Friday, 21 August 2015

Words on Numbers

It's been far too long since we welcomed our old friend Ed Carter into the Football Attic fray, but we're delighted to say he's back once again, this time with some fine observations on the traditions of shirt numbering...

I am not mad.

On my computer I have a list of every England football squad ever submitted for a major international finals tournament. Remember, please, that I am not mad when I tell you that if every squad was like the one we sent to the 1950 World Cup - where no teams had fixed squad numbers - I would not have bothered to curate this list in the first place. I love the numbers of sport. I love the statistics, I love the scores but above all I love the numbers that are assigned to competitors to differentiate them.

I once discussed this with someone and they immediately started talking to me about the Olympic Games. I am sure that, if I understood the innumerable arcane points of interest in the way Olympic competitors are numbered I would be completely enraptured. But for me, Olympic numbers can be summed up by the way they are affixed to the competitor they demarcate: throwaway, paper-thin, ephemeral. They don't capture my interest at all.

What interests me is the sports where competitors are given a number and they wear it over the course of an entire season or beyond. Two years ago, my beloved Formula 1 motor racing decided to introduce career car numbers to the drivers, as is the case in motorcycle racing and in American motor sports. Once a competitor is issued a number of their choosing they will carry it throughout their entire tenure in the sport, regardless of team or achievement. As an identifier, and I suppose as a marketing tool, it was a diamond-tipped bullet of pure genius. I tried to maintain my decorum throughout. But I failed and immediately made a list.

I am not mad.

Football. The old association football. When I was little, football players wore shirts numbered from 1 to 11, apart from for during international tournaments, where numbers as lofty as 20, 21 or 22 could make a thrilling appearance. The dark hearts behind the Premier League had other ideas, and from 1993/94 squad numbering has slowly percolated its way down throughout the football pyramid.

I'm nothing if not a staunch traditionalist (in addition to not being mad, which it is important to remember) and as such I should be appalled by this. To be fair, I occasionally am. But on the whole, I completely love it. It is probably my favourite thing about football, now I think about it. If they stopped wearing numbers again, as they used to in the old old days, I'd probably go and find something else to watch. Greyhound racing, perhaps. Or a tortoise with a number painted on its shell in Tip-pex.

Originally, the number a football player wore - as is the commonality of any sport where the numbering of its participants still grabs me - was specific to their position and role on the field. Number 1 was always the goalkeeper; 2 and 3 were the full backs; 4, 5 and 6 were, from right to left, the half backs and numbers 7 to 11 were the forwards: again, from right to left, the outside, inside, centre, inside and outside. The initial challenge to squad numbering, you might think, is how do you maintain this positional system when there is every number from 1 to 99 to choose from? In reality of course, people had been taking liberties within the 1-11 framework for years.

For a start, there were national differences. When 4-4-2 replaced 2-3-5 as the standard formation in soccer, all hell broke loose. The English approach was to pull the numbers of the old centre and left halves back into defence as the centre backs so that a team might line up GK 1; FB 2, FB 3, CB 5, CB 6; RM 7, CM 8, CM 4, LM 11; CF 9, CF 10. In Germany, the corresponding numbers might be 1; 2, 3, 4, 5; 7, 10, 6, 8; 9, 11. In Brazil and Argentina, the centre backs assumed the numbers of their predecessors, the full backs - 2 and 3. 4 and 6, the right and left halves, became the gallivanting, marauding right and left full (wing) backs. The defensive midfielder wore 5, the central midfielder 8 and then the four attack-minded players were numbered as they were in Britain.

Or weren't. Kevin Keegan wore 7 for Liverpool but was the centre forward. Bobby Charlton was number 9 but he was an attacking midfielder. Pele, the world's greatest ever number 9, wore 10 because a Brazilian FA official assigned him that number at random upon the team's arrival in Sweden for the 1958 World Cup. Perhaps the most exciting thing of all was that Johan Cruyff wore 14 for Ajax, Barcelona and the Netherlands, a rare example of a player who was so good that officialdom is willing to waive the rules on their behalf.

Liverpool Football Club were the forerunners of pretty much everything in English football when I - or pretty much anyone over the age of 30 and under the age of 60 - was growing up. But as well as their excellence on the pitch, their approach to squad selection and development allowed them to be progenitors of the squad numbering system in English football. A player would break into the team and, if they showed sufficient quality to stay there, would very often retain the number. The aforementioned Keegan wore 7 because he made his first foray into the starting XI as a right winger. When I grew up watching the last great Liverpool side of the late 1980s, Ronnie Whelan wore 5 in central midfield because that was the number he had inherited from Ray Kennedy, who had himself worn it as a left-sided midfielder. Steve McMahon wore 11. John Aldridge, one of British football's greatest ever centre forwards, number 8. Steve Nicol frequently turned out at right back in a very Brazilian number 4. Gary Gillespie often partnered Alan Hansen (6) at centre back wearing 3. None of these numbers were strictly right, but they all meant something. That is what is so important. It demarcates the players and the positions on any given day, but also the progression of time and season. A sense of history and purpose and of being part of something more significant than just your part in it.

