way from the top heights of the English Premier League and other big European leagues, down to the local youth soccer leagues all over the world. In between, you’ve probably had a chance to hear about how your local high school and college soccer teams are faring in the new season as well. And with so many beautiful games upon us, now is the best time to reserve custom soccer scarves to represent your own club!
The timing couldn’t be better. By ordering your scarves now, you’ll be certain to receive them right as the season hits a climax, providing an awesome parting gift to your players and fans. Additionally, as winter weather begins to settle in, people will really be scrambling for something to keep them warm during those frigid playoff game nights or crisp early Saturday mornings.
Scarves have long been a tradition in the sport of soccer, well entrenched over a period extending 100 years, as fans have brought their team’s colors to the matches in order to stay warm and to show their support. Famed scarf walls adorn the stands of most professional matches these days as supporters hold their scarves up over their heads, showering their beloved team with belief and good spirit. Now you too can look to the sidelines and stands to see the famous scarves of the game, in your team’s very own colors!
Custom scarves have become increasingly popular over the years and also serve as a vital fundraiser for clubs of all shapes and sizes. Of course major clubs manufacture thousands of them for their many supporters, but at the lower levels of the game scarves can serve an important financial benefit to any team. High schools can use the sale of 100 scarves or so to help fund new jerseys, while youth clubs can benefit by covering tournament costs and other expenses.
But of course there’s no better time to get started with a custom soccer scarf order than during the season, when interest in the sport and your team is at its max! People are interested in how the team is doing, and they want to show their support. Don’t wait until after the season is over to order scarves for your players; get them now, while the games are coming up and while they will serve their vital purpose. This is an excellent opportunity for your team to take part in this wonderful tradition in soccer. So take advantage of this perfect time to get your team’s very own custom soccer scarf and watch your team soar to new heights!
All of us here at Ruffneck Scarves are extremely proud and honored to have been a small part of this amazing story about an amazing baby and family of support.....
Please take a few minutes to read this story about Luka the Lion and the Scarf Challenge. We promise it will add value to your life.....and "always remember to roar".
At Ruffneck making totally awesome scarves is only a small portion of what we do. Our real trade is exporting passion, and the avenue we have chosen to do so is through scarves. Whether it’s a US national team scarf, a custom “Spartan Spirit” high school pride scarf, or a scarf developed for a corporate event like the Halo 3 Launch, each and every scarf we make connects individuals to a community of passion, pride, and common place.
Over the years we have had the privilege of helping some amazing groups and individuals design and distribute their passion through custom scarves. To share their stories we’ve decided to do a monthly “Rockin’ Ruffneck” article that profiles a featured partner and their experiences with Ruffneck Scarves.
When we decided to run customer features there was never any question of who would be our first victum, one of the few individuals we know whose passion for scarves rivals our own, Coach Steve (Svetozar) Brdarski. Scarves aside, Coach Brdarski’s personal story is reason enough to write a feature. As a student at Pfeiffer University, between studying and his own collegiate soccer career, Brdarski somehow found time to act as assistant coach for the Lady Falcon’s at Pfeiffer. It didn’t take long for Coach Brdarski to realize this was his calling, and though according to him “many people though it was strange and I was crazy,” he forfeited playing his senior year to focus on coaching. Shortly after graduation at the fresh age of twenty-one Brdarski was appointed head coach of the men’s team, making him unofficially the youngest university head coach in the nation. It all sounds like a heartfelt sports movie in the making (note to self: secure movie rights…), but where do scarves fit into all of this?
It all started with a grand idea while working as assistant women’s coach at Longwood University seven years ago. Average match attendance at this time was around 200, but Coach had bigger dreams. Inspired by the growing popularity and fanatical supporters groups in the MLS, in particular the ECS Sounders supporters who rally and “March to the Match”, he conjured up a grandiose plan. The Lancers were gonna march!
“I can’t tell you how excited I was, but I had to get others on board. I pitched the idea to my partner in crime, Stacy Wilkerson with this whole march thing and she actually bought it.” Brdarski’s plans were underway but “what’s a march without scarves... they were the missing piece.” Pooling as many resources together as they could, the team scrapped together enough money to buy 1,000 scarves from a third party seller working with a company in China. When the scarves arrived to Coach Brdarski’s dismay the length, color, and design of the scarves were completely inconsistent. Half the scarves were navy, the others were light blue and noticeably shorter, but with limited time before the event they were gonna have to do.
