Welsh rugby player returns T-shirt to UBC Bookstore after 42-year ordeal

Most of us have a T-shirt relic from decades past, usually stuffed into the dark recesses of a drawer only to slowly fall to pieces or be tossed out by next of kin.

But not Mark Gibbs, 62, of Swansea, Wales. After 42 years of ownership, Gibbs decided to return his decidedly aged, in places torn and threadbare, faded, yellow Thunderbirds T-shirt to the UBC Bookstore, playfully demanding an exchange.

In a handwritten letter to the bookstore received in early January, Gibbs wrote:

“I visited your store as part of the Cardiff college of education rugby tour in 1981. Our trip to Vancouver and Victoria Island [sic] were highlights in my life. Incredible memories were created during that unbeaten tour.”

(For the record, the Welsh squad defeated the Thunderbirds. The exact score is lost to the scrums of time, but Gibbs recalls it was a “handsome” win and the “UBC lads used U.S. football-style tackling which caused certain tempers to flare, resulting in fisticuffs.”)

“Whilst at UBC I purchased the enclosed T-shirt and wore it with pride,” his letter continued. “However, I must confess that I am very disappointed with the quality. As you can see it has worn in many places, shrunk and appears to have paint stains on it…. I would appreciate a prompt response to this complaint.”

Handwritten letter to UBC Bookstore from rugby player about UBC t-shirt

As evidence of his concerns, Gibbs enclosed photos of him in the shirt looking reasonably intact (both him and the shirt) in 1983, and a shot from 2022 indicating the toll of the years (on both him and the shirt).

“Simply not good enough,” Gibbs noted of the 2022 image. “Replacement T-shirt please.”

Gibbs says the T-shirt has accompanied him around the world to Greece, the United States, England, and finally back to Swansea, which he describes as “a bit like California without the posers.”

Gibbs was in Swansea, after two years of COVID, when he was a late addition to his rugby club’s May 2022 rugby tour to Edmonton, Banff, Calgary, and Vancouver.

“I took the T-shirt thinking I could present it to the bookstore in-person. However, I’d not read the itinerary and it was Vancouver airport, not Vancouver we were visiting. That prompted me to send it, although it took a good six months to remember and get round to it. The letter was so 'tongue in cheek' and so obviously a joke that I thought, at the very least, the recipient that opened the package and saw the T-shirt and two photos, then read the letter would be wetting themself with laughter,” Gibbs said.

“That was the aim. Nothing but a smile on someone’s face. £8 in postage for a giggle. A free T in return would be a bonus!”

Rugby player wearing yellow UBC shirt in 1983 and 2022

Bookstore director Steve Alb did indeed have a giggle and wrote back to Gibbs almost immediately.

“Having endured 40 years of wear we are similarly shocked that the shirt has finally given up the ghost — talk about shoddy product! We will of course replace it at no charge, even though our return window has been ever-so-slightly exceeded,” Alb said in an email.

“We will be sending you a new UBC T-shirt in yellow. I apologize that the design has changed, but we had to adapt to fashion trends.”

And, rather than cram Gibbs’ historic garment into a drawer, Alb and staff have decided to put it on a display mannequin, along with the handwritten letter, so store visitors can enjoy the heartwarming story behind the T-shirt as well.

“It’s not the Sistine Chapel, or the Great Pyramids, but it is a little slice of UBC history,” Alb said. “We wish Mr. Gibbs all the best with his replacement shirt and encourage him to exchange it, hopefully in person, in 2065.”

The UBC Bookstore exchange policy requires items to be in new, unworn condition with tags on and original receipt and to be returned within 30 days. Please do not send in your old UBC T-shirts to the Bookstore.

If you do have old UBC paraphernalia, you can send pictures along with an explanation in an email to alumni.ubc@ubc.ca — we may contact you about your story.