Swapping shirts and anecdotes
© AFP

Don't talk to Graeme Murty about 19 January 2008. It is a day that will live long in the memory of the former Scotland international. Not only because of the defeat that his club, Reading, suffered at the hands of Manchester United, but also because the shirt that Cristiano Ronaldo gave him after the match mysteriously disappeared. "I went for a shower and when I got back, it had gone. Other players, youth players, club officials - I've got a list of suspects and if I find the guilty man it won't be pretty," said the full-back at the time.

His team-mates hunted high and low for the missing shirt, but striker Kevin Doyle suspected that it would soon be auctioned off somewhere. "One of the kids must have taken it. If I were Graeme, I'd check to see whether it's not on sale on the internet in a few days' time". A few hours later, Doyle's Ireland team-mate Stephen Hunt finally put Murty out of his misery and presented the captain with his precious shirt that had been hidden as a joke.

For over 50 years, swapping shirts at the end of the match has become an integral part of football. Here, FIFA.com looks back at some of the funnier moments that this tradition has thrown up.

The Pele phenomenon
On 2 May 1962, Benfica won their second European Cup in a row when they beat Real Madrid 5-3 at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. A young Eusebio, who scored two of his team's goals, was hoisted aloft by fans at the end of the match, much to the Black Panther's chagrin, as he explains: "I had [Alfredo] Di Stefano's jersey in my shorts and I was afraid that someone would take it off me!"

The Mozambique-born Portugal legend managed to keep the precious memento, but Leigh Walker was not so lucky. On 24 January 2004, non-league Scarborough played Chelsea at home in the English FA Cup. After the final whistle, the two goalkeepers exchanged jerseys, with Carlo Cudicini even signing his with the message: "To Leigh, best of luck for the rest of the season".

Once Walker got home however, his mother found the shirt and since it was covered in mud, gave it a good wash before poor Leigh had had the chance to frame it... Leigh has since forgiven his mother her unfortunate mistake, but she still has pangs of guilt to this day. "I even thought of writing to Carlo to ask for a new signed jersey!" she laughs.

The North American Soccer League was the source of plenty of shirt-swapping anecdotes during its short-lived existence, particularly from 1975 to 1977 when, after 18 seasons at Santos, Pele signed for New York Cosmos. Everyone wanted to exchange jerseys with the legendary Brazilian, so much so that the club had to give each of their opponents a shirt after every match. "Pele was the main attraction," says Gordon Bradley, one of the club's coaches at the time. "Sometimes we had to take 25 or 30 shirts with us to a match - otherwise, we'd never have got out of the stadium alive."

Pele it was who, along with legendary England captain Bobby Moore, first brought shirt-swapping to the public's attention at the end of their FIFA World Cup™ match on 7 June 1970, but the first recorded incidence of it came 39 years earlier. On 14 May 1931, the French team asked to keep the jerseys of their English opponents to commemorate their historic 5-2 victory at Colombes. After that, the tradition first really began to pick up at the 1954 FIFA World Cup Switzerland.

Certain players collect these mementos, including US international Jeff Agoos who accumulated over 400 of them during his 14-year career. "I suppose it is strange to keep these souvenirs, but it commemorates a very special moment, particularly when you are playing against another country or a big club," he explains. "It's a gesture that should be seen as a mark of respect for the player and his team," adds Bolivian international Marco Etcheverry.

What is more surprising is the fact that certain players refuse to respect the tradition. "I don't remember ever asking someone to swap shirts after a domestic match," says former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland midfielder Roy Keane. "It looks plain ridiculous if you're an experienced player." And they say football is just a game...

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