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Here’s how a football-loving couple from Ukraine made Manchester their home

Serge and Polina came to Manchester after Russia's invasion of Ukraine back last year, and have found a home and happiness in the city.

Stunner, is a retro football shop with a difference.

In the midst of life’s unpredictable journey, Ukrainian couple Polina Vynohradova and Serge Shcherbyna discovered not just happiness but a sense of belonging in the heart of Manchester.

They have found a home in the city, where they have set up Stunner, a football-loving community celebrating the beautiful game on South King Street. 

Stunner, Manchester

Their story is one of passion, innovation, community building, and ultimately, resilience.

We sat down with the pair to talk football, Manchester and their plans for the new shop. 

“It was a bit of a passion project of mine – collecting these cool and unique vintage shirts, but when Polina joined me, it began turning more into something resembling a business,” admits Serge.

“Because what I did was just a silly Instagram page when I was just taking horrendous pictures of these shirts.

When we moved in together, she discovered that I have dozens of these 90s football tops in my closet.”

Polina: “Yeah, I was really astounded by how cool these designs were back in the day, so I started combining them with the rest of my wardrobe”

Turning pro with Stunner

Their journey began modestly, with Serge’s Instagram page capturing the essence of vintage football shirts.

What started as a personal hobby quickly grew into a business endeavour, with Polina infusing it with her skills. 

The shirts, once relegated to collectors’ closets, have now become an integral part of people’s wardrobes.

“They’ve almost become an essential part of people’s wardrobes,” Polina notes, highlighting how these unique pieces of history have found a new place in contemporary fashion.

Their initial foray into the world of football fashion began with online sales.

However, the allure of face-to-face interactions and a deeper sense of community drove them to pursue something more tangible.

Opening up in Kyiv

So they opened up a shop in Kyiv. 

“We started with online sales, but we got bored very quickly because we were lacking this communication with people,” Polina reveals.

“We eventually convinced each other that we needed a shop, but we wanted to create a bit of a cultural space as well.”

The Pandemic

Unfortunately, just as they embarked on this new adventure, the pandemic struck, throwing them into an unfamiliar and uncertain territory.

“It was the worst possible moment to start a physical business. Later I discovered that for a lot of online businesses COVID was kind of a blessing in disguise – so instead of pursuing that path, we did almost the opposite and started bringing this culture offline,” Serge recounts.

Despite the rocky start in Kyiv and the niche nature of their endeavour, Polina and Serge persevered, slowly but surely building a community of individuals who shared their passion for football.

Serge highlights, “My favourite thing about running a store is people’s emotional connections to these tops.

“People always have a story about their favourite players, a great season they saw in this shirt, or this is my FIFA go-to player! They are so full of emotion; it’s wonderful.”

Creating a Football Community with Stunner

Their Kyiv store, while not a commercial giant, held immense value in the friendships and connections it cultivated.

Serge proudly asserts, “The shop in Kyiv wasn’t a massive success, but it was worth so much more than its commercial value. It gave us a massive circle of friends with whom we’re still in touch to this day. I’d even go as far as to say that running Stunner saved us in some way”

Their journey took an unexpected turn when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced them to close their shop.

If not for a trip to Brussels just before the full-scale war began, they could have been caught in the initial bombings.

“We went to Brussels to meet our friend Damien, who’s in the same kind of business, to exchange experience. So we shut the store on 22nd of February.

“On the 23rd, we landed the plane and we arrived in Brussels. And then the next day, we woke up to the news that the full-scale war had started in our country, and Kyiv was getting bombed,” Serge explains.

“So yeah, if you look a bit deeper into this, it kind of saved us from this fate of having to live through it all.”

Faced with uncertainty and dwindling resources, the couple ventured to different parts of Europe, including Brussels and Italy, where they often found themselves with just a few euros to their name.

After running out of options, they reached out to a friend they had met in Kyiv. 

Making a home in Macclesfield

“I reached out to my mate Sean from Macclesfield, whom I met back in the day in Kyiv when he came to see his beloved Everton play against Dynamo Kyiv.

“So again, football works as this universal mediator in my life.

“We spent just one, well, kind of a drunk night in a pub in Kyiv 8 years ago, and then remained in touch through emails. Though I would’ve preferred the circumstances of our visit to be different, he and his family kindly let us come over and stay with them. It will forever remain the most incredible story of my life,” Serge recounts.

Their entry into the UK was facilitated by the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, and the UK’s efficient handling of their visas surprised them.

“Our visas were approved within two days after we had applied through our smartphones.

“Something I would not expect even existed,” Serge remarks.

Falling in Love with Manchester

Serge in their awesome shop

Falling head over heels for the city of Manchester, the couple has embraced the local football, fashion, and music scenes with open arms.

Serge continues, “We’ve got some amazing neighbours here—Gails, Microdot, Pretty Green—all amazing businesses and cool people who work there. They’ve been so kind to us; it’s wonderful.”

The pair have also embarked on their football content journey, exploring matches across all four professional leagues, from League Two all the way to the Premier League.

Serge reflects on the diverse experiences they’ve encountered in various cities, from Bolton and Sheffield to Nottingham and Liverpool.

Stunner, at 9 South King Street, is much more than just a heaven for football shirt enthusiasts.

It’s a hub of creativity and culture.

Alongside the vintage football shirts, they proudly display tapestry art on their walls, with a remarkable piece depicting King Eric, crafted by their friend Josh who runs his own football brand A Store Like 94.

But they aim to expand their creative community even further.

Serge passionately states, “We want more people who are creative about football to get on board with this, and to share their experiences and their paths, so hopefully, we will be able to bring together a load of like-minded people and build a football-loving, creative community here at 9 South.”

In a world recovering from the isolation of the pandemic, people are seeking experiences that touch their souls.

Polina captures this sentiment perfectly, saying, “Especially after COVID, people want to, I think, want to experience things again.

“They want to come in, they want to have a chat, feel these shirts, try them on maybe – something you would not have online.

“They want to feel an experience. 

I think that’s what people get when they speak with someone from the creative football community. Especially in this niche – it’s a very nice feeling when you can shoot the breeze with someone who’s as passionate about football, and they will understand all the names and all the dates and references.”

And so, the story of Polina and Serge continues to unfold, a testament to the enduring power of football, the resilience of the human spirit, and the transformative nature of pursuing one’s passion.

As Serge aptly concludes, “What’s not to love about Manchester? If you’re into football, you listen to nice music and have a sense of style – Stunner is the place to be. It’s been amazing, and we’re excited to share our passion with the people of this incredible city.”

You can check them out on Instagram here

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