"I tell you what you must love then. You must love the way the Netherlands turned out numbered in alphabetical order for the 1974 World Cup." Well, no, actually I hate it. Because there's no meaning behind any of it. No thought, no history, no romance, nothing. What is even worse than Jan Jongbloed lining up in goal wearing number 8 is that had the system been properly implemented, he would have been number 9: as befitted his talismanic status, Johan Cruyff was granted the number 14 which should, by right, have belonged to Johan Neeskens. Cruyff's alphabetical assignation should have been number 1. It is things like that which make me glad Holland did not win the 1974 World Cup.

Had Cruyff worn 1, though, I suppose alphabetical squad listing is something I could get behind a little more; although it seems a staggeringly heartless and utilitarian thing to do, the sort of thing that might have happened in a book about World Cup football written by George Orwell.

The great alphabetisers of world football, though, were Argentina. In 1978 they did it properly, with no exceptions made. Number 1 was River Plate's midfielder Norberto Alonso. Ossie Ardiles wore 2. Mario Kempes, the goalscoring hero of the final, managed to get number 10. They remain the only team to be numbered alphabetically to win the World Cup. As such, they continued the practice in both 1982 and 1986, although on both occasions the system was modified to allow Diego Maradona to wear 10. In 1986, Jorge Valdano was also pandered to, wearing number 11.

Even staid old England got crazy enough to pull an alphabetic shenanigan on us. Perhaps it was the aching twelve year chasm of spiralling failure and national shame, but when the team arrived in Spain for the 1982 World Cup they were numbered according to the single most convoluted system ever seen at a football tournament, until such a time as any country wants to turn up graded by colour of hair.

Of the 22 man squad, 18 were given a number according to their name. Trevor Brooking, an archetypal number 10, wore 3. Steve Coppell, a number 7 all day long got number 5. But a goalkeeper wearing a number between 2 and 11 was too much for the FA to contemplate, so the custodians were corralled into their own individual alphabetic section and then duly handed a number 1, 13 or 22 shirt. The other exception was Kevin Keegan, England's exception-ally unfit talisman, who briefly wore his traditional number 7 shirt during a substitute appearance against the hosts in the final match of an injury-stricken campaign. The whole never-repeated experiment is, by quite some margin, the most louche thing the English football team have ever done. Including the fact that Fabio Capello used to give the substitute goalkeeper number 12, the very thought of which makes me feel a bit peculiar. Good peculiar? Bad peculiar? I don't even know.

Nowadays, squad numbering has settled down a little bit. The worst excesses, in this country at least, seem to be out of the way. The majority of players still seemingly gravitate to wearing a shirt numbered between 1 and 11 to signify their quality and irreplaceability. Additionally, there have become new paradigms set for the outlying numbers. See someone wearing number 21 or 27 or 33 and you pretty much know the sort of player you're going to get.

The great hero of English squad numbering is undoubtedly Sir Alex Ferguson, who maintained a squad kept zealously within an outer limit of numbers in the low 30s, as well as making superstars of Roy Keane's 16 and Paul Scholes' 18. That's precisely the point of squad numbering done well: both Michael Carrick and Ashley Young spoke out in the press upon their arrival at Old Trafford about the honour of being bestowed with these grand old numbers and the expectation that comes with them.

The villain of the piece? Arsene Wenger. Purely and simply for the most heinous shirt numbering crime ever committed in the British game, granting William Gallas the number 10 in 2006. The nine intervening years have done nothing to calm my volcanic revulsion to such an act. I neither support Arsenal nor do I have any strong feelings either way to Gallas. But when a player - a centre half - walks in to your club and asks to wear the number 10 shirt only just vacated by Dennis Bergkamp, a trip to the Job Centre is clearly the only eloquent response. Instead, Wenger granted the request. I've not forgotten and it can never be forgiven. But as long as there are squad numbers, there'll always be these moments. I've come, broadly speaking, to accept it. European games, with their attendant players pratting across the screen wearing number 63 or 87, can now pass with me barely even needing to clench my buttocks or grind my teeth. Or vice versa. There was many a clenched tooth and ground buttock round my house in the early noughties.

Although I still hear Barry Davies' disapproving voice ("what a RIDICULOUS number to see on an association football field") whenever anyone is tootling around in a 38, I have started to see the brilliance of it rather than being hung up on the incongruity. The best of the current crop is Yaya Toure's 42 shirt. You need to be good to wear a 42 shirt through choice. There's nowhere to hide in a number 42 shirt. One day soon, probably in no more than ten years, you'll hear some pundit somewhere saying that Manchester City have never properly replaced their 42 shirt. It's a brave new world, but scratch the surface and it's a comfortingly familiar one.

Our grateful thanks to Ed Carter for his latest guest post on The Football Attic, and a reminder to you all that you can hear him every week with Ian King on the 200% Podcast and see his sublime illustrations and paintings over at his Redbubble website.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Football Attic Podcast 28 - 50GFSE 12-6

The 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever! may be finished, but we're not done with it yet! Not while we still have 12 shirts left to blather on about!

It's another Jayless pod as he's off definitely not working or something (he told me to say that in case the tax man is listening), so I'm afraid there's only one mention of baselayers...

So pop your slippers on, grab a mug of cocoa and settle down in your favourite armchair and let the warmth of Chris, Rich and John's soothing tones send you to sleep...


