How to spot a fake football shirt

Fake football shirts are big business, but are they really worth it? We answer all your common questions about fake kits right here.

fake football shirts

“Just buy it on DHgate, mate”.

If I had a pound for every time someone said something like this to me about a new shirt, I’d be able to afford an authentic shirt…

As we round off 2019, one of the significant trends we’re noticing is a shift in thinking when it comes to fake shirts. The counterfeit industry is of course nothing new, but when it comes to football shirts it's no longer taboo to talk about fakes. In anything, there are now passionate advocates for fakes to the point where many people are keen not only to pick up some for themselves, but also to share the 'good news' that you now buy 6 kits for the price of 1 with no apparent drawbacks.

The reasons for this change in thinking are varied, and in many ways they’re quite understandable, so I’ve decided to dive a little deeper into the subject.

Should you buy fake football shirts? What are the pros and cons of doing so? How can you avoid fakes on the internet? Where does the industry go from here?

They’re all really good questions.

Should I buy fake football shirts?

We’ll start off with perhaps the hardest question to answer: should you buy fake shirts?

If you do a straight price comparison, there’s no competition. A typical fake shirt will only set you back £10-£15, less than a quarter of what you’d usually pay for a genuine replica. To make the decision seem even more one-sided, many fake shirts now boast the same if not better quality materials and production values (though this isn’t always the case, as we’ll explore later). You’ll often be able to add in a name and number at no extra cost too.

If you’re simply after the cheapest deal, I’d be silly to argue against a fake.

But I want to dig a bit deeper into the subject. With such a price difference, is there ever a reason to go down the authentic route?

Resale value

The first thing to consider is the resale value of a fake shirt. Of course for many people this isn’t even a consideration, fans often have no intention of selling their shirts in the future and simply want the latest kit from their team at the best price. Still, even if you’re a diehard fan it’s worth pausing to consider what money you could be missing out on.

Image from adidas.

Football shirts typically go up in value over time. It’s one of the reasons I started collecting them, and it’s one of the major factors behind the recent boom in the vintage kit industry. There are many shirts which more than double in value in just a few years, and this is even true of kits from some popular teams or countries. You only have to look at the growing proliferation of retro designs to realise that a shirt which you think might be quite normal can end up being an object of desire in the space of 5, 10, 20 years.

Trade potential

What’s more, from my experience I’ve been enjoying trades with other collectors more and more as my collection has grown. Through swaps I’ve been able to acquire rare and hard-to-find kits from across the globe, and in these deals there are inevitably shirts which I’ve bought over the years and can now use as ‘currency’. Some of these kits are ones that have lived in my cupboard for years, but it’s often those forgotten kits that can end up translating into fairly significant pieces of the puzzle.

It takes a while to understand the nuances of the shirt market, and some shirts will hold their value much better than others. But by comparison fake shirts will never significantly grow in value.

You can buy a fake shirt for £15, and even if it’s one of the most elaborate and sought-after designs at the time you’ll never be able to recoup a significant amount of money down the line. Lots of people do attempt to deal fake shirts for big money (and we’ll talk about the telltale signs of this later), but the risks of this sort of activity are significant and a lot more than the cost of a real shirt.

Accuracy (or lack of)

Still, perhaps you have no intention of selling your shirts. You’re quite happy just picking up a kit no matter where it comes from, perhaps for one of your kids who’ll never notice the difference anyway.

I’d still be keen to point out the inherent risks when buying through unofficial channels though. Whilst fake shirts have gone up in quality over the years, it's still very likely to find all sorts of quirks and errors when your shirt eventually arrives.

corinthians authenticity label
Image from Nike.

These can range from relatively small changes, like loose stitching around a crest or a slightly misaligned sponsor, to larger differences like darker/lighter than usual colours, or sub-par materials used on large parts of the kit. A lot of people claim that many fake shirts originate from the same production lines as authentic kits, and that these bargain deals are just ‘skimmed off the top’ of a pile by a factory worker. Even if that was the case, I’ve seen enough fakes in person to know that, whilst there are certainly some fakes that will fool almost everyone, there are many more that will always stand out, even if you have to look up close to notice the difference.