Over 1,000 eager fans showed up to “The greatest athletics march ever” and the biggest match turnout in the soccer program’s history. “Everything was perfect except for the scarves.” The method for “fueling passion behind [the] event” was scarves, and that was the missing part.
At a coaching convention four months after the big march Coach Brdarski met co-founders of Ruffneck Scarves Jeff McIntyre and Erin O’Brien and became “best friends” instantly. The threesome spent the whole day talking about scarves and beginning preparation for the next march. 1,500 Longwood University scarves were ordered and delivered by Ruffneck, and they still ran out. Over 1,500 people had showed up for a women’s college soccer rally and match. Not just showed up but turned out and turned up with enthusiasm and pride for their team and school.
The scarf had turned into an epidemic! All over campus students and faculty could be seen rockin’ their Ruffneck scarves. Passion and pride bubbled over and students were already asking about the next years design. The Longwood Scarf took on a persona of its own as a symbol of school spirit and community, and believe it or not even has its own Facebook page.
That event sealed the deal Coach Brdarski is a Ruffneck elitist. As a self proclaimed scarf snob, Brdarski said “If it doesn’t say Ruffneck it’s not a scarf, it’s just a piece of cloth. Jeff and Erin are probably the nicest guys you’ve ever met… I love all the things that they do and will support them in any way I can. When someone will actually take the time to really talk with you, thats when you know they are something different… better.”The Longwood March to the match has seen continued success after its second year, and though Coach Brdarski has taken a new position at Saint Bonadventure University, during his time as a Lancer he was able to spread his passion taking one step closer to his goal of “a nation full of people who wear scarves.”
While the kids may still have their hearts set on their mid-summer bliss, any adults preparing for the new school year understand this is a very crucial period of planning for the year ahead. In fact, many of the choices that a soccer coach or team administrator makes now could have a major impact on the success of that very team. Organization of team tryouts and fall practice schedules, determining which soccer tournaments to attend, and even day-to-day choices about team travel and apparel must be made during this time. This is why the present moment also happens to be the perfect time to prepare your team’s custom scarves for the season ahead.
Soccer scarves are an integral part of the success for any soccer team, ranging from fledgling youth clubs all the way up to major professional and international teams. They all have scarves. They all understand the variety of purposes the scarves serve. Soccer scarves invigorate the fan base (and players), they get people out in the seats, they spread the word about your team, and they work as a tremendous fundraising opportunity. The lightweight items are very reasonably priced and often utilize all the key aspects that a club or school team would wish to promote. The team colors, design style, phrases, crests, or team logos all combine to harness the true ethos of the very club. With one snuggly item that is built to last for years of waving and wrapping around one’s self, the soccer scarf could truly be the most marvelous creation associated with any major sport.
Summertime is an excellent opportunity to order a new batch of scarves for your team. Every order takes some time to process. You need to figure out all the particular design aspects you want covered and think about the right number of scarves to order for your specific team’s needs. Fortunately, the staff at Ruffneck Scarves is well prepared to handle all of your questions, regardless of how big or small your program may be. But no matter how you cut it, you’ll want the scarves to be ready for the fall season pep rally and especially for the team’s first game. By taking advantage of this break before you have to get entirely involved with the players and the onslaught of team duties that accumulate alongside, preparing your soccer scarf fundraiser will be a piece of cake, and you’ll be well prepared to tackle the season and its challenges ahead.
A great result comes with practice, preparation, and execution. Those who succeed most in life have a plan and they act in a direct, concise manner. While the summer often means exotic vacations and lazy afternoons for most, those looking to lead their clubs to success and glory in the months ahead are already working hard, prepping for what lies ahead. Getting your soccer scarf campaign moving ahead right now is the perfect time to do so, and you’ll certainly reap the rewards in the coming weeks as your players and fans salivate over the delightful set of soccer scarves that arrived just in time for their big first game!