Subscribe to The Football Attic Podcast on iTunes or download our podcast here.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Retro Rewind: 101 Great Goals (BBC, 1987)

By my reckoning, it’s 83 great goals, 15 that might be great and 3 that definitely aren't, but that’s just me being pedantic. And besides, it would have been a far longer and more cumbersome title for a VHS tape that I recall seeing virtually everywhere back in the late 1980’s.

I never actually owned a VCR until 1990, but this video cassette cropped up wherever I went, from my local WH Smith to the Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street, London. Though the inlay cover was far from exciting, the title did rather more to stir my imagination. What were these great goals, packaged and presented for us by the BBC? How exciting would it be to watch a whole uninterrupted hour of goals, goals and yet more goals? And would I get any change from a £10 note if I bought it?

I never did find out which goals were on that tape until the internet arrived, by which time my Akai VCR was well on its way to fully decomposing along with several dozen Scotch E240 tapes of mine. Upon watching the video, one is immediately struck by how many of the goals are familiar. That’s because many of them either won the BBC’s Goal of the Season competition or were shortlisted for the accolade.

Fortunately, even where that is the case, the goals are well worth seeing anyway. As mentioned earlier, only a paltry amount could be considered ‘not great’, and even they've got some intrinsic value to them. One of them, a goal scored by Jimmy Greaves at Valley Parade on January 3 1970, consisted merely of a throw-in by Joe Kinnear, flicked on, scuffed by a Bradford defender and poked home from close range. Hardly ‘great’, but worth seeing just to witness a legendary striker doing what he does best.

A classic Liam Brady effort for Arsenal at Tottenham in 1978 acts as the basis for the most rudimentary of opening title sequences, after which the goal-laden chronology begins in 1969. Bobby Charlton crops up with two of three successive Manchester United sizzlers, then it’s Greaves at Bradford followed by Martin Chivers scoring for Tottenham at Molineux on the same day... except Tottenham couldn't possibly have been playing Bradford and Wolves on the same day. The caption shown on the Chivers goal was wrong, and this was one of a few similar cock-ups that threaten to blight the overall presentation.

No matter. The goals they kept on coming; Ernie Hunt’s brilliant volley, set up by Willie Carr’s donkey kick, George Best looping the ball over a floundering Pat Jennings, Ronnie Radford slamming a screamer into the top corner of the net against Newcastle... Iconic images paraded before our eyes garnished inevitably by the excited commentaries of Motson, Davies, Coleman and others.

Growing up as a kid in the late 1970’s, it was goals like these that were often shown on TV, almost as a reminder of how good modern-day football ought to be. Personally speaking, I was always most fond of a long-range pile-driver, flying into the roof of the net from way out. Many such goals featured on this tape from the likes of Alan Mullery, the aforementioned Ronnie Radford and, perhaps most tellingly, Johnny Metgod for Nottingham Forest against West Ham in 1986. These were the goals I tried to replicate while playing in the local park as a kid right up to playing five-a-side with my colleagues as a 37-year-old.

It’s not all ‘thirty yard thunderbolts’, however. Proof is provided that a great goal can take many forms, whether it’s from a clever chip (cf. Glenn Hoddle against Watford in 1983, Terry McDermott against Everton in 1977) or an overhead kick (cf. Danny Wallace for Southampton against Liverpool  in 1984). Whatever your taste in goals, be they created from a series of neat passes or blasted in from distance, it’s fair to say you’ll be satisfied by something you see.

If there's any particular criticism to make, it's that the bigger teams feature more prominently than the smaller ones. Goals by Tottenham, Liverpool and Man United players make up more than a third of the total on their own, and those three teams appear in more than a quarter of all the clips, but maybe that's no surprise. Your average Match of the Day usually focused more on those clubs anyway, so the footage used in 101 Great Goals is simply a reflection of that.

The procession of great players, great teams and great goals continues through until 1987 (the year of release for this VHS tape) with the last goal coming from Clive Allen for Spurs against Coventry City in the FA Cup Final of that year. Somewhat disappointingly, Allen’s goal was the only one featured from that match. No Keith Houchen? Tut tut... But hey, it’s not easy putting together a selection of the best things in a particular category. Better, perhaps, to be grateful  for what you’re given, and this BBC production is certainly worthy of acclaim for providing over an hour of great football entertainment.

-- Chris Oakley

Friday, 14 August 2015

50GFSE - The Shirts That Didn't Make It - Rich

It's fair to say that our recent 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever series has been not only a great deal of fun, but also a giant controversy generator. Obviously, this sort of list is always going to be entirely subjective and given it was compiled by four very strong minded people, it's fair to say there are shirts on the list which often saw us split down the middle.

To this end, I thought I'd put together a small post on some of the shirts I personally voted for inclusion that didn't make the cut and, with the benefit of hindsight, ones I'd probably include if we were to do it all again.

Firstly, let me explain how the list came to be...

We individually nominated a selection of shirts - there was no limit to how many we could nominate, but it usually numbered around 20 each.

We then took a vote on each shirt as to whether it should be in the top 50 - again, no limit was set, just literally whether we thought it merited a place.

We then took the shirts which had 3 or 4 votes and they immediately found a place in the Top 50.

