Monday, 27 July 2015

[50GFSE] #13 - Manchester United 1992-94 Third Shirt by Umbro

We should never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and boy is the background to Manchester United's 1992-94 Third shirt a good story. If you're sitting comfortably, then I shall begin...

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Actually, let's just cut to the chase. The legend goes that Man United's forebear, the Newton Heath (Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway) Cricket & Football Club, were presented with cashmere shirts in green and gold in their second season in existence. In fact, reports of such an item existing are scarce, and it may be not beyond the realms of possibility that until Umbro came up with this supposedly retrospective design to add to their new United Home and blue Away shirts, neither the Red Devils nor their progenitor ever wore green and yellow/gold halves.

But no one knew that in the early 1990s, we have to believe, and black and white photographs from one hundred odd years previous, along with isolated reports, somehow suggested this palette - the colours of the L&YR - though there is far more evidence for the wearing of a suspiciously similar outfit in red and white in subsequent seasons. So along came this ostensibly historically sensitive shirt, complete with the lace-up collar seen on the Home version and complex jacquard watermark, dispensing with the alternate-coloured sleeves and embellished with tasteful black trim, not to mention unveiled in hilarious fashion - with Eric Cantona stealing the show not for the last time.

And it was brilliant. The connotations worked fantastically - we doffed our caps, 1879 style - whilst the adding of more modern stylings - that watermark, the Umbro logo, the sponsor - seemed to act as the anachronism's membership card to the present, like The Terminator's clothes, boots and motorcycle. Truly, has a footballer ever looked sexier than when Andrei Kanchelskis digested his expulsion from the 1994 League Cup final whilst wearing this shirt, long-sleeved and untucked?

It may be that revisionism was at play to provide us with this masterpiece - or maybe it's at play in this article - but the colours have since, entirely owing to this release, been adopted by the anti-Glazer factions amongst United's current support. Consequently, a whole mini-industry of green and gold wares exists with a raison d'être of protestation, due not to the origins of the club - oh, you poor innocent - but to the unashamed glorious commercialising of said origins in 1992.

And you can buy a retro Newton Heath shirt - some have the colours flipped, layering confusion on confusion - but the root of the green and gold phenomenon may be found late in the last century. We'll never really know, and perhaps Umbro have created an alternate, paradoxical backstory to one of the world's biggest clubs. Perhaps. What is certain is that Umbro created a wonderful shirt that becomes rarer and exponentially more valuable as time passes. Those rail workers wouldn't want it any other way.

Written by Jay, resident blogger on

Jay can be found on Twitter and are on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Sunday, 26 July 2015

[50GFSE] #14 - Italy 2000-01 Home Shirt by Kappa

When a football kit manufacturer decides to rip up the rule book and completely reinvent what's gone before, it has several options to help it achieve its objectives. It can add an eye-catching motif to the shirt here or there - a stripe or a block of colour, perhaps. It can add extra detail or interest to make the shirt more complex in its make-up. Or, as with Kappa's approach to the Italy shirt of 2000-01, it can go in the opposite direction by simplifying things in a brilliantly innovative way. This is the masterpiece that came about from that little exercise:
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There's no other way to describe this shirt: it was quite simply a game-changer. Before 2000, shirts worn by the Italian national team all generally followed the same rules. They had to be royal blue in colour, many had a proper 'flappy' collar and many had a dash of green, white and red as borrowed from Italy's national flag. After a couple of years of towing the line, however, Kappa decided to break free from the conventions of yore.

Their first idea was to change the tone of blue - a potentially controversial move, but one based on precedent as the Italy shirts of the 1950's had a similar hue. If you go back to the 1930's, you'll see that the shade of blue is even lighter, but I digress. Though a little jarring when first seen 15 years ago, it undoubtedly has a softer quality than the deep, rich blue we've come to associate with the Italian team.

Next, Kappa did away with the collar, opting instead for a simple round neckline in the same colour as the rest of the shirt. After that, they moved their own logo to the sleeves of the shirt to leave the body decorated only by the traditional 'shield' badge of the Italian Football Federation.

The final change, however, was a master-stroke. To compensate for an apparent lack of detail, Kappa used decorative stitch-work in a darker shade of blue to create a feature in its own right. Providing a border around the neckline, under the arms and down the sides of the shirt, this was a genius move that added to the overall look without spoiling the simplicity that had already been implemented elsewhere.

