The Complete Guide to Spotting Fake Football Shirts

 Introduction to the complete guide to original retro football shirts

As the popularity of classic football shirts from past seasons increased so has the number of fake shirts with websites such as eBay, Etsy and Depop flooded with fakes.

Even some independent websites choose to sell counterfeit items over the real thing, and so it's important to know what to look for when buying authentic retro football shirts. 

How do you know if a football shirt is real or fake? 

The easiest way to identify whether a modern football shirt from the early 2000s onwards is real or not is to locate the unique product code for that season if the shirt has one for that season: 

  • Check which manufacturer had product codes for the season of your shirt
  • Locate the wash label inside the shirt
  • Identify the unique product code amongst the many different numbers
  • Google the product code to check that the results match the shirt you have

Authenticating vintage football shirts from the 1970s, 80s and 90s is slightly more difficult, requiring research into the shirt on a case by case basis to check the shirt against trusted sources. 

But there are several features to look out for which we’ll go into detail later in the guide.

How to verify modern football shirts from the early 2000s onwards


Check the shirt has inside labels 

The first step is to check the inside of the shirt to see if it has inside wash labels.

If your football shirt does not have wash labels inside of the shirt then this can be an indicator that the shirt is fake, but not always.

Some shirts, such as player issue shirts don’t have inside wash labels as the size guide is printed on the inside for Nike shirts. 

Vintage shirts manufactured in the 1970s, 80s and 90s may also not have inside wash labels.

Other times the wash label may have been removed by the previous owner as some people find the labels annoying when wearing the shirt.

But in these instances there will usually be some sign that the wash label has been removed. 

Check if the wash label has pen written on it 

Another quick way to identify a fake is to check if there is any pen marks or writing on the inside wash label. 

Pen mark on wash label

The shirts that have pen marks on the labels have usually been identified as fake.   

Check the wash label for a product code 

Since the early 2000s onwards some manufactures started adding product codes or MPNs (Manufacturer Part Numbers) under the inside wash labels to clearly identify official, authentic shirts. 

Manufacturers with product codes and where to find them

Not all manufacturers introduced product codes in the early 2000s or introduced produce codes at the same times. 

The location of the wash labels also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and the product codes are not always easy to identify amongst the different numbers on the labels. 

This is why we created this guide, to help our customers identify the product codes for each major brand. 


Nile introduced product codes around the early 2000s.  

They are usually located on a smaller label underneath the wash label, with these labels located inside the shirt near the end of the shirt.

There are several numbers on the label with the correct number usually the middle number of three, or the bottom number of two.

Nike label codes to authenticate genuine classic football shirts


Sometimes the product code will have a dash (–) in the number, but other times this not be the case, depending on the season.

Side by side comparison of a fake and original shirt

Below is an example of a fake shirt next to an original football shirt.

Fake shirts can seem very close to the original, and this is why the product codes are the best way to authentic modern shirts. 

Side by side example of a real football shirt


Take the product code and add the manufacturer name and Google the results, then scroll past the search and shopping ads and click images.


Search results for the product code


Adidas introduced product codes around the early 2000s. 

The product code for Adidas football jerseys looks like this:

Adidas label code examples


The second number on the top line refers to the season. For the example above, this shirt is from the 2010 season.

The product codes for Adidas shirts can be found in two places, either in the inside of the collar or near the bottom of the shirt. 

Adidas label codes for two shirts

New Balance

The label with the product code is located under the wash label.

In most cases you are looking for the ‘Style’ code.

New balance label codes for football shirts 

Under Armour

The label with the manufactures product code is also under the wash label, and in most cases the number you are looking for is the ‘Style’ number.

Under Armour product codes


For Puma shirts you are looking for the label with the ‘STYLE NO’ as seen in the example below.  

Product codes for Puma football shirts
Some earlier years of Puma shirts do not have Style No. and so be careful to check this against another source to check which years have the Style No.

Warrior Sports

For Warrior Sports it's usually the ‘Style’ number you are looking for. 

Warrior sports football shirt product codes


Some brands such as Umbro did not have product codes.

Although Umbro shirts from the early 2000s may have a number on the inside or underneath the wash labels, this number is not necessarily a unique product code used to verify the authenticity of that shirt for that particular season.

In the example below, the label inside the collar is a size label, with no product code to verify this shirt is an original from this year. 

Umbro football shirt products


The labels inside the shirt near the end of the shirt look like they may have a product code, however, the number under the 'Official Product' is different each time and is not a product code. 