Dangers of the counterfeit industry

Ultimately though, that still might not be enough to convince you. You’re happy buying a fake kit because you never plan to sell it again. You’re even happy to take the risk that the shirt might be a bit difference to the original. The only thing I’d want to add at this point was that you ought to think twice before supporting the counterfeit industry.

There is no accountability with fake goods, and even the highest quality fake shirts will inevitably be made by workers who have been trafficked, or people working in poor conditions. If you provide any sort of personal details during a fake transaction, you run the risk of this information being open to further identity theft and organised crime. It might seem like a scare tactic to talk about human trafficking and organised crime, but it’s important to be aware of the potential threats even if you eventually go ahead regardless.

As a final comment, it’s worth saying that clubs will see nothing on the sale of fake shirts. For many clubs, and larger sides in particular, the intricacies of shirts sales mean that they technically don’t receive money per shirt (due to the package arrangements with brands), but regardless if you’re a fan of your team and want to help in every little way you can, you’re best going through the proper channels.

What are the alternatives to buying a fake?

Perhaps you’re slightly convinced by my arguments above, but you still can’t face paying £70 for a kit. I don’t blame you, it’s undeniable that many fans are priced out of the legitimate route, especially when you begin to factor in things like kids kits, shorts, player printing etc.

Classic shirts

The good news is there are a number of alternative places you can spend your money, and it start with perhaps the most obvious route to take. Old shirts are the way forward in many ways, and if anything there are a lot of benefits to buying a kit of years gone by as opposed to the latest release.

Image from adidas.

If you’re open to shirts from different years, there’s every chance of grabbing a bargain too. The range of vintage shirts is increasing all the time, and it’s not uncommon to find new kits coming in at well under £20. It’s something I’m keen to share with people, and I keep an ongoing list of football shirt deals for kit bargain hunters out there which may be of interest. Of course if you’re someone who isn’t looking for shirts from one particular team, you’ve got an even greater chance of snapping some up. I don’t know about you, but I get just as excited seeing a player issue Metalist Kharkiv shirt as I do a Liverpool kit...

Retro remakes

Another great option which is growing in popularity is the retro shirt, or more specifically retro remake shirts. Retro shirts give you chance to own legendary designs of the past at a fraction of the cost. The quality of these retro kits continues to grow each year, and the range on offer now from dedicated retro shirt sites and even official club stores is increasingly impressive. You’ll even find retro shirts that boast the original manufacturer logo in some cases, something which is often missed out for licencing reasons.

Whilst the resale value of these shirts is limited, there is a consistency and peace of mind when picking up a retro kit. You also end up supporting either your club or a legitimate business, something which is missing from a fake purchase.

Indie kitmakers

On a similar note, it’s also worth checking out the various indie kit makers that are on the scene. Many companies have sprung up to help fill the void, and concept kits and fantasy designs are now often sold through major retailers. It won’t satisfy a need for your team’s latest kit, but it will liven up your collection and give you a great option for 5-a-side.

How to spot a fake football shirt online

Even if you want to avoid buying fake shirts, the internet can be an absolute minefield. With the increasing acceptance of and desire for fakes, marketplaces like eBay, Depop and Facebook Marketplace are flooded with knock-off kits to the point where it can be quite exhausting to sift through what’s what.

Despite this level of difficulty though, there are quite a few telltale signs of a fake. We’ll start by looking at what a fake product page looks like, and then talk about identifying a fake shirt in the flesh.

Ways to spot a fake shirt product page online

Blurred out manufacturer logo

If you see a shirt where the manufacturer logo has been blurred or obscured in some way, it’s a fake. It’s one of the most common identifiers, and if anything it’s something of a helpful sign both for those who are keen to find fake shirts, and those that want to avoid them. Sellers sometimes use this tactic to slip through any copyright or licencing detection, though it’s also important to note that there are still plenty of fakes out there that don’t blur out any logos.

