It is no secret that we at The Public Apology have a maniacal, OCD-like appreciation for everything yesteryear.
Every player, sport and team in the modern era pales in comparison – in terms of personality, aesthetic and game play – to how it was when we were in our most formative years. Royston Lightning, not Akuila Uate. Peter Louis, not Des Hasler. Des Hasler, not Daly Cherry-Evans. Moghseen Jadwat, not Matt Cecchin. Etcetera.
Retro jerseys are one such example of this Gen X/Y lust for nostalgia. As you already know, jersey manufacturers such as Classic have picked up on this niche hipster market, having launched a range of expensive, old school rugby league apparel for the man who wants you to know just how ironic he really is.
Now while I respect Classic’s move to diversify its product range and introduce new revenue streams, I would obviously never purchase one of these freshly manufactured retro jerseys. Firstly, they are far too shiny and lack character. But secondly, and most importantly, they are not authentic.
Just like a Picasso original, nothing compares to the real thing. You want to see the intricate brush strokes in an artistic masterpiece. You yearn to feel the true essence of the portrait. To understand Picasso’s burning, carnal passion for his muse, Marie-Thérèse – a feeling that leaps alive off the canvas in typically abstract, absurdist form.
This intangible quality simply cannot be achieved in a glossy, framed Picasso print purchased at Tempe Ikea for A$79.95, despite what some Redfern yuppies will have you believe.
Ergo, a ‘retro’ rugby league jersey must honestly and triumphantly display all the wear and tear of the era it was forged in, for it is a relic of yesteryear.
A Super League jersey must carry lingering tomato sauce stains of a cold night spent out at Penrith in 1997 as a 12-year-old, watching the Raiders get flogged by a sub-par Panthers outfit.
A Souths jersey must obviously be faded just enough to show that you were definitely there for the lean 1992-1996 years – not for the resurgent 1998-99-post-federal-court-case-Craig Wing-the-saviour-years.
From these brief examples, which I have penned hastily in a terrible airport lounge from memory alone, you can deduce that a truly great jersey is the one purchased when your team was languishing at the bottom of the ladder.
When your team was so terrible that they could not afford blue chip sponsorship, but had to settle for dodgy car dealership money. When jerseys were so fucking ugly – both in colour and texture – that you could only assume the team’s 70-year-old computer-illiterate strapper had assumed the graphic design duties himself.
Now while I’m on this rant, I must quickly take umbrage with the word retro itself, for it has been bastardised beyond belief in recent years. A derivative of the Latin prefix retro, it is a catch-all tag given to anything imitative of a past era that, when considered in current context, seems marvellously outdated – and for that reason alone, fashionable.
The faux-retro rugby league jersey market is firmly focused on a 1970/80s aesthetic. And that makes sense: the fabric, slim fit and bold colours/logos make for a real statement piece – and an excellent talking point at any social gathering.
But the word retro is, to my eyes, too superficial, for it is based on fashion alone. And there is nothing fashionable about a Super League-era jersey – and that hideousness is what makes them so great, so subversive, so real. Because let’s be honest, 1997 was a terrible year for everyone affiliated with rugby league.
Anyway, we at The Public Apology would like to get your thoughts on the greatest, most obscure rugby league jerseys of all time. Which jersey wins the prize for the most ironic, and why? Forget the halcyon days of rugby league; we want to know which jersey represents the sport at its lowest point?
Help us find, and to crown, the most deliciously ironic jersey of all time. And help us quell the proliferation of terrible faux-retro rugby league jerseys, which now litter the streets and supermarkets of inner west Sydney like disease-ridden Cane Toads from north of the border.
By Dave Edwards