Interview transcript: Chris Milner, one half of 90s-era sports store, National Vintage League

Liz: Welcome to the show Chris.  How are you?

Chris: Very well Liz, it’s good to hear from you.  Happy New Year

Liz: Happy New Year indeed and thanks for joining the show.  I’ve been really excited to get you guys on.  I’ve got a lot of love for what you and Hugh do.  It’s been amazing to watch how it’s grown so far too.  Now, for those who aren’t familiar, perhaps you could tell them all about the national vintage League and how it was Chris that you became involved too.  

Chris: Okay, well, I feel like most people that know who you are, tend to know who we are.  I think there’s a bit of a Venn diagram cross- over there.  We started a couple of years ago.  It’s me and Hugh who started it.  He started it with £300,in his bedroom and then quite soon after that we met; actually at one of your events for the first time two years ago in Brick Lane.

Liz: It was!

Chris: I came on my own, I didn’t know anyone.  I met you for the first time as well and look what at what has blossomed.  I would say if you are getting anything from this; go to Liz’s meet-up.  You don’t know what will happen.  It could change your life 

Liz: It might.

Chris: It’s true though.  So because then I started writing for you before Hugh and I worked together.   Then you very nicely took me on as a writer for 99 yards and a Bit.  So for that whole season 2018 to 2019 I was with you, part of that stable.  Then luckily for me Hugh needed me.  He had grown the business to a point where he needed assistance and we had developed a relationship where he sort of realised that I was the only one that he could trust with Niche NFL knowledge to the nerd level that he liked to take it.  It kind of just worked together; so I started working with him properly from Spring of this year.  The business has gone from strength-to-strength since then.

Interviewer: I love that my event is where you guys met and am so excited to see what’s next. So, good luck with it all.  Now tell me about the typical process of finding vintage wear.  Like, how would someone even go about looking?  Where would they start?

Chris: The obvious place that most people start is Ebay, but generally eBay is 99% of people trying to rip you off when it comes to Jersey’s because they quite easily make a business out of faking Jerseys and ripping people off.  So even though it seems like that’s the easiest place, it is actually quite hard.  So some of the best places are actually more hard work.  So going to Big vintage kilos sales in the middle of nowhere and rummaging through dirty, stinky, piss-stained, ripped t-shirts only to find a 1994 original Jackson Jags t-shirt and say:  Well it was all worth it.  You can find stuff in the weirdest places.  

Someone contacted us to say that he had previously worked for NFL shop during the first season series of the London Games and he had been left with hundreds of dead stock, brand new with tags Jerseys from 2,013 season.  He was like:  Do you want them?  I was like:  What have you got?  He goes:  I’ve got a lot of Calvin Johnsons, a lot Johnny Manziels.  I said:  Okay, that’s all you need to say.  I said:  How many Jerseys.  He said 75.  I said:  Okay, we will be there immediately.  

You know, you never know where it’s going to come from.  Sometimes we get cool niche stuff as well.  There’s something that we haven’t shown people yet; so you get a kind of more exclusive list.  So it was like an advert campaign with Hyundai and the NFL that involved Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora our favourite people in the NFL UK scene.

Liz: Of course.

Chris: Jason Bell competed against a car in durability tests.  They dressed an NFL player in a Hyundai and a fell out flip with his name on the back.

Liz: Okay.

Chris: We need to track down that exact Jersey in America.  So Osi and Jason have signed this custom made Hyundai NFL Jersey.

Liz: That’s wicked.

Chris: We have got it in a warehouse and we’re going to raffling it off during the New Year.  So people can win it.  It is so hilarious.

Liz: That is awesome.  Well, hey, when you’re ready to share that competition, let me know and I’ll be sure to share that with everyone too.  

So now that we know where you would look for in item; what are the obvious giveaways that something is fake?  What is the most fake item that you have found?

Chris: The fakest that I have found; some of it is hilarious, like yesterday we found a Jersey that had Mitchell & Ness on the collar and then on the sleeve, it had a starter patch. I don’t know whether or not other people find that obviously fake but to us it definitely is.  We don’t sell non-authentic but occasionally you will find good stuff in vintage stores or thrift sales; or something that sort of stand out even though it’s not legit.  We had a 49ers Jersey that had the number 49 on the back and faithful as the name.  It was clearly a custom-made Jersey.  There was no player called Faithful. So, it was a fake Jersey.  We weren’t going to sell it, so we said okay, we will post a video showing this Jersey.  We will tell everyone that it is not real and we will just give it away to the person that has the best story about why they are a 49ers fan.

We ended up giving it to this guy in Germany, whose dad took him to games when he was younger, his dad then passed away and they could never go to the game together again.  This guy is getting it framed and he was really emotional about getting it.  So sometimes even the fake stuff can mean something to some people but what we deal in, what we sell, is exclusively authentic.

Liz: Obviously you have come across so many different items.  What is your favourite bit of NFL vintage kit that you have found so far?