Next we nominated 5 shirts from our lists which had gained 2 votes and we voted again. 

That left us with one space to fill so we each nominated one shirt from the previous round of voting that hadn't made it. Shirt 50 ended up as the Universitario 88th Anniversary Home Shirt by Umbro, which surprisingly took 21st place in the final list.

Once we had the 50 shirts, we then voted in blocks of 10 (i.e. shirts 1-10, 11-20 etc) and after many, many hours on Skype discussing it, arrived at the final list. 

So, from my list of shirts which initially received 2 votes, these were the ones that came so close...

Italy Confederations Cup 2009 

Italy 2006 

England goalkeeper 1987-89 

Canada Centenary 

Argentina (a) 1986 World Cup quarter-final 

1860 Munich Anniversary (reversible)

Russia (a) 2014 

And then there were the ones that were just rejected out of hand!

La Hoya Lorca 2013/14

England away 84/87

St Mirren / Huddersfield 88

World XI 87

So...If I had to do it all again, what do I feel I maybe missed?

Croatia 98 - Not normally a fan of Croatia shirts, but the rippled flag effect did something unique and raised it above the norm.

Coventry - Talbot kit or Admiral tramlines - both of these shirts were before my time, but are both classics. The Admiral tramline shirt did feature at no.11 for Wales, but that Talbot shirt is a true design classic.

Leeds H 95-96 - As with the England 09 shirt, this stripped everything right back and looked great for it.

France A 2011 - Nike's first away kit for France demonstrated how tired adidas had become. White with horizontal navy stripes, it was a striking and very daring outfit.

Peru - specifically the 78 incarnation - One of the biggest elephants in the room, not one of us voted for it, bringing forth howls of incomprehension, but as with the ones mentioned below, can it really be a design classic when one gets the feeling it had little actual design about it?  That said, I think I probably would include it next time...

There are many more I'm sure, but that's the thing...when you can think of 100 awesome shirts, how do you separate the good from the great?

Finally, here's some shirts I wouldn't include, despite the howls of amazement that they weren't somewhere in the Top 50.

Brazil 70 (or indeed ever) - Yes it's iconic, but it's hardly the height of design and we were trying to separate the two with this list. Being popular doesn't automatically make it a great our opinion.
England 66 - See above. 
Real Madrid - Sorry, RM's shirts just don't excite me.
Ajax - Same again...sorry. Yes some are iconic, but see the points above.

So that's a little more insight into not only what nearly made it, but the process as a we said on many occasions, this was a long piece of work with an awful lot of thought put into it. It may not be everyone's Top 50, but it's ours :)

Monday, 10 August 2015

Kit Collection Book - Last 4!


I'm currently working on Volume 2 of the Attic Kit Collection Book, but I have 4 remaining copies of Volume 1 available! 

If you want one, fill in the form below...I'll then send you an email with details etc.

Please note, due to costs, I'm limiting these to the UK only! 
(Apologies to any overseas kit lovers.)

The original info for the book is below.

It's been a long time coming with many, many, MANY weekends spent photographing kits, editing said photos and then writing stuff about each one, but it's finally here!

The finished product is a 98-page hardback featuring over 200 different kits (almost my entire collection).


The price is £30. Order before 28th Aug for free P&P 

So, if you want one, fill in the form below and I'll contact you to sort out payment.

-- Rich Johnson

The Football Attic Podcast 27 - 50GFSE 20-13

So the 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever may be over, but it's not really over till the fat lady sings...or in this case the middle aged men stop waffling about wicking material and design cues...

And so it comes to pass that we present the 3rd podcast in the 50GFSE series, covering shirts 20-13.

Not 20-11 I hear not many of you ask? No...we decided to split the last 20 into 3 pods, to give the Top 5 their own show. We're good like that.


Subscribe to The Football Attic Podcast on iTunes or download our podcast here.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever: Infographic

Contrary to what some of you out there may think, we sweated blood over this countdown. We didn't just discuss the 50 Greatest Football Shirts – we argued about them. Endlessly. At times, we threatened to commit arson to each other’s houses unless certain strident views were toned down and even, on one occasion, resorted to calling each other some very rude names indeed.

Strangely, though, it was all worth it. We decided on our 50 favourite shirts and ordered them accordingly, stopping only once we’d written at great length about each and every one. We knew they’d mystify or frustrate some of you by their very inclusion, but by going to the trouble of explaining ourselves so thoroughly, we hoped you’d see our point of view.

And now it’s done. Over seven weeks of daily blog posts and well over a year of planning are at an end. We hope you enjoyed our 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever series, but before we close the book on this epic tale, we thought we’d summarise what we put before you. Somewhat inevitably, we’ve created an infographic.
Click for larger version
So what does this pink-hued manifestation of second-rate statistical information tell you?

Team Location

To begin with, it may come as no surprise that almost half of our 50 shirts belong to teams based in the United Kingdom (all of us having some sort of strong UK connection). Almost as many again belong to national or club teams in Europe (again, an area of familiarity for us all).

Only nine of the 50 shirts belong to teams outside of Europe which could be conceived as a shortcoming on our part. Guilty as charged… but then again, no-one can be expected to have a comprehensive knowledge of every football shirt in every part of the world.

