Book Review: They Wore The Shirt

Graham 06 October 2016

About a year ago, They Wore The Shirt author and friend Steve Plant contacted me to pick my brain on a book project he was working on.

He told me that he wanted to produce a book that would tell the story of the club’s history through his collection of matchworn shirts and dedicate it to the memory of his late father.

You see, Steve has an almost unrivalled passion for collecting matchworn shirts, which all started as a source of interest for his late father, John, who was sadly diagnosed with terminal cancer in early 2009. John was initially given three months to live but lived on until July 2012. During those three years, the collection grew considerably and John was given a laptop so he could keep up-to-date with the latest acquisitions via Steve’s website

At this point, I had known Steve for a number of years through Twitter and memorabilia collecting circles. We have traded items, supported each other’s ventures, chatted endlessly about Wolves and supped numerous pints of beer together, but never once did he mention his desire to write a book.

It’s probably a bit bumptious or even rude of me to say this, especially given the sentiment involved, but prior to our meeting, I wasn’t exactly awestruck by the book’s concept. I remember thinking to myself: ‘A book about Wolves shirts? That will never work.’

Nevertheless, my attitude is that I should always try to help, rather than hinder, so I went along to meet Steve with an open mind. Upon arrival, he put a book called The Arsenal Shirt in my hands and said: “This is what I want to do, but mine is going to be better!”

Once I flicked through the (admittedly excellent) book and saw the images of iconic Arsenal shirts in all their glory, I was sold. Then he revealed his plans to donate all profits to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, a charity I support myself, and I told Steve I would gladly support him as much as I could.

Over the past year, Steve and his team have worked tremendously hard on what is truly an outstanding publication. The design is slick yet simple. The photos are crisp and clear. The text is engaging and thorough.

Last night, I sat up until 2am reading through page after page of They Wore The Shirt. It is simply unputdownable.

You’ll get a lump in your throat when you read Steve’s dedication to his father in the opening pages. He reveals that John refused expensive cancer treatment because he had enjoyed a good life and felt that any available resources should be used to benefit those who had not yet had one.

This is followed by forewords by Wolves captain Danny Batth and Sky Sports reporter Johnny Phillips who recall their favourite Wolves shirts through the years, and an introduction penned by fellow shirt collector Simon ‘Shakey’ Shakeshaft.

We then take a trip through the history of the club from its inception with an overview of all of the shirts from ‘The Victorian Years’. Then, as we enter ‘The Golden Years’, the book gets really interesting by focusing on individual shirts from the author’s cherished collection, starting with the 1907/08 home shirt – believed to be the oldest Wolves shirt in existence – and continuing with jerseys worn during some of the most celebrated occasions in the club’s history such as a shirt from the club’s famous victory against Honved in 1954 (worn by Roy Swinbourne) and from the 1949 and 1960 FA Cup Finals (worn by Johnny Hancocks and George Showell respectively).

Next we take a trip through The Umbro Years, which showcases shirts worn between 1970 and 1986. These include John Richards’ 1974 and George Berry’s 1980 League Cup-winning shirts and the 1977-79 home shirt, which was recently voted the club’s most popular shirt of all time.

The next section charts The Bully Years featuring, amongst others, Robbie Dennison’s 1988 Sherpa Van Trophy winning shirt, followed by The Millennium Years including a 2003 Play Off Final shirt worn by Nathan Blake.

The rest of the book includes chapters dedicated to goalkeeper shirts and poppy-branded shirts as well as a fantastic late addition to close the book on a real high note. I won’t spoil this one for you!

So Steve, I am happy to admit I was wrong. A book about Wolves shirts does work, and it has worked brilliantly. And you were right: it is far better than Arsenal one.

By the way, in case any of you are wondering what my choice of memorabilia is: I collect signed Wolverhampton Wanderers books. I’m pleased to say my copy of They Wore The Shirt signed at last night’s excellent launch by Nouha Dicko, Danny Batth, Richard Stearman, Steve Bull, Willie Carr, Phil Parkes, John Richards, Kenny Hibbitt, Colin Brazier and Steve Daley will now take pride of place on my bookshelf.

Well done Steve, you’ve done us all and, most importantly, your Dad proud.

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