Umbro football shirts

When verifying authentic Umbro football shirts these labels however can be useful, even without a universal product code as these labels can be used to compare against a trusted source. 

Google the product code to check the results 

The next step after identifying the correct product code is to write it into Google to check the product code on the label matches the search results.

If you type the code into Google and the results show a different shirt to the one you have in front of you then it's likely the shirt is a fake. 

Below is an example of using the product code to verify a shirt.

Player issue, Long sleeve, Children and ‘Basic’ shirts have different product codes to the regular, short sleeve shirts 

It’s important to note here that long-sleeve and children’s shirts have different product codes, even though they are the same shirt. 

So be aware of this if your shirt is a long-sleeve or children’s size, as this code will be different to the product code on the short sleeve adult shirt.  

Nothing is showing up for the number I am searching?

Rarer shirts may not show up on the search, so please note that not all shirts may show up in the search engine. 

However, the majority of shirts will show up with a Google search, but there will always be a few of the less widely searched items that may not show up a result.  

You may have typed in the wrong number from the label

It’s possible that you may have typed in the wrong number.

If you are unsure which number is the product code after checking the list of manufacturers above just send us a message either on live chat or email and we’ll help locate the correct product code. 

Alternatively, you could Google each number on the wash label until you find the correct one.

Vintage shirts from the 1980s and 1990s will not have product codes 

Vintage shirts from the 1970s, 80s and the 90s will not have product codes as these were only introduced in the early 2000s to combat the growing number of fake shirts in circulation. 

Product codes came into use around the early 2000s for most manufacturers and so we must use a separate checklist to verify the authenticity of vintage shirts.

Lets take a look at how to verify the authenticity of vintage football shirts. 

How to verify vintage football shirts


Vintage football shirts before the 2000s will not usually have a product code on the inside wash label, and so we’ll have to check their authenticity using other factors. 

Older vintage shirts may not have inside wash labels, and so we’ll focus more on the labels on the inside of the collar plus the main features of the shirt.

Once the shirt arrives, you can then check the quality of the inside stitching, as well as take a closer look at the main features of the shirt. 

It's not as straightforward to verify vintage football shirts, and often it requires research on a case by case basis to check the following features:

  • Do the labels in the collar match up with photos from another trusted source?

Compare photos of the wash labels with a trusted source. Google the shirt and zoom in on the label on the inside collar from one of the established sellers. 

Do the labels match, check that the details on the label are the same as well as the number of labels. Are there some labels missing or do they have extra labels? 

  • Brand Logo

Is the brand logo the right size and in the right location? 

  • Club Badge

Is the club badge high quality with the same size, colour and design as the trusted source or are they subtly different, or a different size? 

  • Check the Sponsor

Check the look and feel of the material. Is the sponsor the same colour, texture, feel and look? 

  • Quality of the shirt, especially the inside stitching

If you are unable to clarify if the shirt is real using the above methods then check the quality of the inside stitching. Official merchandise will have higher levels of quality control and will not let poor quality stitching pass. Fake football shirts often have poor quality stitching and general features. This includes a poor stitching or misshapen badges. 

  • Price of the shirt

The phrase ‘if something sounds to good to be true then it probably is’ can be applied to identifying fakes.

Watch out for sites that have retro football shirts from the 1980s or 1990s in multiple sizes, multiple quantities, personalisation all for around the same price of £35 as these will be fakes.

Example of football shirts with the same price

The shirts from the 1980s and 1990s are very rare and it is very unlikely to have multiple quantities and sizes of these shirts.

Instances where the inside labels or size guides of the same shirt can be different 

You must still be careful when comparing the features of one shirt to another as there are instances when the same shirt can have different features.

Sometimes when a shirt covers several years an earlier version of the shirt may have a different label or size guide inside the collar to the same shirt in the last year of the shirt.

For example, if you were to compare the Barcelona 1999-00 Centenary home shirt with a trusted source you may find the same shirt with two different size guides.

In 1999 Nike used an orange Nike tick at the top of the size guide for the centenary shirt.

Then in 2000 Nike introduced Total 90 and so changed the size guide to a Total 90 version. 


Example of a Barcelona football shirt with different labels


This means that the same shirt could have two different inside size guides and yet both versions are authentic and original. 

Close up of the football shirt


If you’re unsure why the labels are different on a vintage shirt just send us a message and we’ll be able to provide some advice.   

3. Understanding the terminology around football shirts

Classic, vintage and retro football shirts – what’s the difference? 