Shirt manufacturer

More than a third of our Greatest 50 shirts belong to one manufacturer – the company behind our Number 1 shirt, adidas. Surely this should come as no surprise to anyone. The German sportswear giant has been responsible for so many great football kits in their time, whether they’re on our list or not. To come out on top as the most dominant manufacturer in our round-up is perhaps the very least they deserve.

Chipping in with 11 shirts was Umbro – a fine achievement for the designers behind such classics as the England 2009 shirt and, to bring things right up to date, the widely-acclaimed West Ham United shirt for the 2015-16 season.

Another great English company, Admiral, provided five of our 50 shirts, each one showing their imaginative flare covering a period from the early-70’s to the early-80’s.

Of the other manufacturers, Nike and Puma were responsible for just four shirts and one shirt respectively. That’s not to say they’re poor when it comes to football shirt design – just that, in our view, few of their creations have been true classics. Such rigorous standards we applied to our project…

Shirt style

This was a tricky one to create sub-categories for. Gone are the days when football shirts could be simply called ‘Plain’ or ‘Hooped’ or ‘Striped.’ Now, thanks to improved manufacturing techniques, they’re much more complex, not just comprised of a collar and cuffs in a contrasting colour.

Taking that on board, and for the purposes of this infographic, we devised some simple profiles for each shirt style. ‘Plain’ was self-explanatory, and perhaps unsurprisingly accounted for over a quarter of the 50. ‘Halved’ and ‘Striped’ shirts were also well defined if less common in numbers. Hell, we even embraced those new-fangled shirts with ‘Faded’ designs, of which there were two.

What caused a slight headache was categorising those shirts that were essentially plain but were decorated with coloured blocks, lines or other motifs. What could we call them? ‘Decorated Plain’ seemed apt, and mopped up almost half of our half-century selection.

And if you thought ‘Decorated Plain’ was vague, we simply had to add a category called ‘Other’. Well what sort of label would you give the Hull City 1992-93 Home Shirt?

Decade of Origin

We’ve discussed on Football Attic podcasts past that ‘proper’ football kit design didn't really start until the 1970’s, as before that it was essentially classed as ‘equipment’. Despite being a great era for football shirts, however, the 1970’s only accounted for five of our final 50. The lion’s share instead went to the following decade; 20 of the 50 were a product of the 1980’s. Was it really the greatest decade for football kit design? You decide…

Fans of modern shirt design won’t have been too disappointed to see the last five years represented by 11 of our shirts, which reassuringly proves that the era of great design is in no way behind us.

Predominant Shirt Colour

These days, football shirts are often likely to contain any number of elements that in some way dilute its predominant colour. Whether it be blocks and panels in a contrasting hue, or a stripe, hoop or other motif, it’s not always easy to pin down the main colour of a shirt.

For the purpose of our infographic, however, we had to do just that, wherever possible. In so doing, we exposed a wide colour palette ranging from the most popular colour, blue (11 shirts) to yellow, gold, pink and amber (1 shirt each).

One colour that didn't feature, most notably, was black – not that many teams wear a predominantly black shirt in their home kit, but many away kits have certainly turned to the dark side by way of a contrast. Maybe none of them have quite managed to balance this darkest of dark colours with a real sense of style?

Returning to the theme of ambiguity, 10 of our 50 shirts were categorised as ‘Various’ because of the complexity of their colour scheme. Birmingham City 1972-74 Third Shirt, anyone?

Shirt Category

Finally, an interesting (if simple) look at whether our 50 Greatest Shirts have been produced for club teams or national sides. As you can see, the clubs win that particular battle with almost two-thirds of the entire amount. Strange, if you think about it… national team shirts probably get more exposure via major international tournaments, and yet they only account for 34% of all those featured in our countdown.

So there it is – the 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever in infographic form. Now if only we could represent the approval rating of each shirt as some form of graph…

Saturday, 8 August 2015

[50GFSE] #1 - West Germany 1988-91 Home Shirt by adidas

After over a year of planning, research, discussion, design and sheer hard work producing hundreds and thousands of words for your reading pleasure, we can now proudly reveal our Greatest Football Shirt Ever:

Click for larger version
This is it - the shirt we believe cannot be beaten on design and sheer beauty, and it belongs to (West) Germany, worn between 1988 and 1991.

Often admired and beautifully executed, this was a shirt that opened our eyes as to what the future of football kit design could be like. Modern-looking, but not liable to get stuck in a time warp a year or two after its launch, this shirt quickly established itself as a classic in so many different ways.

To find out why, and to get some background on why we, the judging panel, placed it at the top of the pile, here are our thoughts on our Number 1 shirt...

[Rich:] I'm sure this may come as a surprise choice to many, but it's one of the few shirts we were all not only unanimous on being included, but also of its place at the top of the pile. While the template has already featured twice in this list, a fact which recognises the greatness of the design, this incarnation of it is head and shoulders above the rest for several reasons.

This shirt made its tournament debut at Euro 88, so it could so easily have been overshadowed by adidas's other offering, as sported by the Netherlands and the USSR, but while they were just the respective nations' colour applied to that particular template, this took the West German shirt to a whole new level. Prior to this landing, West Germany had never made much use of their other flag colours, red and yellow (black had been their standard trim for a long time). Their '86 shirt featured them as trim on the collar and cuffs, but it was so subtle, it was easy to miss from a distance. This, in stark contrast, was visible from space (possibly).

