In the world of soccer, scarves bearing your supporter group allegiance or favorite team’s crest have become an essential part of any fan’s game day attire. How did such an odd piece of clothing become ubiquitous with soccer fandom? To answer this question, we must cross the Atlantic Ocean to England in the early 1900s.
According to the National Football Museum in Manchester, UK, scarves were among the first articles of clothing created to express support of one’s favorite club. However, in the early days of organized competitive soccer, when teams began initially wearing ‘jerseys’ of a single color, fans wanted to show their support.
Initially, this came in the form of ribbons, lapels, and eventually evolved to hats of your teams’ colors. However, the jump to scarves came out of necessity and innovation. During the cold, rainy winter climate in England, scarves were worn to keep warm, especially while standing in a stadium watching a match unfold in front of you. Eventually, fans started wearing scarves of alternating bands of color, the first documented appearance of such scarves was at an Arsenal match in the late 1920s. These first scarves were called “Granny-Scarves” since they were typically hand-made by mothers and grandmothers. To this day, the stands at an Arsenal match are filled with fans wearing scarves denoted with red and white alternating bands.
However, it was not until the 1960s and the boom of color photography that pictures of a sea of fans with their scarves raised above their heads did scarves become a vital part of the atmosphere found in stadiums. No longer were scarves simply a convenient way of displaying your team’s colors while staying warm but were a central part of displaying to the players, and opposition fans, your solidarity with the team you support.
With the advent of Major League Soccer in 1994, supporter groups emerged alongside each of the founding clubs. These groups desired to create a similar European-style atmosphere at games and thus, the soccer scarf made its way into American soccer culture.
What makes the soccer scarf so unique is the endless opportunities for designs and the relative low cost compared to jerseys and other collectables. Some collectors keep scarves from single matches (known as a half and half scarf) for display. Many fans have scarves on display commemorating moments in club history, such as cup finals and trophies, whereas some fans simply have a couple simple scarves with their favorite club’s name on it.