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Swapping shirts is a sign of respect that has lasted for decades.
When Andre Santos asked for Robin van Persie’s shirt at halftime, Arsenal supporters were incensed. Santos was having a poor game anyway, and the quest for van Persie’s shirt should have been far less of a priority than sorting out his defending.
In 1966, England beat Argentina 1-0 to advance to the semifinal of the World Cup. Manager Alf Ramsey was disgusted with Argentina’s dirty tactics, to the extent that when he saw one of his players exchanging his shirt after the game, he intervened and pulled it away.
The act of swapping shirts is important.
It is believed to have originated in 1931, when France beat England for the first time and the French players asked to keep the shirts as a memento. Since then it has been accepted as a form of mutual respect and an acknowledgement of the other player’s efforts during the game.
Going back to the FA Cup, if a “giant-killing” team takes down one of the Premier League’s biggest sides, a shirt from a top player can be the pinnacle of a career. Most lower-league sides feature players who have regular jobs away from football, so getting the jersey of one of the world’s best counts for a lot.
It’s a reminder of football’s origins—as well as a piece of history, never to be repeated. Which sums up every game ever played, really.