Whether the game is in Melbourne or Manchester, Athens, Greece, or even Athens, Georgia, if you look at the crowd at a soccer match, you are likely to see fans wearing something unique to the game.
The tradition of bringing themed scarves to soccer games reached Georgia fans earlier in the season when free Georgia soccer scarves were given out prior to their match against Virginia Tech. These scarves have been present on match days almost as long as the sport has existed, but why and how did a piece of wool become such an iconic piece of soccer fandom?
As it turns out, many Georgia soccer fans don't know.
“I really don’t know why they are a thing, but my kids have all the professional ones. They don’t necessarily wear them, but they hang them in their room,” said Leeann Boyan, mother of freshman midfielder Abby Boyan.
Even Georgia soccer head coach Billy Lesesne didn’t know where the soccer scarves came from, but he said he loves having them at the games.
“I love [the scarves] here. It’s a memento and probably our most popular giveaway item that gets people here to the game. They are fairly unique to soccer so it’s pretty cool,” he said
The origin of the soccer scarf dates back to the early days of English “football." The soccer season in England begins in August and runs through the winter months until early May. As a result, fans spent much of the season bundled up in the black tweed and woolen coats that were popular during the 1920’s and 1930’s. But fans needed a way to stay warm and represent their teams as well, so they turned to customizing their scarves to proudly bear their colors.
The first photographic evidence of colored scarves at a match comes from a 1934 British Pathé clip of a Football Association Cup match between English giants Arsenal and Crystal Palace. A lone fan could be seen proudly displaying his simple red and black striped garment.
Over the years the scarves have evolved from their humble beginnings. Evolutions in technology have allowed for more articulate designs with the names and mottos of teams becoming a common feature. Some scarves even feature the faces of managers or star players etched into the fabric.
But the true meaning of the soccer scarf isn’t about what’s on it, it’s about the tradition and sense of community that they bring to the fans.
Look no further than the “Kopite” fans of the famous Liverpool Football Club to see the power of the soccer scarf.
Every home game thousands of fans raise their scarves proudly over their heads and sing their anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to celebrate their team and honor the memory of 96 fans who lost their lives in a stadium-collapse in 1989.
“I get chills just thinking about it,” said Lesesne, who is a Liverpool fan. “Being in that moment everybody is holding their scarves up. It’s really interesting to see the collection of scarves and the passion of the people. It’s a pastime that they live by.”
To the fans in Liverpool, and now those in Athens, the scarves are no longer just a means of keeping warm, but a way to represent the deep love for the game that they all have in common.