We all know the weight that comes with wearing the captain’s armband. But what about the armbands themselves? Let’s take a look into 10 of the most unique captain’s armbands we’ve seen in recent years.
Football is filled with stories about the symbolic importance of the captain’s armband. The gravity that comes with wearing it, what it means deep down to those who embrace its meaning, and the almost impossible moments they’ve overcome while wearing it. Tales of Franz Beckenbauer winning the World Cup and European Championship; Johan Cruyff’s total football in the 1974 World Cup; Paolo Maldini in his eight Champions League finals. The list can go on and on.
But what about the physical armbands themselves? What are a few of the most unique and meaningful ones, whose untold stories are yet to be uncovered? We take a look at some of the most interesting captain’s armbands — some that are commemorative to a certain player or moment, and others which have become traditions within their clubs.
German Pezzella’s Tribute
It wasn’t about what the defender was wearing, but the message behind it. In the fourth week of the 2018-19 Serie A season, Italian officials mandated that each club must wear uniform armbands (plain white with blue stripes reading capitano), after players such as Daniele De Rossi and Alejandro Gomez continued to wear their own unique style.
The controversy came to a head — and was ultimately forgiven — when German Pezzella risked a fine for his club by lifting his memorial band to the La Viola crowd, with Davide Astori’s initials and No.13 on it, enclosed by the four historic neighborhoods of Florence (Santa Maria Novella, San Giovanni, Santa Croce, Santo Spirito). Astori had been the club’s captain before tragically passing in March of 2018. Fiorentina were later given permission to wear the armband.
Harry Kane’s Stance
Controversy was a main theme of the 2022 World Cup, and heading into it the players had gotten together and discussed wearing the “One Love” armband in the rainbow flag pattern. It was to support the LGBTQ community as well as for women in Iran, who were and are still prohibited from watching football. England captain Harry Kane as well as Denmark’s Christian Eriksen were adamant about making the statement and showing unity, but the plan was scrapped at the 11th hour over fear of their national teams facing repercussions such as a yellow or red card, after FIFA’s ultimatum.
The “One Love” campaign had been started in 2020 by the Dutch FA, and at least nine other countries had joined in. The FA said it was to represent “everyone’s pride of their heritage, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”
Are You Not Entertained? Is This Not Why You Are Here?
Francesco Totti is, simply speaking, the king of Rome. But ironically, he’s the city’s gladiator as well — the bimbo d’oro, or golden kid, from its streets who carried the city on his back. That fierce, bold attitude led him into being envisioned by the mobs of Rome as il gladiatore early on in his career, and you can first see the ancient fighter applied to his armband in the 2001-02 season. The graphic changed a few times, becoming more defined as the supplier changed from Kappa to Diadora.
The prettiest of them all is the 2005-06 edition, featuring an orange and white base, with a red bolt splitting through it like a sword’s strike. This year was also marked by his incredible cucchiaio spoon goal against Inter Milan at the San Siro, a catastrophic injury that could have ruined his career, and an even better return to dominate in the 2006 World Cup — where of course, Italy won.
Roberto Baggio is considered as one of the greatest players to have ever lived, but one thing many don’t know about him is that after a career threatening injury in 1985, he adopted Nichiren Buddhism, in which he cites as his inner strength.
The “Soka Gakkai” armband is embraced in the three colors of buddhism: the blue stripe represents compassion towards all beings and the spirit of peace, the yellow one is praise for moderation according to the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni, far from any extremes, and the pink one represents the gifts of spiritual and meditative practice. The Japanese motto “We win. We must win.” is written on its face.
Lionel Messi made it the most recognized armband in football. First taking the Barcelona armband in 2018, the greatest living gift to the sport moved to the city over a decade earlier. He’s often made it clear that he feels like a Catalonian, and his armband was emblazoned with the red and yellow stripes tied to the region. At the bottom reads “Capita,” Catalan for captain. The flag armband lives on, as does Catalonia’s fierce sentiment of independence.
“I feel like I’m from here (Barcelona). I came here as a 13 year old, I grew up here, I was made here.”
If you think of Inter Milan, captain Javier Zanetti is often the first player to come to mind. In addition to leading Inter during the infamous treble season under Jose Mourinho, he is one of the most widely respected legends for his professionalism and never-say-die attitude.
On May 10, 2014 it was time to say goodbye to the San Siro, and the historic captain was rewarded with an armband that included the names of past and present teammates. Zanetti signed the band, making it a unique collector’s item that was later auctioned off to charity.
Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly wore a special armband in memory of former international Papa Bouba Diop, who had died exactly two years beforehand, in his team’s decisive World Cup 2022 group match against Ecuador. The “19” was for the defensive midfielder’s number with Senegal.
Diop, who died at just 42 years old, scored the goal for Senegal to beat France 1-0 in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup, with the African country eventually reaching the quarterfinal. He is etched in history as the country’s all-time leading goal scorer in the World Cup.
United for Ukraine
The #PL and our clubs wholeheartedly reject Russia's actions and will be showing support for the people of Ukraine at all matches this weekend
We call for peace and our thoughts are with all those who have been impacted
— Premier League (@premierleague) March 2, 2022
In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, all English Premier League captains throughout the league’s 20 teams wore blue and yellow armbands last March to show solidarity with Ukraine. The armband was part of a league wide response, including its digital channels and moments of reflection before matches, as well as the Ukrainian flag being presented on scoreboards.
The armbands returned to mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion, and Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko was vocal on the situation as one of the league’s five Ukrainian players. He was even named Media Diversity Champion of the Year in November. While still playing for Manchester City in the fifth round of the FA Cup against Peterborough United, Fernandinho handed over his armband to Zinchenko as a show of togetherness, as he played his first game back since his country had been invaded.
The “XXX” armband donned by Ajax captains is the symbol of the city. You could be forgiven for thinking something x-rated given the city of Amsterdam’s stereotypes, but they instead represent the three St. Andrew’s crosses. The city’s motto is “Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate,” so it will give you something to emulate when you’re wearing it in your Sunday league.
A Pirate’s Life
Speaking of saints and sinners, St. Pauli in Hamburg sport a Jolly Roger on their band. It takes after the club’s supporters, the Kiezkickers, and it has been a mainstay since the club moved operations into the, let’s say, more liberal part of town.
Where does the pirate symbolism come from? Hamburg is a port town, and where the most pirate ships docked before raiding the rest of Europe. The Jolly Roger is the symbol the ships would raise before attacking.
A symbol of defiance, the skull was adopted in the 1980s when a squatter named Doc Mabuse saw an old pirate flag lying around a shop, wrapped it around a broomstick, and took it to the Millerntor stadium. It’s been waving around the terraces ever since.