In Search of ’79: My 30-Year Quest for Whitecaps Jersey Perfection

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I have fond memories of the original NASL here in Vancouver.  Especially the 10-foot bounces the ball took off Empire Stadium’s artificial turf (essentially indoor-outdoor carpet glued down onto asphalt), and the bizarre invention that was indoor soccer.  But, as usual, I liked the jerseys best of all.

An overview of the height of the polyester/screen printed/heat pressed era is unnecessary, as the fantastic http://www.nasljerseys.com already exists.  All I can add is I love this era of jerseys, especially the unique design the Whitecaps adopted in the 1979 season: two shades of blue and white, with a distinct horizontal stripe that wrapped around the entire jersey.

I’m not a serious jersey collector, but I do like game-worn jerseys, and I have a few from local Vancouver teams.  My desire for a game-worn Whitecaps jersey dates back about 30 years, after the 1984 demise of the NASL.  I remember watching the local evening news at home, when there was a feature on the auction held to liquidate the assests of the team.  All I remember was seeing the feature, and wishing I had heard about it in advance.  Not that it would have made much of a difference; I was 17 years old with not much money of my own.  But seeing the auction in a room with jerseys lining the walls stuck with me for many years, and I often wondered which jerseys they had, and how much they sold for.  I also wondered where they all wound up – game worn NASL jerseys are rare, and seldom turn up.

And then it happened: I saw one for sale on an online sports auction this past fall.  A real 1982 game-worn Whitecaps jersey.  But not only was it a game-worn jersey: it was the blue road jersey (my preferred colour). And, most astonishing of all it was the number 29 jersey of Mark Nickeas – my favourite number.  I resolved to win the auction and was fortunate to receive this beautiful piece of polyester glory:

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Finally, 30 years later, I owned one of the jerseys I would have hoped to bid on had I attended the auction in 1985.

I recently obtained a copy of the notice for the 1985 auction from a local collector.  At least I now knew when and where it occurred, and that I had remembered it as it actually existed:

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I thought my quest was over, but there was one thing I couldn’t shake: the fact the 1979 design was my favourite of all of the variations of the jersey.  Each year the design changed slightly, but 1979 was the year they used that fun big round font, and had the name placed, unusually, in the middle of the back of the jersey in the stripe.  Also, due to this name placement, the numbers on the back are unusually high.

Since I started sewing again (I learned when I was young, but only took it up again in the last couple of years), I thought maybe I could make a decent replica of the ’79 jersey.  So I set out to collect materials to see how close I could get to making one.

Here’s version one:

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I used a heavy mesh material that would be more suited to football or hockey jerseys.  Everything is sewn on, even though the real ones used a combination of screen printing and heat pressing. Overall it turned out well, but it was a little small, and the heavy, high-quality feel didn’t seem to capture the era.

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I decided to make it number 29, the number Carl Shearer wore in 1979.

For version two, I found a lighter weight mesh and used a flocked heat-press material for the cresting.  The lighter mesh felt more like a soccer jersey, and the cresting was far more similar to the screened-on designed used on the originals.

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For this one, I applied Kevin Hector’s number 11.  There were a couple of reasons for this.  For one, the sans-serif one as part of this font is a great way to save material, as both ones use less material than any other single digit.  The other reason is in the 1979  playoffs (where the Whitecaps would go on to win the Soccer Bowl Championship), Hector wore the earlier of two versions of the jersey worn in 1979.  In this case, the back numbers were a two-tone sky blue and white that was placed in the normal mid-back position, with the name above.  Oddly, he wore this style in the playoffs while the other players had switched to the number-above-name style.  I wonder if his jersey had gotten lost or stolen, or if perhaps he was superstitious and wanted to wear the old style.

This jersey fit much better and looked more accurate; however, I still felt I could do better.  So, I made this third (and probably last) version, which is very accurate and fits very well:

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The material is another type of mesh, with smaller holes and what looks like a very accurate shade of blue.  All the cresting is heat pressed, and overall I am extremely happy with the design.  I went back to the number 29 Shearer design, as this is what I wanted my dream jersey to look like.

All of this has been a fun project, from the research to the experimenting with materials to wearing the final product.  I think I can finally say I have completed the quest which started with seeing that auction back in 1985.

Note: I do all of this for myself and just for fun, and don’t sell anything I make.  But Copa makes a decent replica of this era of jersey.  It’s not accurate in many respects but is well-made and a good choice if you are looking for one of these jerseys.  In Vancouver it’s available at The Sport Gallery on Granville Island.

I think the only place left for me to go on this would be to acquire an authentic game-worn 1979 jersey with the numbers over the name just like the one I made.  But because this was the championship year, I suspect all of the players kept their jerseys and likely few, if any, have escaped to the collector’s market.  Still, I’ll probably keep my eyes open for one – the quest never really ends, does it?

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Version 2

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7 thoughts on “In Search of ’79: My 30-Year Quest for Whitecaps Jersey Perfection

  1. Tom says:

    So, so good. Man I love it. The attention to detail, continuing the process until it’s just right. Paul Lukas is right, a true DIY genius!

    -tom (aka @HighSockSundays)

    Like

    • Wafflebored says:

      The auction ended at $400 US. There was also a 20% hammer fee, currency exchange and shipping so in total it cost me $700 Canadian. A lot of money, but I had been wanting one for ages and didn’t know if I would see one for sale again.

      Like

  2. Michael Hughes says:

    i won 2 1980 match worn shirts. a away hankin and a home white #20 johnson.. they are the same shirt as 79 just a little differnet mate.. i won 60 match worn NASL SHIRTS FROM 1975-1983

    Like

    • Wafflebored says:

      Just need to learn how to sew, need quite a bit of practice though. No special skills otherwise, but it does take time and patience. Some of the stripe and crest materials can be difficult to find as they are not typical materials you would get at a fabric store.

      Like

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