I Belong To Jesus

I Belong To Jesus

I Belong to Jesus is a limited edition book, bound with a limited edition t-shirt and band, and documents the ‘undershirt’ celebrations of players from the global game. In 2014, FIFA, world football’s governing body, announced that players would no longer be permitted to display or reveal any messages of any kind, on any part of their kit under any circumstances—even if their intention was good. Curated together by Rick Banks and Craig Oldham, this project was instigated in response to that ruling, celebrating a fascinating and often overlooked aspect of the beautiful game. The book is published by the Unified Theory of Everything and Face37.

We caught up with both Craig (CO) and Rick (RB) to pick their brains about all things books, celebrations and football..

FFF:  This book is such a great idea! Such a simple single-minded theme – how on earth did it come about? Over a pint in the pub? How did you go from concept to execution?

CO: It was exactly that: a pint in the pub. We got together for a beer and started talking about the FIFA ruling and then how that’d be a great book, because so many instantly came to mind. It really went from there… sharing links, articles, Google-image links etc. to the point where we had to start drawing a line under it and start whittling.

RB: It wasn’t just one pint! Joking aside, I think the best ideas are always when you are away from the desk. That could be in a pub, gym or even shower. With technology nowadays, working together was so easy. Things like WeTransfer and Dropbox made it a breeze, especially as we were in two different cities.


FFF: Where on earth do you start with the research process for a project so niche as this? Is there a secret website that catalogues all the under-shirt celebrations? Did you remember most of the celebrations or did you have to research the subject to unearth them?

CO: It was a bit of a bricolage process of research to be honest. We remembered ones, we were told of others, and some new ones popped up in the process. There wasn’t exactly one way into them, certainly not one which fit for each celebration anyway. A lot of the ones we remembered, we could find images of; but whether they existed on an image libraries books, or we found a newspaper article and then tracked down the photographer from there, or contacted the player, club, manager’s dog, etc was different for each and every one.

RB: I wish there was a secret website, it would have made the process a whole lot easier. But then again, it would probably have also meant the project was, in theory, already done too… so you can’t have everything.

FFF: You’ve both individually produced beautiful books before, how does a publishing collaboration differ from your previous individual endeavours? Any compromises? Or were you always on the same page..

RB: Generally we were always on the same page. You learn a lot from collaboration and I liked it because I had someone to bounce ideas off. Whether that was content, price point, design etc. For example, I digitalised Kaka’s ‘I Belong To Jesus’ lettering for the front of the book but it was Craig’s idea to make it into a fully working font for use inside the book. I also liked how we could dip into each other’s network for suppliers/partners too.

CO: For me it wasn’t easier or harder, just different. I think the natural way this panned out—even though Rick and I had a hand in everything from the research, writing, design, and production—was that we each started and added things to one document, and then amended as we went along; both curating and editing, writing and designing at similar times. And when it came to the more specialist parts of the process, we each turned up more heat than the other on those respective parts. For example, Rick naturally lead the typographic inflections of the project, whereas I was more detailed on the copy. We also had a designer at my studio, Terry Hearnshaw, help with the design of the book once Rick and I had stopped messing with who was in and who was out!

FFF: The format is as ever brilliantly unique – the book itself is a relatively compact format, thread-sewn with an exposed spine along the top edge (opening vertically like a referees notebook), the compressed t-shirt held to it with an elasticated armband. As designers its unsurprising you’ve gone to great lengths with the finish – how and where do you draw the line when it comes to execution? Anything you considered doing but couldn’t within budget etc..

CO: As designers you’ve got to consider every opportunity to support your idea whilst tempering it to make sure it doesn’t get over-cooked. There were some ideas we had hoped do do but were technically and financially constrained by. We wanted to use a fabric cover with flocking for example, but the typographic detail of the cover was too detailed to be created in flocking, which rendered the idea redundant for us, so we made the best of what we could.

RB: The band essentially was born of necessity. It was an idea early on to collate the book with a t-shirt, and we wanted to then collate the whole lot together in another format, but we were asking too much of too many processes so it never came to fruition. That left us with a book and a shirt block as two separate items. That’s how the band came about really… to serve the purpose of combining the items.

CO: And even that was something we regretted when it dawned on us that we’d have to sit and collate 3,000 item together!