If anything, the addition of a white squad number in the middle of the chest (as seen during Euro 2000) made the shirt even more complete, but it was by no means necessary. Even the slightly slimmer fit provided an extra distinction that separated it from most other shirts seen around the same time.

All in all, this was a glorious symphony of subtlety and style that did much to boost not only the Italian national team but also Kappa themselves. Proving that less can most certainly be more, Italy's greatest football stars have rarely looked better on the international stage.

Written by Chris Oakley (The Football Attic).

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

Saturday, 25 July 2015

[50GFSE] #15 - Hull City 1992-93 Home Shirt by Matchwinner

It's fair to say we all had a soft spot for this oft-criticised shirt, but to give it the proper tribute it deserved, we thought we'd hand over the writing duties to Hull City kit expert Les Motherby. Here he his to tell the story of a football shirt with stripes of a truly different kind...

For a kit to become ingrained in the collective consciousness usually requires a team to perform laudable exploits while wearing it; win a major trophy, secure promotion, or at least embark upon a plucky cup run. Not so with Hull City’s 1992/93 home kit, worn during a season of abject failure: The Tigers narrowly escaped relegation from the third tier of English football, exited the League Cup at the first hurdle, and bested only Darlington in the FA Cup before going out in the Second Round.

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It is purely the design that secured this kit’s enduring infamy, which is an impressive feat considering the era, when outrageous designs were legion. Clubs had cottoned on to the money-making potential of polyester replicas released annually rather that every two years, suppliers were pushing design boundaries to show off new printing techniques and a rash of small kit-making firms were keen to make a name for themselves, culminating in an imperfect storm regarding kit design. But whereas most of the, ahem, attention-arresting designs released during that period were used for away kits, it was Hull City’s home kit that would be quite literally wild.

Scottish brand Matchwinner looked to the club’s nickname for inspiration, producing a lurid tiger stripe print shirt, paired with black shorts and socks with amber trim. Near universally mocked outside of East Yorkshire, this shirt is fondly recalled by many Hull City fans, who revel in the kitsch value and remember the media hoopla generated as a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak decade.

Those who claim this to be among the worst kits ever are seemingly ignorant of its successor, which was essentially a knock-off. The five-year relationship between Hull City and Matchwinner came to a sudden and acrimonious end in the summer of 1993, giving replacement supplier Pelada no time to design a non-copyright violating approximation of the tiger-skin print shirt.

So The Tigers began 1993/94 with the previous season’s shirt and shorts (Pelada supplied new socks) with Matchwinner’s logos patched over, it wasn't until the November when City wore Pelada-made home shirts for the first time.

Only the ‘tiger skin’ looked more like a leopard print, and featured such a tightly compacted design that from a distance the shirt looked a rusty hue, rather than our usual distinctive and bright amber. Indeed when Oxford visited Boothferry Park they were permitted to wear their yellow primary shirt, deeming it not a clash with our supposedly amber and black shirt. It was so bad that even fans who loathed the original tiger print shirt will have pined for it after seeing the shockingly bad substitute.

The original might have been ill advised (and the concept is certainly best left in the past), but it was fun and generated more publicity than a side ranked 20th in Division Two of the Barclays League warranted. To this day it remains memorable and iconic.

Our grateful thanks to Les. He can be followed on Twitter here and his website,, has much more in the way of kit imagery and information for those of you interested in what The Tigers wore in days gone by.

Friday, 24 July 2015

[50GFSE] #16 - Ipswich Town 1982-84 Home Shirt by adidas

Earlier in this series we saw how adidas’ instigation of pinstripes in 1980 kick-started a continental influence on kit design. A year later the fashion finally made it to the UK with one of the best examples of the genre - the Ipswich Town shirt worn in the halcyon days of Bobby Robson’s management, sported by stars such as Paul Mariner, Arnold Muhren and Terry Butcher.

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There were (and in fact still are!) plenty of pinstripes around in football, but when they form part of a shirt featuring non-contrasting neck and cuffs they do seem to exude that little extra ‘je ne sais quoi.’ I guess its the perverse nature of stripping away contrasting colour from the functional elements of the design before then adding it again, purely as decoration, elsewhere on the shirt. It's confident (or arrogant?) and extravagant in the extreme, but actually is precisely what you need when you’re dressing a football team when their confidence is paramount to performance.

