Aberdeen librarian’s quest to collect all 209 international football kits


AN Aberdeen librarian is on a quest to collect all 209 national football strips from around the world – and he is only eight short of his goal.

Joe Johnston began his collection some five years ago, with the casual purchase of Scotland and Slovenia shirts from a local Oxfam shop.

But his sporting wardrobe has since grown into an obsession, and he has set himself the goal of owning every FIFA-registered national football strip – no matter how obscure or unsuccessful the team.

Joe’s collection already totals over 300 shirts – with 201 national shirts plus a number of fake, fanmade and non-FIFA numbers.

Joe Johnston in the full Bhutan kit
Joe Johnston in the full Bhutan kit


But he still needs Syria, Comoros, Madagascar, Djibouti, Mauritania, Central African Republic, Sudan and Congo to complete the set.

Estimating that he has spent a “five figure sum” on the whole collection, he explained his most expensive purchase has only just been made.

“I just dropped £300 on a genuine, match-worn Eritrea shirt”, he said, “I haven’t told my girlfriend yet. Oops.”

Joe, who works at the University of Aberdeen library, has been documenting his journey to the complete wardrobe on his blog: Global Obsession.

He posts pictures of his shirts alongside a vuvuzela to provide a size comparison.

The pope's shirt
The pope’s shirt


He said: “I’ve always been fascinated by obscure international football since the days of playing as Brunei on FIFA ‘96 on the Sega Mega Drive, so it was a pretty easy quest for me to get obsessed by, really.”

After picking up the Scotland and Slovakia shirts, he said: “The only logical thing to do with a collection is try and complete it – so here I am, five years later, with 300 football jerseys clogging up my bedroom.”

His global quest has even led him to join an international community of football kit obsessives, emailing embassies, sporting officials and even footballers themselves.

“I’ve had so much help from a guy called Eric over in Canada,” he said, “and Sascha in Germany, who actually drove all the way to Scotland with his girlfriend and stayed with me.”

He explained that a Tanzanian filmmaker had also sent him a match-worn shirt, whilst he is currently in talks with a Mormon missionary in Madagascar for another.

“There are loads of good, generous people in all parts of the world who are willing to help you out if you’re polite and you explain what you’re doing.”

Among his favourite kits are are DR Congo, Tajikistan, and Scotland Euro ‘96.

“Stick a big picture of a lion’s head on the front and cram in as many colours as possible,” he said. “I didn’t get into this to have 209 dull, plain shirts.

“My love for football developed in the 1990s, so I’ve got a real soft spot for those really loud, over-the-top designs.”

The whole collection on display
The whole collection on display


Among his more bizarre possessions are an Azerbaijan under-17s shirt once owned by the pope and a fake Malawi shirt he bought at ex-English goalkeeper David James’ bankruptcy auction.

He is now making an appeal for people around the world to get in touch if they can provide him with the last remaining kits on his wishlist, with various plans for his completed collection.

“I’d like to have an exhibition somewhere so people can come and see them for themselves. So many people have shown interest in the collection, I think it’s the sort of thing people would like to see.

“It’s a sort-of statement about how football unites the world – it transcends language, culture, religion.

“One thought I had was that the shirts would be a great gimmick for a sports bar. It could be called ‘The 209’ and the gimmick is that there’s a shirt from every FIFA member country.”

But his addiction is unlikely to waver, he said: “It’s always a good feeling when something incredible rare arrives in the post and I open the parcel. It’s like Christmas every day.”