FFF: The project lives on beyond the physical book – you’ve cut a special font (Kaka) for this publication, and the site’s landing page catalogues all the celebrations within the book (as youtube video clips). This sort of ‘360degree’ effort is very satisfying – and sets the bar high – do you see these additions as the ‘cherry on the bakewell’, or an essential part of the process? Do you expect to see other indie publishers following suit?

CO: I’m not sure what other people will do, that’s up to them. I think it’s highly dependent on the content too if you can do it. Personally, my publishing viewpoint is much more like the filmic model of ‘universes’ than it is a traditional publishing model. What I mean by that is I like to see the books as part of a greater whole; they don’t come from one source and so shouldn’t be confined to one. Plus, this content was born experientially, and so that needs evoking too. Luckily we had the footage at our disposal for some to express. But the bottom line is these were goals that were scored and then celebrated; it’s a no brainer to me to show the goals as well as the celebrations.

RB: As Craig said, we didn’t set out to do a ‘360 degree’ process. The project organically grew to be like that. Like I mentioned before, the font grew from digitalising Kaka’s t-shirt. It’s been great to see people download it and use it. For example a designer from Leicester City used it within 30 minutes of launch!

FFF: I know you both play football, have either of you ever been tempted to do an undershirt celebration?

CO: Ha, no. I’m a defender so (a) I rarely get the chance to celebrate a goal, and (b) where I play Sunday League, if you did that you’d be lucky to walk off the pitch.

RB: I’m with Craig, as a defender I’m just happy if I last 90 minutes.

FFF: Any favourite celebrations or stories from the book?

CO: I’ve got so many of them. I really love the tapestry that Sebastiån Abreu creates using his old father’s shirt from his playing days, sewing new images, badges, numbers and the likes onto it. And typically, for me, I’m very interested when footballers wade-in to politics. But I think it’s much more about their collectivity. These celebrations, for me, are a collective statement to show that perhaps there’s still a human dimension to these rich, young, aliens as we like to think of them.

RB: For nostalgic reasons I’d go with Fowler’s ‘DoCKers’ and Wright’s ‘Just done it’. As a kid growing up in the 90’s, I remember them so vividly. I also love the modern ones; Balotelli’s ‘Why Always Me’ and Zlatan’s ‘United Nations’ stand out. I also get shivers watching Billy Sharp’s wordly and emotional message.

FFF: The book is a response to a ruling essentially banning the undershirt celebration… What do you think of the current commercial climate of professional football? Is the soul still there in the game?

CO: Yes, I think there is still soul in the game, but I worry it’s declining. I think it has a half-life. You go down the leagues (like Barnsley and Bolton—mine and Rick’s teams respectively—have had to) you’ll see that the soul goes up, and is more present. But I think it’s a worrying problem in the top flights across the world. As one fan banner I saw recently, football wasn’t founded in 1992 (the official formation date of the Premier League).

RB: I echo Craig’s comments. Of course there is still soul in the game but it’s getting more sterilised due to the Premier League/Sky money. No one wants to have a voice anymore due to PR managers and sponsors etc.

FFF: If you could get one professional footballer (living or dead) to do a celebration promoting the book, who would it be, and what would it say?

CO: Wow, that’s a question. I guess the nature of that would be my favourite player to say they love the book, now go buy it. But I have to decline on that one to be honest… I want this to remain what it is: a personal statement from one to a collective to share their views. If I answer and ask them to sell our book, I’m no different than my answer to the previous question am I? (I also feel less-bad about answering like that as Neil Redfearn—my all-time favourite player—is no longer playing, as he’d be the one I’d ask. Luckily, I think he’d turn me down!)

RB: It’s got to be Kaká hasn’t it. Wearing our t-shirt. He’s still playing for Orlando so there’s still a chance.

FFF: Lastly, any predictions for the forthcoming season?

CO: Barnsley to beat Bolton in the FA Cup final. Ha. I think we’re going to struggle this season, might just optimistically go for narrowly avoiding relegation though. Think Chelsea or City will win the EPL though.

RB: Bolton to beat Barnsley in the FA Cup final. I just hope we don’t go down again.

 We can’t recommend this book enough – whether you’re a casual or serious football fan – or just a lover of passion projects and print.

The limited-edition book has the following specification:

• Hardback 100mm x 150mm
• 192 pages
• Top edge binding
• Black foil cover
• CMYK litho print
• Compressed white cotton T-shirt (L)
• Captain’s armband

Price: £25:00 (with free t-shirt & captains armband)

Luke Tonge

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