As if to prove a point, this is yet another example of a superb kit accompanying a superb team (for those who may not remember, the early 1980's found the Tractor Boys’ stock much higher than it is today) although to be fair, their peak had arguably just passed when these pinstriped beauties were called into action.

The shirt is also memorable for the inclusion of Ipswich’s first ever sponsor, electronics company Pioneer. The early versions of these shirts (as worn in pre-season photos) featured the firm’s solid but relatively squat logo. Clearly there were concerns about legibility and brand awareness as soon into the season these jerseys were replaced by new ones that featured, in a move to make all graphic designers wince, a condensed but much larger rendering of the Pioneer logo.

The European flavour of this shirt is clear to see (quite apt given the club’s success in the UEFA Cup the previous season) and for my money produced, along with its white away and red third counterparts, one of the classiest and most stylish sets of kits of the decade.

Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of

John can be found on Twitter and True Colours is also on Facebook.

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

Thursday, 23 July 2015

[50GFSE] #17 - Celtic 2012/13 125th Anniversary Third Shirt by Nike

There are many ways to commemorate an anniversary with shirts; some good, some bad. Celtic's last major anniversary was their centenary in the 1987/88 season, which they celebrated in the typical fashion of the time - adding some wording under or around the crest. Celtic went one better and reverted to their original crest for the season, but that was it. No special shirt, no great pomp and ceremony, or marketing BS... Just a classy shirt with some wording and it worked perfectly. It was classy at the time and even today looks fantastic.

So, 25 years later and with the next major milestone looming, what to do?  The world had changed and with special edition shirts being released almost every day celebrating such mundane things as when some bloke off a student's t-shirt dropped by your place 50 years ago, the big question was how to mark the occasion?

Celtic's answer? Create one of the classiest special edition shirts ever!

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For a start, they replicated the centenary shirt by having a special crest for the home shirt, but this time round they created a special Third shirt as well. What they came up with was a replica of what they wore the first time they played their Auld Firm rivals, Rangers, from May 1888. The kit as a whole was beautiful, with black shorts and green and black hooped socks, but this isn't about the kit as a whole, this is just about shirts... So could the jersey stand on its own? By god yes!

The shirt itself was all white, topped off with a small, black collar so we're starting with a minimalist cool look already, but what really makes this shirt special are two subtle details. As with the 87/88 shirt, they changed their badge to their original Celtic cross, albeit in updated form, but it's what's beneath the crest that tops this shirt off nicely.

Sponsors logos are a touchy subject on shirts these days, so when it comes to an anniversary edition, how would such a classy, retro looking shirt look with 'Tennents' sprawled across it?

This problem was solved beautifully by the lager manufacturer allowing their logo to be rendered in white, subtly outlined in grey, and in a small version, just below the badge. This was a classy move by Tennents, which showed smart thinking. They didn't ruin the shirt and would no doubt have won people over by not doing so,  Nike followed suit and the swoosh also appeared in white, leaving what appeared to be a retro-styled shirt bereft of logos of any kind. I don't think there's been a classier anniversary shirt.

As a side note, Rangers, themselves sponsored by Tennents, also had the sponsor logo in the same size and placing, so as not to create any imbalance across the divide.

Written by Rich Johnson (The Football Attic).

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

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

[50GFSE] #18 - Aberdeen 1976-79 Home Shirt by Admiral

You know, the more I study football kit history the more I appreciate just how big and far-reaching the effects of the Admiral mid-70's kit revolution were. The kit they produced for Aberdeen back then, worn just as the club were beginning a golden era under the managerial reign of a certain Alex Ferguson, is a fine example.

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Prior to 1976, The Dons had enjoyed a succession of relatively plain and simple red kits. Nothing wrong with that of course, but Admiral’s bold approach, born from a need to produce copyrightable designs that could be subsequently sold as replicas and inspired by the ever increasing role of colour TV in the football world, lifted the ordinary Aberdeen kit into something extraordinary.

It was the simple addition of five (or occasionally four as, in true Admiral fashion, the finer details did vary) thin vertical stripes all grouped together on the left hand side that really made the kit stand out. The fact that these stripes then continued on the shorts raised its kudos even higher.

And that was it. That was all the kit required. No concepts, no symbolism - just the beauty of pure aesthetics. Hell, it was so good, it didn't even need a club badge! But whether it was being worn in a football stadium or the local rec, it was unmistakably Aberdeen, no doubt about that.