Given almost all of its predecessors - a precession of white shirts trimmed in black in the most staid fashion possible, the impact of this cannot be overstated! Suddenly, the usually straight laced Germans graced the pitch looking the epitome of style. The design was striking without being shocking, It just felt right - like something had been missing all these years.

The shirt cemented its classic status two years later when it was worn as West Germany lifted the World Cup for the very last time as a divided nation. That this shirt lasted not only a lengthy four years, but also continued as the unified nation's home shirt for a year further adds to its iconic status.

Sadly, in typical kit world fashion, the beautiful chest stripes, like the Berlin Wall itself, eventually fell away with their 1992 kit being a shadow of its former self. And then 1994 happened... but not even that can topple this as the Greatest Football Shirt Ever!

[Chris:] As a football kit manufacturer, you have to be very clever indeed to not just create a decent outfit for a team, but also a motif that stands out almost as a brand in its own right. That's effectively what adidas did with their 'ribbon' design which is undoubtedly the stand-out feature of this classic shirt.

So brilliantly original were those three undulating stripes in the colour of the German flag that no other manufacturer could hope to come up with anything remotely similar. If they had, they'd have immediately been accused of mimicking West Germany's 'ribbon'.

Take the ribbon away, however, and you're left with a very simple shirt indeed. First of all, it has a plain, round wrap-over neck that looks perfect (can you imagine this shirt with a v-neck?), plus the ubiquitous adidas stripes in black that are truncated nicely by the ribbon.

Other than the DFB badge and the old adidas logo (pushed higher up the shirt but to no overall detriment), that's it. No contrasting black trim on the cuffs, no intricate shadow patterns... no nothing... and it's all the better off for it.

As Rich said, this shirt design was another that raised the bar in quality and looked cool - uber cool. Interestingly though, where France's great Euro 84 shirt has been recreated and reinvented as a tribute down the years, this one belonging to (West) Germany has not. Out of sheer reverence, perhaps? Why not. It really is in a class of its own and deserves to be held up as a shining example of superb football shirt design.

[John:] Apart from integrating the German national flag into a kit design - a design tactic that at the time was still relatively scarce - the strength of this shirt for me is its pure aesthetic quality. It just looks so damn good.

Of course by the very nature of the German national identity colour scheme and the fact that they have a nice white canvas on which to present them, they do have a considerable advantage. Still, adidas's execution of these various elements is simply exquisite (incidentally what was in the water at adidas's design headquarters in the '80s?! So many great designs!)

The shirt was brazen, bold and confident - a real move on from the country's traditional plain white shirts and a style that still clearly influences kits to this day.

The design was so perfectly suited to the German flag, it makes you wonder now if this masterful triple layered decoration was created originally for Germany and then rolled out throughout the adidas roster? If so, it was a shame that this triple layered colour block motif didn't make it to any British shirts, except for the odd tracksuit.

[Jay:] As we salivate at the thought of British clubs wearing the design element from the '88-91 West Germany shirt, it should be remembered that whilst its application on adidas tracksuits in 1989-90 was a less satisfying spinoff, it's one which enabled it to claim a remarkable treble of English league title (Liverpool), FA Cup (Manchester United) and World Cup (West Germany) that season. And popping up on Michael Knighton's sweatshirt as he jogged around Old Trafford doing keepy-up is an added bonus.

And from such inauspicious beginnings. Worn in the German-hosted Euro 88 tournament, Ronald Koeman treated the design with utter contempt when he - yes - mimed wiping his backside with it in the wake of the Netherlands' victory over their traditional rivals in their own back yard. At that point, that famous 'ribbon' could have been consigned to the dustbin of football kit history, but the Germans - Die Mannschaft and adidas both - elected to persevere with the creation.

We are eternally grateful that they did. I argued hard that the derivative fleeting Away version was included in this collection, and the Cork City descendant too, but I honestly could have made a case for a Boca Juniors Away shirt also qualifying, and a lost Ireland shirt too. Perhaps the discombobulating Ennere Atalanta and Napoli bastardising would have been pushing my luck, but our no.1 shirt's influence is truly staggering.

But this isn't about, primarily, influence; it's about a football shirt being great, on impact and aesthetic levels. This shirt was groundbreakingly striking and has endured. It was also an early retail success story, with several versions (permutations were minor and related to manufacturing techniques) in long- and short-sleeved selling by the bucketload, along with mimicking t-shirts, tracksuits, jackets and travel bags.

Yes, that ribbon, on the famous white of Germany, teamed with the national pride of World Cup glory and unification, was embraced wholeheartedly. It gave us a great shirt. The greatest.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. Our compilation of the 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever is complete. The full list can be viewed here, so all that's left is to thank each and every one of you that's left us a comment on our website, Facebook and Twitter throughout. We really enjoyed hearing your thoughts and opinions on the fifty shirts featured, and we hope the series managed to entertain, enlighten or inform - even if our selections didn't match up with your own!