Retail pictures only

This point only applies to reselling sites like eBay and Depop, but it’s another massive red flag if you’re avoiding fakes. If you see a listing that only shows official retail pictures, it’s always worth asking the seller for pictures of the actual shirt before proceeding. Retail pictures are a great way to hook people in, but ultimately there’s no guarantee you’ll be getting what’s shown in the picture. If retail pictures are interspersed with pictures of the shirt this is usually much better, but it still makes me think twice.

Seller profiles and bios

When avoiding fakes it’s important to do you due diligence in regards to the seller. If you’re shopping through an approved retailer (like the many that we work with here at FOOTY.COM) you’re all good, but when it comes to individuals or small time outfits it’s good to understand the warning signs. If someone has recently joined with maybe just a handful of reviews, it’s always worth looking a bit closer (though of course everyone has to start somewhere!).

Read the bio, and if you see statements like “NO REFUNDS!”, ask yourself why that’s the case? No self respecting seller would run a policy like this, and unless you’re ok with fake shirts it’s an immediate no. Equally if you see a postage time exceeding a couple of weeks, I’d immediately pause and message the seller. There’d have to be exceptional circumstances for this sort of timeline in most situations (out of stock, away on holiday etc.), so to offer something like this as standard doesn’t make sense.

I’ll sometimes search the username on Twitter, just to see if other collectors have anything to say. Usually any news is bad news on that front…

Shirt prices

Another big clue which many people gleefully ignore is the price of the shirts themselves. If you see someone offering brand new kits from the current season for under £30 before Christmas, it’s highly unlikely they’re real. It’s not impossible, but I would usually say anything below £30 should make you look twice. It’s even more obvious when you see a huge range of shirts, all at the same discount rate. It can be quite funny in particular seeing sellers offering shirts from teams who only sell through their club store. If you’re not sure where a shirt is available, check somewhere like FOOTY.COM or simply Google to see where a shirt is on sale officially. If it’s not available anywhere but a guy is offering the same thing for £25, you know what you’re getting.

As the season goes on, shirts can rapidly drop in price. It’s not uncommon to see current season kits hit as low as £20 come May or later, but it’s always worth shopping around to understand what the going rate is for a particular shirt at any given time.

Ways to spot a fake shirt in person

corinthians back of shirt
Image from Nike.

Material

Fake shirts have risen in quality to the point where many are indistinguishable from a distance. Still, if you’re able to compare hand in hand with a fake and a real shirt there are almost always differences in the fabric of the shirt itself. By differences we’re talking about the finer details. Real shirts and fake shirts will most probably be the same type of material (polyester in most cases), but it’s things like the structure of the material or it’s stretchiness or elasticity that will vary.

This won’t necessarily put people off, and many fakes even have a heavier feel to give an appearance of greater quality, but if you’re able to get hold of a real shirt (perhaps in your local retailer), it’s a good check to make if you’re keen to identify a fake in your hands.

boca juniors shirt close up
Image from Nike.

Colours

Another perhaps more important factor is the colours of the shirt. To many people “red is red” and “blue is blue”, but if you stack up a real shirt next to a fake you may notice that one shirt looks a little brighter or a little dimmer. This is something which can only be done in person, as online things like camera quality and lighting can drastically alter the appearance of a kit. But to give an example, if you see a kit with a distinctive colour like the 2018 Nigeria shirt with a shade of green that looks a little bit darker and duller, it’s probably a fake.

Like the material situation, these differences aren’t necessarily a negative for many, but it’s worth considering if you want authenticity.

Patterns

One factor important to me is the integrity of the pattern. I can hear many of you audibly sighing at this point, but for me personally I hate seeing a shirt where a stripe, or a diamond, or a chevron sits where it shouldn’t. On this point it’s important to note that some shirts are cut from a large piece of a repeat pattern, which leads to degree of randomness in every shirt (something like the current Chelsea home shirt). As ever do your research and look at pictures of the kit online to see if it matches with what you have in your hands.

england shirt cuffs
Image from Nike.