Chris: There’s no question, we have found a legitimate Sean Taylor Pro Bowl Jersey from 2000 after he died; and being a Redskins fan, that was huge for me because it’s a bit of a holy grail.  I’ve got both of his other Jerseys.  We just found his rookie Jersey which is also a hard one to find.  I have got the Pro Bowl one, which is unbelievable.  We have been offered thousands and thousands of pounds from people for it and we’ll never sell it. 

Liz: Actually, that brings me perfectly unto the next question.  How difficult is it to not want to keep an item that you have found for yourself? After all it is a business at the end of the day.

Chris: It’s the hardest part of the job.  I’m not going to lie.  It’s so hard to not just horde stuff.  I’m literally looking at my wardrobe now.  I’ve got a stitched Michael Vick, Virginia Tech Jersey, a stitched Marcus Allen, USC Jersey, a stitched, white T-Bow, a Ricky Williams Texas Jersey.  I never thought that I would own a football Jersey in my life.  I never really enjoyed college football or watched it but you just get addicted to players and learning the history and watching our highlights on the crazy Niche Knowledge.  It is just such a cool way to spend your day

Liz: If you could bring back any area of vintage kit, what would it be and why? 

Chris: Hugh and I would probably differ on this.  He would probably say 90s, or early 90s.  I would probably say like 80s; but there that shows our age difference, doesn’t it there, because I was born in one and he was born in the other one, the little millennial.

Liz: Okay Boomer. 

Chris: Obviously I’m still a millennial.  I’m just like… It’s annoying though, to get through to him at the other end.  So literally I’m made many a mark as a millennial.

Liz: So, sustainability is obviously more important now than ever.  How do you see the future of vintage wear?  

Chris: Well I’m so glad that you mentioned that because that is one of our tenants.  We think that slow fashion and sustainable fashion, reusing stuff, re-stitching, re-wearing, bringing back old classics is what needs to happen much more than buying cheap crap that’s going to fall apart after two weeks; because it keeps our land fill.  The sad thing is that most Jerseys or cool jackets that start or in that make are made up of polyester.  They’re always going to be here, but the old stuff is just as good if not better.  We think they are better than the new stuff.  So why not just re-wear the old stuff and if you’re going to make new stuff starter, look into more sustainable ways to do it.  Look into not using virgin plastics.  I mean, we went through this with Carl Banks in a pretty public twitter spat. 

We think that companies like that could do more.  So we try our hardest, we used to buy degradable Packaging for everything that we send out and we try and be as environmentally friendly as we can but we need big companies to sort of take a stand and set the way

Liz: You mentioned the Twitter spat with Carl Banks.  Well you basically called him out on that exact point.  He didn’t take it very well, did he?

Chris: If you really wanted to know that, you could just stroll throughout Twitter and find out or search Carl Banks. Basically, the thing is:  His reactions, even though he has a hundred thousand followers or whatever; weren’t getting many likes and I think that’s kind of indicative of how people were feeling about his stance. So we feel like that was a bit of a let-down.

Liz: Yeah, he seemed a bit switched off to me.  It didn’t really seem to or is wasn’t really a concern of his.  Let’s put it that way.  

Chris: If I had played second fiddle to Lawrence Taylor my whole life; I would be a little bit jaded about things as well.

Liz: Third point, speaking of landing yourself in trouble on social media, last year around the same at the London Games, he posted a video in reaction to YouTube posts from two influencers who basically went to their first NFL game.  It ended with you guys being blocked by certain accounts, I’m not going to name any names.  

Now, personally, I thought that video was brilliant.  It was tongue and cheek.  It was funny.  Actually he said exactly what so many fans were thinking and feeling and he wasn’t afraid to do it.  Did you guys get any backlash after that came out?

Chris: No we didn’t.  It actually was probably one of the best sort of marketing things that could ever happen.  So they did us a big favor, like so many people reached out and were going:  Man I wish they would block me.  There were horror stories literally about like their service but the thing is:  Hugh really did, like you said, hit the nail on the head with that.  I think that, really did upset quite a few people when they did that and I think it was a perfect response.  Did you noticed that, the next week they started getting fans, real fans on their story?

Liz: Yeah, definitely yeah.  It’s a really weird situation, I guess it drives him because I feel like they have to appeal to this whole new market. I guess this is the reason why they did this influence thing in the first place but they entirely forgot that they were alienating their existing audience by doing all this.  So I’m hoping that next year or this year even will be a better year for everyone.

Chris: Yeah I mean bottom line is that we are all part of a community and it’s a community that’s growing.  It’s a community that has got fiercely loyal fans that have been there for 40 years, some of them; from back in the old WNFL days.  So people have to respect that there is a history to the game here.  So if you want to just reach out to people because you’ve got one million followers and don’t really know a thing, that’s your prerogative.  There are better ways to do it.  If they can learn from that, cool, good for them.  We know they follow us.  We know they watch our stuff.  We know they have, its cool.  We know what we’re like their illegitimate child that they keep in the Attic.

Liz: You guys have got some seriously cool items in your stock and are there any like teams that are particularly popular in comparison to others?  Are there any teams that you don’t really get a lot of requests for?

