Arjan Wijngaard enjoys a massive collection of almost 3,000 jerseys which is incredible and he has been collecting for nearly 27 years.
Being offered a Ferrari/Lamborghini, a luxurious Mansion or a billion dollars is enough to entice the best of us. Arjan Wijngaard’s resolve however is stronger in developing an attachment to such material possessions. Wijngaard will happily refuse even the most tempting offer if the option of acquiring a unique jersey is presented at the other end. The Dutch football fanatic enjoys a massive collection of almost 3,000 jerseys that includes clubs from all over the world. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that he is considered the man with one of the largest collection of jerseys ever. From Everton in England to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, you simply need to name it and out pops a jersey.
“Does it make me sound too holier than thou if I admit to refusing a Lamborghini in favour of a jersey? Fine, I will opt for the car and later sell it in order to finance the purchase of a few more interesting jerseys,” he states with a laugh in an exclusive chat to sportslumo.com.
“It’s been nearly 27 years now that I have been engaging in an exciting pursuit for some of the most fascinating jerseys. However, I do take a trip down memory lane sometimes, thinking about the fine day it all started back in 1995,” adds Wijngaard.
The 42-year-old started developing an interest in football when the Netherlands won the European Championship in 1988.
“I was nearly 10 years old back then. However, I distinctly remember being left zapped by the performance of the Dutch players, who gave it their all. That day marked my entry into the glorious world of football,” he says with a smile.
Wijngaard soon started supporting his local club FC Groningen as well. He developed a strong attachment on the back of regular trips for home games. The love continues till this date, with the 42-year-old a seasoned ticket holder since 1993. Things were flowing along nicely, with the football fanatic well content in his role of a supporter. However, things were about to change drastically as Wijngaard soon realised.
“I was out on a holiday in Spain, when I had a chance encounter with some Britishers. While interacting, we steadily started discussing football which I participated in enthusiastically. On a parting note, they asked for my address expressing a desire to send an Everton jersey. Every true football fan should have one, they said. I agreed without thinking too deeply, with not even much expectation of receiving a response,” he states.
“Surprisingly, they did send one across, with the jersey one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Something changed the moment I saw it for the first time. I can’t describe that feeling in words. Magical would be the closest. From that day onwards, I decided to pursue a collection of jerseys which would provide similar happiness, if not more,” adds Wijngaard with a grin.
While the 42-year-old started off on an enthusiastic note, the initial few years involved their fair share of struggle. The Dutchman had to develop a patient approach as purchasing from shops was quite expensive.
However, things changed with the introduction of eBay as sellers started advertising their jerseys at reasonable prices. The same shirt which would have cost 80 Euros previously now became available for 20 Euros.
“eBay did make a vital impact with accessibility boosted along with eye-catching offers. I took full advantage, going along increasing my collection at a steady rate. While major clubs like Manchester United were on the radar initially, I soon realised that they were more focused on earning a profit. Hence, I decided to focus my efforts towards the smaller clubs across the world, which is something I have maintained even now,” says Wijngaard.
The 42-year-old has maintained an emphasis on utmost self-control when it comes to the financial side of things. Wijngaard does not equate being passionate with simply splurging it out, having witnessed numerous enthusiasts being forced to bow out early due to mismanagement.
“I work at a bank. However, there is a certain budget beyond which I will not budge at any cost. Jerseys in my collection are usually added a few years after being introduced, as they are a lot cheaper then. Certain new entrants lack discipline and spend all their money on expensive jerseys, in a race for getting the latest stuff. That is not sustainable at all, with many forced to live on the streets after that.”
The Dutchman enjoys an impressive social standing, on the virtue of his glorious jersey collection. However, he does not let ego get in the way of approaching clubs for assistance as and when necessary. That has resulted in its fair share of beautiful experiences.
“Some of the smallest clubs have left me stunned with their generosity, despite not having basic resources. One of those experiences dates back to the time when I went to attend a home game of a club in the 10th level of English football. They did not have an official store for jerseys. I started interacting with a person selling tea nearby, only to realise that he was the club Chairman. While he could not give me an official jersey as the players needed them for the season, I was given a spare jersey along with one of the opponent. It left me stunned over how different world football could be from the glamorous description by the media,” he says.
“The smaller clubs don’t look to make profits on the sale of jerseys. I have often received them at the most nominal rate possible. Another interesting experience over how accommodating they can be dates back to a vacation in England, where I visited the home ground of Sutton United on a Sunday. I gave the club helpline a call requesting assistance in purchasing a jersey, despite not expecting much on a weekend. The club representative agreed to open the shop specifically for me, interacting for nearly two hours. We left with numerous small gifts and a priceless experience,” beams Wijngaard.
The Dutchman is used to encountering trolls on social media due to his passion. However, he does not waste a second pondering, with his most sought-after jersey out there waiting to be claimed.
“I am passionate, not obsessed. Some people waste their money on cigarettes. I am simply using my money in a different manner. One of my favourite jerseys is an FC Groningen shirt from the mid-80s. Groningen plays European football very rarely, making it all the more special. I am the only person in Holland to own a jersey from that period. However, the ultimate delight will be a match-worn Groningen jersey from the 2015 KNVB Final triumph against PEC Zwolle. It is the greatest honour in the former’s history so far. Would make me proud to get a shirt from that game.”
The 42-year-old believes that the collection will define his legacy, and mark the ultimate contribution to the footballing world. However, he fears for its fate in case of his demise or an unfortunate accident.
“These shirts will define my legacy for the majority of the world. I spare no efforts in maintaining them, keeping a close eye having devoted one whole room in a two-bedroom house. There have been numerous events skipped because of fear over them getting wet in case of an approaching storm,” he says.
“However, will anyone give the jerseys the same amount of love as I do in case of my death? That is a major fear, as I have developed a very close emotional connection. What if they catch fire due to some mishap? It will be extremely tough to tolerate the loss,” adds Wijngaard with a sad smile.
The Dutchman enjoys complete support from his family currently, with the latter having their reservations initially. They even attempt to factor in the purchase of a club jersey, when out on a family vacation which the 42-year-old admires a lot.
“My family will enquire about my requirement for a jersey in case they plan a vacation to some city. This special interest motivates me a lot. My journey has been well received by the media, which adds even more emphasis on quality. There have been attempts to sell fake jerseys. However, I have gained the ability to make an educated decision. Such scamsters will never succeed.”
Wijngaard has been hit hard by the COVID-19 and Brexit, with the latter resulting in severe inconvenience with regard to obtaining shirts from the UK.
“Brexit and COVID-19 have been horrible. I have been forced to look for alternative ways for obtaining my shirts due to the former. COVID makes it impossible to travel and obtain shirts by visiting stadiums.”
The 42-year-old has no specific final number when it comes to the jerseys in his collection. Wijngaard is now looking to add Indian clubs, having deemed them as worthy additions.
“On a parting note, I would encourage potential jersey collectors to help each other in the most extensive manner possible. It is important to be realistic. Purchase one jersey rather than four if needed. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say,” concludes the Dutchman with a grin.
Arjan is always searching for strange/unique shirts. Anyone capable of helping him out in his search for (Indian) football shirts can contact him via www.voetbalshirts.org or [email protected] or twitter.com/vtblshirts.