"There's always another holy grail to find."

For Manchester City fan Mark McCarthy, what was once a spare bedroom is now anything but - it's a footballing Aladdin's Cave.

Hung on huge rails - almost spanning the length of the room - is a treasure trove of City shirts spanning eras from 1920s through to the present day.

An array of sizes, patterns, colours and kit makers, each is a symbol of a particular time in the club's history.


Yet Mark says his collection, of over 400 shirts, believed to be the biggest City collection of its kind in the anywhere in the world, was only ever meant to have one in it.

Builder Mark is the cousin of former City defender - and now well-known manager - Mick McCarthy, previously Wolves and Republic Ireland boss and now in charge of Cardiff City.

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And Mark, from Milton Keynes, declared himself a Blue in 1983, after visiting his grandfather, Mick McCarthy's uncle, who told him his cousin was about to join the Blues.

Mark, 47, at that stage, didn't know anything about football, didn't support a team and didn't own a single shirt.

Yet, he says, from that moment on he was "simply hooked."

Mark (left) with his cousin, former City player turned manager Mick McCarthy (right)

Mark became a loyal Blues fan, following them all over the UK and Europe.

And around ten years ago he decided he wanted to trace back his City roots, by obtaining one of his cousin's match-worn shirts.

"I always wanted to trace a shirt of Mick's. That's all I wanted really," Mark says.

"As a kid you could never get anything Man City related, down here.

"The only info I could get on them was calling ClubCall.

"It was a dream just to own anything. But in particular, I always dreamt of having one of his shirts. As time progressed and the internet became available it became more of an option to start trying to trace one.

"I found a dealer who was selling up his collection who had one, well a couple in fact.

"I bought them and it just went from there."

Mark has over 400 shirts in his collection

The short and long sleeved Saab shirts worn by Mick in the 1982/83 season became Mark's treasured possessions, sparking an obsession. And he is now about to publish a book showcasing his unique collection.

"Once I eventually found it, the nostalgia of the shirt, the feel of it, coupled with the feeling of being lost in time, it kicked off what some might call a hobby, but what I call an obsession.

From that era, it is easy to verify that the shirts were indeed match-worn.

"In those days the players got given two shirts, a short sleeve and a long sleeve and they will have worn them in every game," he said.

Mark with Tommy Booth and his 1969 shirt

"Speaking to Mick about them he said they were pretty much counted off the players backs before being washed for the next game.

"And Mike Summerbee told me even in his day, even if they got torn, they just got stitched back up.

"It wasn't until the 2000s that they started being mass-produced and players were given more."

After acquiring his first few shirts, Mark set up social media pages showing them off, and also put out requests for match worn shirts online.

George Hicks 1926 FA Cup final shirt with the Manchester coat of arms missing

"I also started contacting former players from the 70s and 80s and bought shirts off them," Mark says.

"For a few years, I was constantly putting appeals out or speaking to players or family members, buying them at auctions etc.

"At one point I just needed one shirt from the 80s to complete the set, and I thought I may stop there.

"But it's just been never-ending as there's always another shirt you're after, always another holy grail to find.

Three City match-worn shirts from the 1979-81 seasons

"Now, really because I'm well known for it, the shirts will come to me.

"People messaging me saying 'I've got this one etc'. It's a lot easier."

Mark says he steers away from collecting more modern shirts, as players now get given three per game and it is hard to verify if they were genuinely a match issued or match worn shirt, unless they come from a good contact or the player themselves, as was the case with David Silva's shirt from the 8-0 win over Watford which was donated to him directly in 2019.

Three of the 1999 Second Division Play-Off Final kits in Mark's collection worn by Shaun Goater, Andy Morrison and Tony Vaughan

His collection stretches right back to the Edwardian era, with the shirt worn by City's George Hicks in the 1926 FA Cup final, which they lost 1-0 to Bolton.

Mark also has numerous gems from the 1950s, including a spare shirt from the 1956 FA Cup final against Birmingham where Bert Trautmann famously broke neck, as well as a specially made one for the first game played under the Maine Road floodlights against Scottish side Hearts in 1953, which Mark cites as a particular favourite.

"They designed a silky shirt and it had a collar," he says.

