At a glance, scarves as an accessory are products of function or fashion. Whether they’re used as a statement piece or another winter layer, scarves are stitched with different means and methods. However, scarves also serve as a memento to one of the world’s most popular sports: European football (soccer).
Although the scarf’s origin in soccer may have been rooted in functionality, its evolution with the game has solidified it into a emblem of fandom.
So how did the scarf become such an integral symbol of team loyalty?
You see, soccer games were once not only played in winter weather, they were also greatly anticipated. Matches during holidays such as Christmas and Boxing Day were among the most attended each year. Since the frigid temperatures at these holiday games were unavoidable, fans began to rethink gameday attire.
Common gameday attire from the past included clothing and fabric mostly made of black and mute colors, meaning most soccer fans were dressed in uniformly all the same shades of black, brown, and gray. As soccer games continued to draw large crowds of fans, scarves naturally began to join outfits as another accessory to the cold.
As the fan's wardrobe changed, so did team colors. While players originally wore their own clothing to games, they began to coordinate with teammates by wearing matching, brighter sashes to distinguish themselves from longer distances on the field. According to the Football Association, in 1867 the official FA handbook wrote-in rules calling for teams to wear uniform striped sweaters with an alternating color.
And so, teams began to showcase their stripes. Most commonly, these stripes were joined with colors decided by the players’ associated school.
Soon enough, color became contagious on the field and found its way to the fans.
With the simple striped pattern of the scarves, fans could showcase both their personal pride and passion as a community member. Even when the game schedule was eventually shifted to avoid winter weather, soccer scarves had become too significant of a prop to leave at home.
Instead, fans began to hold their scarves during matches as symbols of team loyalty, pride, and respect. Team slogans, crests, and even the faces of players began to adorn the woven fabrics.
Today, it is impossible to miss the scarves raised and waived by passionate fans in the stands. Young fans collect their first team scarf as a rite of passage and older fans often display their scarves at home.
Although they might look like a simple accessory, soccer scarves are worn and raised as a passionate tradition and exercise of team pride.