‘Forza Azzurri’ will be the chant ringing round Italy late on Saturday night when Gianluigi Buffon leads out Pirlo, Balotelli and the boys in blue against England. As well as the match, the kit itself will be another focus for collectors such as Emiliano Foglia, whose rare Italian shirts from pre- and post-war World Cups are now part of an exhibition in Rome. Kate Carlisle speaks to Foglia about his unique collection and to 2014 shirt designers PUMA, who have delved into Italy’s illustrious World Cup past to find the right look for Brazil.


When Italy take to the field against England on Saturday, their players will have World Cup history stitched into their shirt fabric. The blue that gives the national team their nickname, Gli Azzurri, will be familiar from every finals but one since Italy first won it in 1934 – but this specific design has been worked on since 2006.

According to manufacturers PUMA, the aim is ‘to adhere to a classic design for the home shirt while the away top features pinstripes of Italy blue, giving it a new and different look to what has been worn in the past’.


For 2014, the away top not only includes pinstripes but a rugby-style button-down collar. Remember 2006? Though successful, the dark armpit rings of much scorn are now a distant memory. For 2010, the badge was centered on the chest, the leaping puma logo directly beneath, later thought too brand-dominated. Now the tricolore shield has been moved to the left, and adorned with four gold stars representing the victories of ’34, ’38, ’82 and 2006.

Italy might be famed for its fashion but its national football shirt is also part of its identity – and over the years, these shirts have become collector’s items. Ask Emiliano Foglia. This mad Lazio fan has Italy’s largest collection of national shirts, some currently being displayed for the ‘Shades of Blue’ exhibition at the Marriott Grand Hotel Flora on Rome’s famed via Veneto. Azzurro examples from various finals will be hanging in the bar area throughout the tournament, being screened live whatever the hour.

‘Historic football jerseys are one of the few sure-fire investments in this day and age,’ says Foglia. ‘And if a collector gets his hands on a top from the 1960s, it’s time to shout bingo!’


Foglia’s passion for Italian football tops started over 15 years ago when he got his hands on examples from 1934 and 1938, Mussolini-era rarities that echo a bygone era of World Cups. In all, he now has more than 30 player-worn maglie – plus the most complete Lazio collection known to exist, even more than the club itself has stashed away. Foglia has also recently written a book about his obsession, ‘Il Cielo come Maglia’ – ‘Heaven like the Shirt’.

‘All sorts of factors go into calculating a shirt’s value,’ Foglia explains. ‘If it was worn, when, by whom, what the outcome of the match was.’

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that players could keep their shirts to give away. Until then, they had to return them to changing-room laundry men who took these sweat-soaked items to be washed. Of Foglia’s 4,500 Facebook followers, many are looking for pre-1980s gems.


Among them is the painstakingly stitched shirt worn for the 1966 World Cup in England, one now known for Italy’s infamous defeat by North Korea in Middlesbrough. ‘The badge on that jersey was hand-stitched with real gold thread,’ says Foglia. ‘Each shirt took an entire day to complete. Every one sewn was a masterpiece of its own.’

In an era when Germany have taken to russet bands across the once sacred white (what’s that about?) and club owners (that means you, Vincent Tan) can capriciously change a century of blue to marketing-friendly red overnight, it’s good to know that Italy still stride out in, well, Italian blue.

But this blue isn’t specifically Italian – neither have Italy always worn blue. For their first international, at the Milan Arena in 1910, their players wore white, and the shorts of their specific clubs. This may have sprung from the leading club of the day, Pro Vercelli, who played in white. On the day, Pro Vercelli players didn’t feature, a dispute long since forgotten forcing their absence and allowing France to win 6-2.


When Italy strode out at this same venue a year later against Hungary, they were wearing the blue of the House of Savoy, regional rulers for many centuries. Their badge was also the Cross of Savoy, as worn by the likes of Meazza, Piola and Monti when winning World Cups in 1934 and 1938.

Italy even wore Fascist black for two matches in 1938, including for the crucial quarter-final win over the hosts, blue-clad France.


Today’s change kit is far less controversial – but by no means virginal white. The pinstripe design for 2014 ‘took its inspiration from classic Italian blazers,’ says PUMA. ‘This is expressed in the unusual and stylistic pinstripe detail, combined with a sporty V-neck collar. This design of the shirts is inspired by the heritage of the traditional Italian handcraft industry.’

And just in case any collector is worried about tradition being tampered with, the label sewn inside each collar reads: ‘Tradizione. Forza Azzurri’.