Finally, our grateful thanks also go to Jay from and John Devlin from, both of whom provided us with all the support, insight, humour and, in John's case, superb illustrations we could ever have asked for! Without them, we simply couldn't have created the 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever to the standards you've seen.

Their contributions, and yours, have made this a truly great project, and we hope you've enjoyed it at as much as we have. Cheers!

Chris and Rich

Friday, 7 August 2015

[50GFSE] #2 - England 2009-10 Home Shirt by Umbro

It's time for us to reveal the Second Greatest Football Shirt Ever, but which one will it be? So many iconic designs haven't even been mentioned in our countdown so far, and they can't all occupy the final two spaces of our list... so which shirt takes its place at Number 2? The answer is as follows:
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It's England's home shirt, worn during 2009 and 2010. Look up 'understated' in the dictionary and you'll find the above picture in the definition.

A great football shirt can be defined in many ways; complexity of detail, use of colour, acknowledgement of tradition, originality of design, sheer modernity... but this one has its own clearly defined qualities. Here are our comments to hopefully explain why our second best shirt is really all-white...

[John:] So many shirts in our countdown have had their place earned due to their game-changing and innovative design direction, but none have ripped up the rule book and raised the bar (and any other similar cliche you'd like to throw in) as this superlative Umbro England shirt.

To say this was the most important kit in decades is no understatement and to anyone who dares to criticise the magnificent Umbro must have very short memories or know nothing about kit design to not appreciate the impact this shirt has had on the football world.

At the time, kits seemed to be going in one direction of ever increasing complexity, brash multi-coloured panels and tired, over-thought design – typical 'average' sportswear. In fact a purported 'leak' of the new England kit just before the unveiling of the real one followed all these tired stylistic references and caused murmurings of discontent.

The relief, closely accompanied by sheer wonderment when Umbro finally launched this shirt, was incredible.

Plain, simple, decent collar, decent cut (which spearheaded the ground-breaking 'Tailored by Umbro' concept where all players' kits were made to measure, yes even Peter Crouch's) was a welcome breath of fresh air amongst the cul de sac that kit design was heading in. It went back to basics and totally reinvented the concept of what a football shirt could and should be.

There was subtle details, and elegance throughout. You got the feeling that every stitch had meaning.

Yes, the unbelievers simply called it a 'polo shirt' but they totally missed the point and failed to see the impact this strip would have, and in fact still has, as many kits even today are still following its design direction.

For me, the shirt will always be at the pinnacle of what eventually proved to be a difficult time for Umbro, who under Nike's ownership eventually headed for a rapid downward turn in fortune. Perhaps their wings were burnt by this England kit? Could they ever hope to better it?

Some would say that perhaps never did.

[Jay:] This shirt, and the preceding template (used on number 49 in our countdown) are two sides of the same coin. The combination of a loosely cut garment, with needless knobs and whistles aplenty - and a-glaring - with its antidote, its antithesis, of a pared down, entirely function-driven, fitted and tailored piece of sartorial greatness is what me must express gratitude towards for every measured - in every sense - shirt we have today.

We do have to check ourselves, that we haven't bought into the hype too much. Umbro threw a lot of marketing into making us believe that 'Tailored By' was the solution to a problem not all of us realised we had, and it wouldn't be the first time that those dastardly ad men had seduced us. Well I've checked myself: an interview with Umbro designer of the time, David Blanch, seems more genuine and to make more sense - in senses both pragmatic and idealistic - even in hindsight, than most of today's publicity guff. There was a problem, and the England '09 shirt was the solution.

Part of the beauty of this release - and its accompanying range - was the recognition that not only were football shirts essentially being dipped in sprinkles at the time, but, in the case of international teams, numbers, names, competition patches and match-specific script were to be added too. It was all too much, so a minimalist shirt, on the face of it, allowed for the further embellishment (and required it on replica versions?) The reality is that the new England shirt had the accoutrements, but they were in the form of darts and cleverly curved side seams, both improving cut and effect.

Excess fabric was ditched to provide a contemporary slimmer fit, the collar - despite lacking a top button - was suitably neat and tidy, even if it provoked lazy Homer Simpson comparisons, and the crest, oh my God, the crest, was beefed up and textured in brightly coloured embroidery. Just as it always should have been.

For this shirt, and its influence, we will always bow down to Umbro's brilliance.

[Chris:] After years of gorging itself on gaudy designs and dubious colour combinations, every team needs some metaphoric sorbet to cleanse the palate. To put it another way, every team needs to release a shirt design that's plain and basic before returning to the world of the bizarre and ridiculous. What Umbro created in 2009 was the sweetest sorbet ever. Far from basic and plain in the best way you could imagine, this was a shirt that rolled back all those years of coloured panels, needless flashes and pretentious detail.

'Smart' doesn't do it justice. The styling and sharpness of the lines this shirt possesses takes it beyond that. It was a statement of intent on the part of the manufacturers as if to say to their competitors "Is that the best you can do?"

Much more than that, I cannot say because it's already been said above. It is in a distinct class of its own and by redefining 'less is more', it is easily deserving of a place in our Top 3.