Mark at the Etihad with son Harvey-James

"The idea was that that would reflect better off the lights.

"It was only ever worn from that game and a guy contacted me, a City fan, saying his dad had had this shirt since he was eight years old but didn't really know what it was. I had the club historian look at it and he confirmed it, so that's a special one."

Mark also has the shirt worn by Blues cult hero Tommy Booth in the 1969 FA Cup final win over Leicester.

One of the extremely rare 1989 Man City 3rd shirts worn once in a defeat at Arsenal

Mark, who designs and installs gardens for a living, doesn't want to put a monetary value on the collection but admits he has spent a 'substantial' amount putting it together.

However, he says it is now worth much more than that, and that most of the shirts will only increase in value as the years go by.

But for Mark, it is about much more than the financial value, it is about the history of the shirts and his emotional connection with the club.

"It's the look, it's the feel," he says. "But also the nostalgia."

Mark's prized possession - a match worn Mick McCarthy City shirt signed by his cousin

"For instance with Tommy Booth's shirt from the '69 final, you think to yourself that was on the Wembley dressing room floor. And the nostalgia of the shirt that has travelled through them down the years.

"I have another one from that game from the late Joe Mercer's family, so you think, 'people have had these shirts, and the games they've been involved in and how they've been trampled through dressing rooms'. It's fascinating.

"Especially the players I grew up watching.

"Some of the ones I loved – Clive Wilson, Ian Brightwell – they weren't household names.

"But these were my heroes so to have their shirts is a real dream come true really.

"And to be the custodians of these shirts is really humbling, if that's the right word, it's an honour."

Other treasured shirts include one of Colin Bell's from the 1968 title-winning season, several from City's record 10-1 over Huddersfield in 1987, David White's from the 'Maine Road massacre' – the 5-1 win over United in 1989, Georgi Kinkladze's from the game against Southampton where he scored his wondergoal in 1996, and six shirts from the 1999 play-off final win over Gillingham.

The 1996/97 yellow third shirt worn just five times and never available to buy as a replica

Mark believes it to be the biggest collection of match worn City shirts held by anyone in the world.

"I always say that no one has ever picked me up on it or said anything to the contrary," he says.

"There's just so many where you can look back on different games" he continues.

"Shirts that were made and only worn once and stuff like that.

"In the Kappa years, after the first season with them, towards the end of the season, they brought out this yellow Kappa shirt as a third shirt. It was only worn five times and was never made as a replica, so they're hard to find.

Mark is chronicling his collection in a new book

"And in 1989 we wore a yellow shirt at Arsenal away and got beat 4-0. No one knew why we turned up in this yellow shirt, it was a spare shirt that was used for a kit clash. After that, Peter Swales said 'we'll never wear it again'. Only 16 of them were made. It was donated to a Sunday League team in Manchester who wore it all through the 90s and they were more or less thrown away. So they are a real holy grail. I've got one from that game.

"I prefer the 80s and 90s I think" he adds.

"The shirts from the 60s and 70s are just so hard to find."

Asked what his favourite shirt is, Mark says: "It changes every week but my favourite probably is Mick's shirt. Because that's what kicked it all off."

"We meet occasionally, Mick is very straight talking" Mark adds.

"I have asked him a few times about shirts, and he's searched his loft for me, but there's only so many times you can ask Mick and you get told where to go. He has his own impressive collection of other shirts, not City ones, ones he'd swapped etc.

"I did get him to sign the shirts I got of his, which was nice."

Mark, who is a season ticket holder at the Etihad with son Harvey-James, 18, lives with daughter Olivia, 16, and wife Sarah, 47, who he admits is very "loving and understanding" when it comes to his hobby.

"She knows me inside out, my passion for City and what it means to me," he says.

Mark was once asked to do a display outside the ground.

And he is now proud to be documenting his extraordinary collection in his new book.

101 Manchester City Matchworn Shirts Is set to be published later this month by Conker Editions.

"I've always wanted to write a book, so to do one about something I'm so passionate about is a real pleasure, as collections should be there for everyone to see and enjoy.

"I'm hoping the many different shirts will rekindle many memories and moments for fans from fixtures they were at or took part in."

For more information about the book or to pre-order, click here.

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