We use the terms classic, vintage and retro to refer to original, authentic, genuine football shirts from past seasons manufactured by the official manufacturer for that season.

However, sometimes people within the football shirt collecting community will refer to ‘retro’ football shirts as modern remakes.

However, we do not use this term in this way.

When we talk about 'retro' football shirts we are talking about original, genuine football shirts in the same way as when we use the term classic or vintage football shirts. 

Original, authentic football shirts 

When we talk about original, authentic football shirts we are referring to the genuine, licensed football shirts created by the official manufacturer of the football jersey at the time.  

These original football shirts were manufactured for those seasons only, meaning there is only a finite number of these shirts still available.

As the years pass, the number of original football shirts in circulation from previous seasons decreases and these original shirts become rarer and harder to find collectors items. 

Modern remakes / reproductions 

Modern remakes or modern reproductions refer to modern day recreations of old classic shirts. These are not genuine merchandise created by the official licensed manufactures such as Nike, Adidas, Umbro and so on. 


Fake football shirts are counterfeit items. They are often poor quality due to the lack of quality control. The inside stitching of these shirts is often poor and the material cheaper, less durable and poorly made.

As the popularity of retro football shirts increases, so has the number of fakes in circulation, with many of the fake shirts seemingly indistinguishable from the original, authentic shirts.

'Replica' football shirts 

The term ‘Replica’ football shirts is a contentious one, as different people use this term in different ways.

Officially, replica shirts or ‘fan replica’ ‘standard’ ‘stadium’ shirts are the official, genuine football shirts sold by the manufacture of that season by club shops or from the official manufacturers themselves to the general public.

However, in recent years ‘replica’ has increasingly been used to describe fakes.  Due to the confusion over this term, we only refer to standard, genuine football shirts sold by the clubs or official manufacturers to the general public as original, authentic shirts.

The term ‘original’ is the sure-fire way to identify a real football shirt.

'Player Issue' Shirts 

The next step up are ‘Player Issue’ shirts, which are official shirts made with similar features to those worn by players in competitive matches.

Player issue shirts have special features which distinguish them from standard, official replica shirts. 

Player issue shirts used to be unavailable for purchase by the general public, as there were only issued to the clubs themselves. However, in recent years manufacturers like Nike, Adidas and Puma have started releasing the player issue shirts to the general public alongside their usual official replica shirts.

Player issue shirts have higher-specification details than standard replica shirts, often made from lighter materials with a tighter fit, heat transferred plastic features, badges and smaller print sizes. 

Also, as mentioned before, some player issue shirts don’t have inside wash labels, instead, the wash label is printed on the inside of the shirt.

'Match Issue' football shirts 

Match issue items are those issued to players to wear in competitive matches.

These are the highest specification shirts, sometimes even worn by the players themselves, known as 'Match Worn' shirts which have either been donated to charity or handed out to friends, fans or collectors.   

These shirts are the most valuable and collectable items, and are incredibly hard to come by as they are not sold to the general public. 

Why are original, authentic classic football shirts so expensive? 

Original, genuine football shirts are very hard to find. These shirts are no longer manufactured but find themselves in circulation for decades to come.

As more time passes, the number of second-hand football shirts in circulation becomes less and less, and these shirts become harder and harder to find. As the years pass, so does the value of these shirts as they become rare collectors items. 

The price of the football shirt is determined by supply and demand, the demand for vintage football shirts these days is high, yet the supply of these shirts is low as quality football shirts get snapped up fast.

This means the older the shirt, the more expensive that shirt becomes. Popular shirts from past seasons become incredibly rare, increasing the value of those rare collector items. 

More recent year shirts are more accessible, and so the value of these shirts is lower in the short term.

Although prices depend on the availability of these shirts, the size, condition, if there is a player name or the popularity of the shirts from these seasons.

For example, a shirt from Leicester City’s Premier League winning year will be very valuable, as it marks a historic, possible un-matched period in the clubs history.  

Why buy a real original football shirt? 

The age-old question when wanting to buy a football shirt, is it worth buying a real version? 

  • Higher quality, more durable product
  • Re-sell original football shirts when the value goes up
  • Trade original football shirts with other collectors 

For collectors it makes sense to buy the real thing, but also the value of original football shirts from past seasons will also go up as these shirts are no longer manufactured, especially shirts from memorable seasons.

For any questions on the above please don't hesitate to get in contact via live chat, email ( or through the contact us page.  

Return to the homepage here or browse our full range of original, authentic football shirts here.

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