[Rich:] There's very little I could say that hasn't already been covered above, but my personal take on this shirt is that it was an instant classic as soon as it was revealed. It's no secret I was not a fan of the previous shirt, having described it as someone holding a bag of shapes over a shirt, then sneezing into said bag then just sticking down whatever landed on the shirt. Therefore, it's no surprise I welcomed such a minimalist shirt, but even I was taken aback at just how minimal it all was. Aside from it being an all white kit, the shirt itself was a masterpiece of understated cool.

As every possible angle has already been talked about, I'll just add that the subsequent demise of Umbro was a bit of a double edged sword. Had they bowed out before this, the world may not have been so irked, but after this, the feeling the company had finally hit a rich vein of form only to be cut down in its prime not only hurt deeply, but also stoked discontent when Nike revealed their first shirt for the national team, despite it actually being a pretty solid design.

Looking back, the problem with an instant icon is it makes following it an almost impossible feat...and Umbro's final two England shirts were pale shadows of this great, somewhat diluting its lasting impact. Despite this, this remains one of the best England shirts of all time and indeed, the second greatest football shirt ever!

This shirt is part of The 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever. The full list can be viewed here.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

[50GFSE] #3 - Netherlands 1988 Home Shirt by adidas

Forty-seven shirts down, and now just three to go in our 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever countdown. Today, it's time to find out who has won our metaphorical bronze medal in our self-appointed valhalla of shirt design, and it's this...
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...the Netherlands home shirt that made as big an impact as the team wearing it during the Euro 88 tournament in West Germany. Worn by the Dutch in only their five games of that campaign, this was proof positive that adidas were truly breaking new ground back in the 1980's... but what specifically catches the eye of the 50GFSE panel?

Here's our thoughts on what makes this shirt Total Genius...

[Jay:] Whilst this geometric pattern was seen elsewhere in the adidas stable - notably carried by the USSR and West Germany - for whatever reason it is the Netherlands version which is both most recognisable and satisfying. This may be in part due to the Dutch success associated with the shirt, but the colour combination (orange, white and black) also seems to create a perfect balance.

Whilst complex sublimation had been seen before - see Denmark in 1986 - this really was a proto-1990's release. In fact, the precise, symmetrical employment of the pattern, rather than gratuitous plastering, even suggests thoughtful restraint the like of which became en vogue decades later.

The tastefully trimmed overlapping V-neck contrast collar, and the adidas logo and iconic KNVB crest in black (surely for reasons of clarity) facilitated the background pattern's purpose as a focal point whilst ensuring it wasn't an overbearing attention drain. The Dutch looked remarkable on their way to glory, but they still looked, first and foremost, Dutch.

[John:] If ever a kit defined a tournament it was this one as the sublime Dutch side clinched the 1988 European Championship with style and grace – qualities perfectly reflected in this beautiful jersey.

A forerunner of the crazy times to come and a real trendsetter, the heavily decorated fabric was hard to take in at first, so outrageous did it seem as it discarded the long-established solid colour approach to kits. But the blend of gradients and geometry created a classic.

The template popped up in a few national kit bags at the time but no other side wore it quite as well as Holland.

[Rich:] If you're ever wondering how a shirt becomes not only an icon, but also a design classic, look no further than the Netherlands shirt of 1988. While plenty of iconic shirts achieved their status due to the occasion they were seen in - several World Cup winning shirts are regarded as classics but in terms of design, are nothing special - Holland 88 staked its claim very loudly and from the instant it seared into our retinas.

Worn for only one tournament, albeit for every single one of their matches (USSR, who had the same design, but in red, wore their white away kit in both the group stage meeting and in the Final), it arrived out of nowhere, smacked us all upside the head and left us all reeling. Sure, as Jay mentioned, plenty of other teams wore the same template (there are so many different colour versions of this shirt), and some are just as fondly remembered - West Germany's away is also regarded as a stunner - but it's the Dutch one that retains the fame....or infamy.

Why? Maybe because it was worn in all matches and so was consistently available in high profile outings; maybe because they won in it then never wore it again, creating a punch-to-the-face impact that was never allowed to fade; maybe because it adorned the backs of Van Basten, Gullit et al?  Or maybe just because it was orange?  Take a crazy design and apply it to a standard footballing colour and it lessens the impact. Render it in something a bit more out there and you have something that goes nuclear on your senses. Imagine a pink version this? Or maybe lime green? Instant notoriety!

And so it follows that, despite being nothing more than a vastly overused adidas template, the Netherlands shirts of 1988 rightly sits amongst the very best shirts ever!

[Chris:] As John mentioned earlier, any move away from a strong solid colour for any team is likely to be controversial, but this one was so imaginative as to be breathtaking. Like a window shattered into a hundred or more pieces, each one retained its gradient-filled lightness in a way that had never been seen before.

For me, the sight of this shirt during Euro 88 was one of those 'I was there' moments when you realise you're witnessing something ground-breaking. At a stroke, it rendered almost every other kit old-fashioned, so revolutionary was its design.

Yet for all its geometric interest and delicately coloured beauty, one very minor detail helps to make it a classic - namely the thin grey outline that each of those angular segments possesses. It may not seem like much, but it helps to define the make-up of why this shirt is so special. Without it, the whole thing looks like a wishy-washy load of faded bits. Brilliant execution and brilliantly conceived.

This shirt is part of The 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever. The full list can be viewed here.