Chris: An interesting question.  It is funny.  They’re definitely players that sell very quickly, like Randy Moss, Patriots Jersey will sell pretty quickly.  Weirdly, Cowboys fans don’t buy a lot of stuff and Notre Dame Fans; maybe because there aren’t any Lions fans, I don’t mean any offence. 

I know Lion pride.  I know you’re there, but it’s weird. Cowboys Jerseys don’t really sell but most other teams do.  Some teams are harder to find, like Atlanta Falcons stuff is quite hard to find.  Arizona Cardinals stuff are quite hard to find, for some reason; but generally we figure out a way to get pretty much whatever we want at this point. 

Liz: I see that you have got a lot of NFL stuff.  Do you ever get requests for like Canadian Football League wear?  Like I know for a fact that one of the Magnolia Raiders, he’s super cute.

Chris: Yeah, people do ask whether we’re going to Branch out into other sports or other leagues but the way we kind of look at it is that we prefer to go for depth over breadth.  We feel like if we corner or lane or our market then people will come to us.  If they need other stuff, they will have to go somewhere else.  There are a couple of people who we will refer people to if they need like basketball stuff or whatever but in general, no.  We are going to stick with what we do, stick with what we know and stick with what we’re good at.

Liz: Yeah I could appreciate that actually. I know that you’ve had some amazing requests coming in over the past few months, especially from NFL players.  Tell me more about that.

Chris: Oh yeah, that’s always good.  Well it’s so surreal, honestly, because you kind of have to kind of take a step back every now and again and appreciate how crazy it is to do that and to have a personal interaction in DMs with an NFL player.  It’s like a superstar.  Like the other day, literally two days ago, I was sitting, eating pasta whilst DMing with an NFL player about something, and I just took a second, and I was like:  What am I doing here?  This is bizarre.  Like, this is really a crazy situation to find myself in; and this is all thanks to Liz’s meet up guys.  

Efe Obada was the big one.  Efe has always supported us from day dot, he’s been really literally the number one friend of the store.  He always shares our stuff.  He invited us down to his Camp down in Ferndale in Brixton and he signed a bowl for us.  We gave him a London Monachs jersey and he signed a ball, then we used that ball as one of our giveaway items.  He’s just always been a legend.  So I don’t know whether I should say because it’s really not confirmed but there’s something that we’re looking to do in the new year that might involve him as well.  So that will be quite cool.

Liz: That’s exciting.  I shall keep my eyes peeled 

Chris: Yeah others have been good to us.  I have just a quick list.  Shall I roll some off?

Liz: Go for it.

Chris: Jamie Gillan wonderful Scottish punt.  We have got the McClendon’s Jersey, We have got Jaylon Mills, the Eagles and LSU jacket and then another Eagles player hit us up asking could you get anymore LSU stuff; which is quite cool.  On a rack we have got Texas Tech Majestic jacket.  The list goes on but it’s just crazy to have that level of interaction with those guys and it’s so nice when they share stuff.  It just helps us because we just want to get more exposure and get into the US market and that really helps us.  So, fingers crossed, next year, you never know.

Liz: Absolutely.  Speaking of which; after you guys started off; I guess you are still an online store, but I know that you guys have got your Warehouse, what’s next for you guys?  Have you got any plans of opening like a physical store or are you going to try to keep online?

Chris: Well, we kind of believe the high streets ed but the warehouse is such a cool place to hang out but it is getting a bit small now. So the goal is probable to get a cooler Warehouse where we can have like a load of couches and a couple of consoles.  I just bought my N64 from back in the days as a Christmas present.  So get sofas and mini fridges and just have Warehouse visits. So we are going to schedule in the New Year, where people can book a time slot one day to come and browse the Warehouse and see if they want to buy something and have a brew with the lads.

Liz: I like it. 

Chris: We’re launching a podcast.  We have too many people saying that we should bring our banter to their ears.

Liz: Yeah, I agree with that.

Chris: Why would anyone want to listen to Just two complete dickheads talking about crap?

Liz: Honestly, your conversations on there are honestly the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.  This needs to be a podcast.  

Chris: Okay, well that’s what the people want.  They spoke, so we’ve got three episodes in the can.  We’ve got some cool interviews lined up with some people and if you want irreverent takes on NFL, I’ll give you notes, sort of like meaningful implementation about what’s going on.  We talk about being on the Great British Bake Off and like sacking Mary Berry for a showstopper, then this is the podcast for you.

Liz: For the people listening to this:  Where can they find you on social? Find your online store?  Tell them everything that they need to know.

Chris: Okay, cool, thank you.  So National vintage league on Instagram, NVL tweets on Twitter,  At the moment, we have got our big January sale going on.  So 30% off on over 200 Jerseys, right now!

Liz: Amazing.  Well listen, it’s been lovely chatting with you as it always is.  I can’t wait to see what’s next with you guys.  Best of luck with that.  I have no doubt that I will see you at the London Games to check out your pop-up shop.

Chris: Absolutely Liz.  It’s a pleasure talking to you too.

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