Stitching

If you’ve bought a new shirt with a number of frayed edges and loose stitching, it’s not a good sign. There are of course usually one or two imperfections with any shirt, but a noticeably poor quality of stitching is a classic giveaway. Look also at the placement of the stitching, if a line of thread is even just a couple of centimetres out it’s unlikely to be genuine. It’s tricky to check this without a like-for-like comparison in your hands, but it’s a typical sign.

Applications and printing

All the details matter on a shirt. Is the crest embroidered, sublimated or a plastic application, and does it match the real shirt (taking into account whether the kit is replica or player issue). Is the name and number on the back visibly creased, or is it mostly flat? Does the sponsor look a little less sharp? As with most of these factors it’s unlikely many people will mind if there’s a degree of difference, but it’ll often be the area that fakes struggle to replicate well.

Labels

The real aces up your sleeve when trying to spot fake shirts are the internal labels. This is something which takes a lot of practice, but broadly speaking you want to be searching the relevant product codes on any label. Look for the unique code, which in the past I have found by simply Googling all the relevant looking codes on a set of internal labels. This will vary depending on the manufacturer, but if a search returns a generic template kit or a design that isn’t the same, you’re looking at a fake. Another classic sign is a label which is largely full of Chinese characters, though as with most of these things to check it’s always worth trying to compare with labels on an actual shirt.

A quick check through some real shirts at a store or from someone else’s collection with give you an idea of what sort of labels to expect, as brands will standardise across their range for any given year. Through the large number of fakes I’ve encountered over the years, this has been the clinching feature 100% of the time.

Conclusion

So where do we go from here? Are fake shirts going to increase in popularity to the point where clubs and brands will be forced to reduce their prices, or will we see the market continue to polarise more and more as a result of the industry digging its heels in?

The best way forward in my opinion is to widely adopt a 3 tier ‘quality’ model when it comes to kits. It’s something which has been used before in pockets from certain teams, but it’s never been fully implemented across the board.

In short, this model would see an additional, cheaper range of kits alongside the replica and player issue tiers which almost every team now has. This cheaper range has often been referred to as ‘basic’ in the past, and in a lot of cases these kits bear resemblance to a replica kit but with slightly lower quality materials and some missing details. The key for these kits will of course be price though, if brands and clubs can pitch shirts in the region of £20-£30 as soon as they’re released, more fans will likely move away from the counterfeit market.

There will still be fake shirts dealt at half the price of these ‘basic’ kit, but something in the £20-£30 will importantly help turn the tide on resellers who buy fake shirts and then sell them on. It’s a small but important step, and though it wouldn’t completely eliminate fake shirts, it has every potential to move the industry on in a way which benefits fans and companies alike.

Image from adidas.

Whatever your opinion on fake shirts, I hope this article has provided at least one or two interesting suggestions. At the end of the day you are free to shop how you please, but I truly believe there are numerous advantages going down the authentic route, even if it means saving up a few more months or selling a few shirts to acquire that dream purchase.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, why not be open to the options out there? If you do your research you’ll find authentic kits at cheaper prices compared to fake kits, or even specific kits you’re after at well under half the price if you can wait until the end of the season. Check out FOOTY.COM’s cheap football shirts page for the latest bargains, as well as the latest deals on new football kits from this season across all teams and nations. With trusted sites like FOOTY.COM you know you're always buying an authentic kit, even if the price is cheaper than a fake kit.

And finally, if you’re now sitting on a pile of fake shirts which you want to get rid off, can I suggest you look at places to donate them? There are a growing number of individuals and charities who donate unwanted kits to kids and adults both in the UK and abroad who would otherwise never have the opportunity to own one.

Seek these causes out and be generous. It’ll be a much better use of your £15 all things considered.

For more on fake kits, check out our latest video

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