Why Do Soccer Players Exchange Jerseys?


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An exchange of jerseys at the end of a game is one of the oldest traditions in soccer. But some soccer fans don’t seem to understand why players do this or even what the history is behind players trading jerseys. I’ve written this blog post to explain exactly why some players will choose to exchange jerseys with each other and how this tradition came about.

Players exchange jerseys after a soccer game to show sportsmanship and mutual respect between two players. Trading jerseys is typically done between players of a similar skill level, but sometimes younger professional players will also request the jersey of older, more famous players.

But this isn’t the only reason why soccer players exchange jerseys. Game-worn jerseys can hold a lot of emotional appeal for players, and some of the stories behind famous jersey exchanges are worth looking into. The unofficial nature of jersey exchanges can also lead to some awkward scenarios between multiple players.

Why Do Soccer Players Trade Jerseys With Each Other?

Every sport will have its own set of unique traditions. For example, hockey has a longstanding tradition of male players not shaving their beards during playoff until they’ve won the cup or another team has eliminated them.

In soccer, the exchange of jerseys is a ritual that has been around since its inception in 1931. There are a wide variety of reasons why this happens.

The first and most common reason is as a sign of respect. 

Most famous players will often exchange jerseys with each other after a game due to the mutual respect between the two players of a similar skill level.

By doing so, they essentially ‘recognize’ each other as rivals in the sport and acknowledge the work both sides have put into making sure they are the best in the game.

Sometimes younger players will ask to trade jerseys with older legends as a sign of respect for what those players have accomplished throughout their careers.

Because soccer has been around for a long time, the accomplishments of one legendary player have often served as inspiration for younger players to start their professional careers.

Being able to reach the stage where one is playing against the very same legends they saw on TV can be a very emotional moment for some players. A jersey exchanged at that game can serve as an important memento for the occasion.

Some players simply enjoy collecting soccer jerseys exchanged after a game.

They will often keep soccer jerseys of various high-profile players as a memory of the time they played against them, especially during high-stakes games (semi-finals or finals). These jerseys can serve to track one’s professional soccer career throughout its lifespan.

Soccer player raising hands
Soccer player at end of game

Famous examples of these sorts of players include Lionel Messi and Steven Gerrard. 

However, jersey exchanges are not guaranteed! Unfortunately, not every game of soccer is filled with respect. There can sometimes be bad blood between the two sides that make the exchange of jerseys impossible.

For example, Steven Gerrard holds no Manchester United jerseys in his collection due to the longstanding (and often aggressive) rivalry between the two teams. In fact, he has also been quoted as saying that he wouldn’t even let a single Manchester United jersey in his house!

Messi’s collection also sparked some talk on the Internet after the public discovered that his jersey room held none of Cristiano Ronaldo’s jerseys. Most people consider these two players the best in their generation. They have dominated soccer for years in their respective teams. So it seemed strange to some that the two had never ended up exchanging soccer jerseys. 

One important thing to remember when it comes to exchanging jerseys is that it all depends on the players’ preferences.

Messi has commonly said that he prefers collecting jerseys from his Argentinian teammates. And, for reasons unknown (although you can bet that the speculation is wild on the matter), he does not prefer the jersey of arguably his greatest rival.

When Did Jersey Trading Start In Soccer?

The ritual of trading jerseys began in 1931 when France beat England for the first time. The game took place at the Colombes Stadium in Paris, and the final score went 5-2 to France. 

Before the game, the two nations typically had a longstanding historical rivalry, not just in soccer.

France also went into the game as noticeable underdogs, with England having dominated the sport for quite some time. As such, the French players were ecstatic and wanted a memento of the occasion. They asked the English players if they could keep their jerseys as a keepsake and the English agreed. 

Thus began one of soccer’s most famous tradition.

How Do Players Ask For A Jersey Swap?

Generally, a jersey swap simply happens at the end of the game when two players wish to show mutual respect to each other. Of course, this typically only occurs between two players of a similar status (i.e., same division)

Sometimes, 2nd or 3rd division teams can end up encountering some of soccer’s biggest stars in an official game.

The most common scenario is during pre-season friendlies, where famous teams will often play against lower division sides for marketing or advertisement purposes. 

In this case, you may see the lower division player request the jersey before the game itself, such as during warm-ups or inside the stadium tunnel. They do this to reserve the jersey for themselves, as their teammates might also be scrambling to get the superstar’s jersey.

What Happens When Two Players Want The Same Jersey?

Competition for jerseys might even occur during regular jersey exchanges. 

Because most jersey exchanges are unofficial, most trades just occur when one player approaches the opposing player, and both agree to swap jerseys. This can lead to some heated arguments when two or more professionals want the same jersey. Remember, there are usually no sets rules with regards to jersey exchanges!

One example of this is a game between Inter Milan and Arsenal where Inter Milan players Marco Materazzi and Javier Zanetti both ended up arguing over who should get the jersey of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry’s at the end of the game.

In the end, Zanetti ended up winning the jersey, but it remains unknown as to why that was the case.

Some speculate that when two players want the same jersey, seniority comes into play. The jersey typically goes to the older, more veteran player. Zanetti was the senior at the time, and as such, had priority.

Others claim that it depends on how often the two players end up encountering each other during the game.

If we take the Inter Milan vs. Arsenal game as an example, Zanetti was the man tasked with marking Henry and tracking his every movement during the game. Because of this, the two players spent much of the game in direct competition. As such, Henry decided that Zanetti should take priority for the jersey exchange.

But all this is pure speculation, with the real reason likely to remain unknown for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

Jersey exchanges in soccer are an extremely old tradition that has evolved to become one of the primary ways two opposing players can show respect for each other at the end of a game.

Many professional soccer players today are also avid collectors of soccer jerseys. They typically have rooms dedicated to showing off all the jerseys they’ve collected from various players over their career’s lifespan. 

These tend to serve as a memento of important games, but what jerseys certain players end up collecting (or not collecting in the case of Lionel Messi) depends entirely on their own personal preference and can sometimes end up as a complete surprise to their fans.

For more information on soccer jerseys, check out one of my related articles:

Ben

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Sign up to the yoursoccerhome.com newsletter here or check out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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