Wales superfan who spent £65k on match-worn shirts

Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption Superfan Simon Shakeshaft in 1977 when he was 11 and wearing his favourite kit and (r) today

Wales supporters are preparing to watch the national team pull on the red shirts at a major football tournament for the first time in 58 years.

But for one man who has spent £65,000 amassing a collection of 350 match-worn Wales tops, the kit is almost as important as the results.

Superfan Simon Shakeshaft, 51, says he still has to "pinch himself" after Wales qualified for France 2016.

But what drives fanatics like him to seal another man's clothes into airtight bags to preserve the "sweat" and "smells"?

Mr Shakeshaft, a former physiotherapist at Hereford United, Exeter City and Shrewsbury Town, said his collection has allowed him to stand in his heroes' boots.

Image copyright Getty/Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption Rod Thomas (l) and the shirt he wore against Czechoslovakia in 1977 (centre) and the famous "tram-lines" kit (r) worn by John Toshack

"I was never good enough to be a footballer, like 99% of lads are not," he said. "But when I was a physio, that was the next best thing.

"For me, if I have a match-worn shirt worn by Hal Robson-Kanu or John Charles, that's the closest I can personally get to that level.

"To me, that's a historic artefact straight away. He's represented Wales in that shirt. To have the shirt sweaty and smelly adds to the provenance."

Mr Shakeshaft, whose family originate from Bridgend and Swansea but who now lives in Watton-at-Stone, in Hertfordshire, always had a love of football collectables as a child.

Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft/GETTY
Image caption This Adidas home 1980-84 shirt was worn and signed by Welsh goalscoring legend Ian Rush
Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption (Top left) Ashley Williams' home shirt from Wales v Austria in February 2013, (top right) Joe Allen's away green and white shirt v Croatia in October 2012, (bottom left) Ian Rush's away shirt white v Luxembourg in November 1990 and (bottom right) Mark Hughes' home shirt v Luxembourg in November 1991

"I have collected stickers, trading cards, programmes and ticket stubs, you tend to progress in your collecting," he said.

But when the "era of the replica shirt boom" exploded into life, Mr Shakeshaft, known as "Shakey", fell in love.

"I had the replica Admiral shirt in 1977. I used to wear it and never took it off. It was strangely acceptable in those days for English lads to wear the Welsh 'tram-lines' kit because it was so lovely. It was my favourite ever Welsh shirt," he said.

'Cracked and flaked'

"You could see they all had vinyl badges. They cracked and peeled and flaked off it."

It was not until 1991, when a relative gave Mr Shakeshaft a match-worn club shirt, that he realised there was a difference between the kits on the pitch and those on the terraces.

"The players' ones were cotton, with cloth badges, and they were just a more comfortable garment to wear," he said.

Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft/GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Gareth Bale's shirt from the crucial win over Cyprus at home in October 2014

His Wales collection did not really kick off until 2001, when he got his hands on a John Hartson shirt and it began to scale up in 2004.

He then began building up his compilation through auction houses, former players, officials and other collectors, buying such famous examples as the shirts worn by John Toshack and Malcolm Page during one of the two quarter-final legs against Yugoslavia during Wales' "forgotten" Euro 1976 campaign.

Mr Shakeshaft has tops worn by legends of Welsh football, including several Ryan Giggs shirts, Ian Rush shirts, a Trevor Ford shirt and another worn by Ivor Allchurch.

He also has kits worn by Len Allchurch, Stuart Williams, Neil Taylor, Chris Gunter and, of course, Gareth Bale, to name but a few.

But one still eludes him.

Image copyright BBC/Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption This shirt was worn by Wales' Len Allchurch in the first leg of the 1958 World Cup playoff against Israel

"To get a John Charles shirt would just be a dream. One recently sold at auction for £4,400 and I'm not really in the market to buy one at the moment - having to shell out that amount.

"My wife would not really go for that," he said.

He said he rarely pays vast sums for one shirt, but the most he has ever paid for a single jersey was £3,700 for a Ryan Giggs shirt - albeit a Manchester United shirt from the 1999 Champions League final.

Mr Shakeshaft, who also has a vast collection of club match-worn shirts, is curator of Wales-based Neville Evans' national football shirt collection - a cornucopia of memorabilia which has been exhibited at numerous museums.

But when it comes to safeguarding the record of origin of his own shirts, Mr Shakeshaft will go to extraordinary lengths.

Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft/GETTY
Image caption This Adidas away shirt (inset) was worn by defender Kevin Ratcliffe in the early 1980s

"Authenticity is massively important. Changes to the shirt are critical to its value," he explained.

"If I have a modern-day shirt, if it's a match-worn shirt, I like it to be unwashed, if I can. That's very rarely the case. But when it does have a point of provenance, I like that.

"You dry it, bag it, and the fact it remains unwashed gives it its provenance. The grass and mud stains, with the quality of images available, can be photo-matched."

The fanatical Wales fan has watched numerous failed and ill-fated qualification campaigns over the years and, as Wales' opening game against Slovakia on 11 June draws nearer, he still feels a slight sense of disbelief.

Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption (L-R) Neil Taylor's shirt from a victory in Andorra, James Collins' shirt from an away tie in Belgium and Chris Gunter's shirt from the 0-0 home draw with Bosnia
Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft/Getty
Image caption Joe Ledley's shirt from the huge victory in Israel

Wales has narrowly missed out on major tournaments since it qualified for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

These include the 1976 European Championship in Yugoslavia - when the format saw only four teams qualify, the 1984 European Championship in France, Mexico's 1986 World Cup and the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

"It's actually a past of total heartbreak," he said. "I had to pinch myself for a while to realise [Wales had qualified for Euro 2016] and to think that nobody can take this away from us."

Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption Simon "Shakey" Shakeshaft with Dave Edwards, who was his boot boy at Shrewsbury Town
Image copyright Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption Two Hummel shirts worn by Kevin Ratcliffe - an away shirt worn against Denmark in October 1987 and a home shirt worn against Sweden in April 1989

He added: "You just get so used to heartbreak. You think, you don't know how to celebrate this. It doesn't seem real."

Mr Shakeshaft thinks the current kit is "bland", but will it disappear into obscurity or go down in history?

"You have just got to wait 20 or 30 years to see whether people will look back to say 'Wales had a great tournament'," he said.

"Only time will tell whether it becomes a classic."

Image copyright Getty Images/Simon Shakeshaft
Image caption A popular Adidas home shirt, used from 1984-87, worn by Kenny Jackett against Spain at the Racecourse in 1985

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