You Just Can’t Beat a Wool Footy Jumper

For the last two years I have been searching for a wool Swans footy jumper from the 1980s. A search quickly became a hobby, which then bordered on an obsession, and finally became a quest taking me from one end of the Country to the other.

Why am I doing it? My wife and most astute judges assume early onset midlife crisis from a balding man whose football career peaked the day he “tore apart” Cameron Mooney in the under-12s in Wagga Wagga.

Why a wool jumper? I liked that when I was a kid an old wool long-sleeve jumper would help you hang on to the Sherrin in the wet. I liked the warmth they used to provide when I was freezing my backside off at full forward (the supply from the South Wagga Tolland Dons under-13s left a little to be desired). I remember when I went late-night shopping with Dad to buy my first wool footy jumper. The feel. The smell. The colour. The memories.

At the end of the day I did manage to get my hands on one about six months ago through the deep dark woods of Ebay. Apparently it was a playing jumper that used to belong to Brad Seymour. Brad originally came from Wagga, so I liked the connection and parted with quite a few pennies for it.

Despite scoring a TER in the high 80s at high school and spending three years at university I wasn’t smart enough to consider that perhaps I wasn’t quite in the shape of a 19-year-old Brad Seymour. As no surprise the jumper did not fit around my 37-year-old paunch. If I can somehow drop 15 kg I may squeeze into it.

A few months back I got a call from a company named PlayCorp (official licensee of the AFL) who had read about my efforts in previous Almanac articles. They felt my pain and thought they could help through a new jumper they were helping to develop. I was intrigued.

As it turns out PlayCorp have been working with the Woolmark Company on the “Fibre of Football” campaign over the last 18 months, which will create 100 per cent Australian Merino wool retro football jumpers, scarves, gloves and beanies. There is a great story in this. An Australian story.

How do you turn the clock back and make this happen in this day and age?

This story starts on the back of a sheep. The wool for these jumpers is found throughout Australia. Honest, hard-working folk who rise before the sun comes up, and end it with an amber ale when the sun goes down. Farms have passed through generations and the skills and knowledge survive. Hard times have been fought and the battle continues.

One such story starts with the King family of “Range View” at Darkan, Western Australia. Darkan is a town in the Wheatbelt region, between Collie and the Albany Highway on the Coalfields Road. It has a population of around 490.

The King family live and breathe wool. Range View has been with the family for 100 years and four generations. Jeremy manages the farm with the “old man” as they keep track of around 12,000 sheep. Jeremy’s mum even acts as an obstetrician when a ewe needs a hand. In the Country you do what it takes to get the job done.

Jeremy takes great pride that his family and their wool is part of the project: “We want to produce the best quality fibre that is as soft as it possibly can be. It will keep you very warm on those cold nights when you’re up in the stadium watching your football team play. It is of great interest to see where our fibre ends up.”

A West Australian family that is split between the Eagles and Dockers. They care about their football. This is an opportunity to extend the connection. Make a contribution to the game. I think Jeremy will crack a smile as big as his property when he sees one of “his jumpers” in the stands at Subiaco.

The making of the footy jumpers is a step back in time. The footy jumpers are being made in Melbourne, by Hugh Lyon Sportswear in Mordialloc, using the same machines that his father first used to churn out jumpers 60 years ago. Machines from the 1950s which have seen three generations of the Lyon family master. A perfect combination of steel and thread. These machines have been looked after like family. Without the machines and the skills of Hugh and his team there would be no jumper.

It is a long, hands-on process to produce each jumper. No quick assembly line here. Patience, a steady hand and an eye for detail are the key. Each logo lovingly stitched in. The South Melbourne Red V standing proud and ready for battle. I don’t even think Bruce Doull could rip one of these. I get the feeling this jumper will easily outlive me.

Anyone over 35 will remember their mum sewing on their favourite number to a new jumper. I see that love in this workmanship.

You can see the passion in Hugh’s eyes as the finished product is folded away: “I’d like to think my father would be looking down with pride on what we are doing,” he says.

The fact that a machine from the 1950s can produce such quality is a reflection of the workmanship of the time. It would have been easy to toss these machines out many years ago as relics. They have found a purpose in 2015 and are humming again. Society can learn a lesson from this.

These jumpers represent a nod to the past with an eye to the future.

My quest over the last two years for an old wool footy jumper has seen me try to buy other people’s memories. I can’t recreate their history, or mine for that sake. The chance to buy a new wool footy jumper, created with the love and craftsmanship of the past, allows me the opportunity to create my own memories, with a nod to the traditions and history of the game.

Who knows what memories my new red V Swans jumper will create? Perhaps I will be wearing it when I take my sons Jack and Harry to watch their first game or see the next Swans flag in it? My quest is complete.

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.

Comments

  1. Very interesting Craig – any idea on price?

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Keep on lookin’ Craig, an original might come up.

    I came across this, there must be a demand for this sort of thing.

    http://fabricoffootball.com.au/en/

    Craig, if you check the “blog” section, there are a pair of Dodsons playing for Nhill in 1978 – any connection?

    I predict a wave of “lace-up” nostalgia around 2031.

  3. craig dodson says

    Around the $200 mark and the product hits the market place to Clubs and shopafl.com mid April.

    Swish Thanks for the heads up, don’t think they are relations, however, they may be somewhere down the track. Worth me having a look into it

  4. Pamela Sherpa says

    It’s great to see the interest in wool jumpers again and great for the industry. It makes you wonder why they ever got rid of them . The new skin tight synthethic ones don’t look at all comfortable to play in . And as for some of the atrocious designs splattered on them . That chocolate milk concoction that the Hawks wore a couple of weeks ago was just awful.

  5. Kaniel Outis says

    The AFL woolen range jerseys are over priced and not even proper replicas of the authentic jerseys worn in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I have authentic jerseys manufactured by Jason Knitting Mills, who were the official supplier to the VFL, in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Just this week I bought an authentic North Melbourne 1975 Jason Knitting Mills Jersey in an opp shop for $12. It has the full white area on the upper half of the back with a black padded number 2 (Doug Wade). On the lower back are the three royal blue stripes, with the narrow pin stripe on either side. The front of the jersey has three royal blue stripes, complete with the pin stripe on either side. The V neck collar has the corrugated pattern run at right angles to the outline of the V as opposed to parallel to the outline of the V.

    These AFL jerseys are modeled on the cheap K mart replicas that I wore as a kid. These jerseys, manufactured by Premiers, Polworth, and Brandella were nothing like the real ones. The C.F.C monogram on the Carlton jersey should have an over lap of each of the letters. All the vertical striped teams had pin stripes. Collingwood had a white square machine sewed into the back of the jersey for the number, whereas North had a full white area covering half the back, as mentioned above. The sash teams (Richmond and Essendon) had stitching inside the sash that ran parallel with the sash outline.

    I suggest if people want woolen jerseys go to opp shops as you will find them. I purchased an early 1970’s Victorian jersey for $4. It is nothing like the one on sale at the AFL shop. A friend’s brother has the AFL version and we compared the two. My one is pre VFL logo days, as is my North jersey. Even the VFL logo that these modern replicas have is not like the original. The blue is far too vibrant and the laces on the white football are not correct.

  6. Clearly Kaniel you are a serious collector. If only there were enough op shop versions to go around. I actually like the nod to wool farmers in the reproductions and the genuine way that the growers are keen to make people aware that wool is a good fabric for footy jumpers. Have a look at this story https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/coleraine-football-club-bill-bailey/

  7. Kaniel Outis says

    Thanks John. I have come across that story before, it is very interesting.

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