Collector of jerseys, collector of dreams

The players move on, what remains is only the jersey

William Sembenini owns six hundred Hellas Verona jerseys, but he is still missing nine. William has eyes filled with life over a rough and uneven face; the tone of his voice is measured. A Buddha in flesh and blood, and instantly likeable. He plays basketball but collects football jerseys. Or rather, he collects Hellas Verona jerseys. Only those worn by players on the pitch – ‘match worn’ is what relic hunters call them.

“I have six hundred, with different names and numbers.” A huge amount. Especially if you consider that he has been collecting them since as far back as the early 1980s, when his father, a pharmacist, had among his clients a few players from the team that would go on to win the historic 1985 Scudetto as Serie A champions.

“The first one was given to me by Pierino Fanna. That’s where it all started from.” It’s difficult to understand what the fan is for a football team, but one concept is easily explained: that of the jersey. Football is all too important for so many people, yet there is a moment when you are repaid for all your suffering … that little, insignificant, yet all-important moment when the ball is about to cross the goal line and your world stops in a
sort of infinite apnea that brings you back to life only when you hear the roar of the stadium.

Euphoria is a simple consequence, followed immediately by you take it in with your eyes, turning around and watching all those like you that triumph in a broken and chromatically harmonious movement. And the colours.

They belong to your people, they are the colours of your jersey. And here we come to the point. The players triumph or suffer but, when all’s said and done, they move on. All of them, even those that you love in an irrational and childish way. They all move on. And what remains is only the jersey, that everyone clings on to stoically at any given moment in time.

Behind this absolute certainty lies the lucid madness of those who want to attach themselves forever to their hero, a hero who never ages and never lets them down. The jersey becomes frozen in time and never grows old. And to have the object of desire, you have to be like a bloodhound.

“It’s been thirteen years that I’ve been making captain’s armbands and giving them to a lot of players, and I’ve got to know quite a lot of them in this way. I never ask for any- thing, but they often give me their jer- sey because they know how passionate I am about them.”

Respect, above all. This is the foundation on which the collector’s credibility is based. Respect for the object, for its value and for whoever that object was worn by. “I don’t put my jerseys on eBay and I don’t participate in auctions. It’s the jerseys that come to me.” There’s nothing presumptuous in these words, but only a great love for this never-ending collection. From 1980 to the present day, all the jerseys worn by Hellas Verona have ended up in Willy’s hands. All, or almost all.

“I call them the ‘nine sisters’, they are the missing pieces in the puzzle. Five from the 85/86 season, two from the 87/88 season, one from the 95/96 season and one from the 97/98 season. I know very well where they are and who owns them, but I’m in no rush to get them.” If you build it, he’ll come … yes, Willy is straight out of the Field of Dreams, just as Kevin Kostner was in the film. This lanky, kind-faced forty-year-old lives out his dream every day, without ever allowing it to become a nightmare or an obsession. Respect. Also for yourself. Without spending hours in front of the gates of the stadium like a beggar, in a useless attempt to grab something.

“I have the certainty that when they give it to me it’s really been worn, but there are no certificates that formally state this.”

“The ones the 80s are the most precious. I recognize them from the size of the sponsor’s name, from the flock logo, from the weight of the fabric used for the numbers …”

“I have safe channels. There are a lot of fakes out there and the risk of getting rubbish is very high. But I know the minimal differences be- tween the various items.” For a start, nowadays the players wear gear identical to what you find in the team store. At least, if we’re not talking about the big teams. “I have the certainty that when they give it to me it’s really been worn, but there are no certificates that formally state this.”.

Things are different for the older kits.There, it’s totally different. In the 90s, for example, you wouldn’t see the longsleeved jerseys in stores. Thus, having one is synonymous with authenticity. Earlier again, the Football League badge was always stitched on. If you have a jersey from that time with a printed logo … well, they’ve palmed off a fake on you.” Small and large features, indispensable to survive in a jungle where savage adventurers make money at the expense of anyone who’s not streetwise enough to know the difference.

“The ones from the 80s are the most pre- cious. I recognize them from the size of the sponsor’s name, from the flock logo, from the weight of the fabric used for the numbers …”. The year they won the Scudetto, Verona played in a blue and yellow jersey with only two variants on the original format, making a total of six (including two for the goalkeeper) throughout the entire season. Very different from the 2012/2013 season. “That year Verona went from Serie B to Serie A, and they went through twenty-one different jerseys because they changed sponsors.” Needless to say, he has all the versions used.

“Every time I touch one, my eyes light up and, when they give me a new one, I feel like a child unwrapping the most fantastic present imag- inable.” A child. There’s no shame in wanting to go back to that period of your life, when there’s magic involved. The jersey collector lives for this. He does no harm to anyone. Not even to himself.


PH Margareth Gaspàr
TEXT Francesco Costantino Ciampa


April 9, 2020

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