A few other clubs also sported this design but none of them wore it quite as well as The Dons and is fondly remembered by Aberdeen fans of a certain age.

The fact it was donned (ahem) in a couple of vital and formative cup finals en route to Fergie’s prime at Pittodrie seems only fitting.

Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of

John can be found on Twitter and True Colours is also on Facebook.

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

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

[50GFSE] #19 - Argentina 1986 Home Shirt by Le Coq Sportif

Just after the 1986 World Cup had finished, I purchased my first ever Shoot! magazine with a World Cup review in it. On the front cover was Maradona cradling the World Cup trophy, wearing the gorgeous blue and white striped shirt that would beguile me to this day.

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The two things (and this demonstrates how incredibly obsessive I am about this stuff) that hooked me were the fact the central stripe was white and not blue - a rarity for Argentina - and that it was made from an Airtex material. Yes. I really do love a shirt due to the inclusion of holes.

In addition to the holes, it just looked gorgeous in the Mexico sun, especially when contrasting with their black shorts and white socks.  It also never looked better than in the Final against a West Germany team in their vibrant green shirts.

The shirt itself is a very simple affair, being nothing other than white- and blue-striped Airtex material with a standard round neck, but to me that's part of its appeal. I don't think a shirt would be made like this any more. Yes, we've had the whole retro-looking 'Tailored By' range from Umbro, but aside from those (and even then there were few striped shirts where the sleeves were just the same exact style as the body), you just don't get shirts where the sleeves just continue the main style with no additions or changes in style whatsoever.

To me, this shirt is proof that at times, a design doesn't have to be anything other than what it needs to be, while still being unique. Though it may be simple in nature, the change of central stripe to white and the Airtex material raise this from plain shirt to design classic.

Written by Rich Johnson (The Football Attic).

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

Monday, 20 July 2015

[50GFSE] #20 - Olympique Lyonnais 2010-11 Away Shirt by adidas

As with the previously mentioned Marseille shirt, this was from the period where adidas were providing French teams with what some regard as strikingly unique and extravagant designs and other, less educated/cultured folk regard as abominations. I am clearly in the former camp, hence this shirt's initial nomination and, due to the others on this project being of a similar ilk (though not cultured enough to appreciate the aforementioned Marseille shirt), subsequent inclusion in the chart.
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Flouncing in in a deep burgundy, the front is adorned with what appears to be a pattern inspired by a Las Vegas casino carpet and given all the trim is in gold, one could be forgiven for thinking the whole ensemble was conceived somewhere on the Strip.

And this is where that difference of opinion come in. While some think the result is gaudy, tacky or just plain awful, I, and my esteemed colleagues, all deem this to be a masterpiece of design and style.

The print is a triumph of gorgeously indulgent, swirling symmetricality (yeah I know the word is symmetry, but that doesn't sound half as good!) in a darker burgundy than the rest of the shirt. From a distance, it resembles a Rorschach ink blot test, which makes you wonder what the designer saw when he looked at his creation... Maybe his mother scolding him for not having a sensible job... and why isn't he wearing a coat, it's cold outside, you'll catch your death Martin!!!!

Again, similarly to the Marseille shirt, the trim is all gold and while some say it jarred against the blue, here it just adds to the luxury feel (or the tackiness, if you're a berk).

One final detail is something that only those who purchased a certain version of the replica shirt would have seen. The numbers on the back, as well as being available in boring old block fonts, were also available inset with the same pattern as on the front of the shirt, but in gold. Damn that's some good detailing right there!

Written by Rich Johnson (The Football Attic).

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

Sunday, 19 July 2015

[50GFSE] #21 - Universitario 2013 88th Anniversary Shirt by Umbro

And so we come to another limited edition shirt on this list (yet again nominated by me), though this one encountered very little resistance due to its staggering beauty.

Released to celebrate Peruvian club Universitario's 88th year (oh come on, since when has that been any kind of event?), Umbro stripped things right back and went full-on retro.

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Despite being a very minimal design, there are several features that make this shirt great. Firstly, the whole thing is constructed from Umbro's lush cotton used on so many of their 'Tailored By' range.

And then there's the details. Starting from the top, we find a neat, trimmed collar which then has a neck opening that extends almost all the way down to the abdomen; a brave move given how most manufacturers still try to keep their tribute shirts within the bounds of modern features.

The club crest - a gorgeously simple U in a circle and rendered in maroon - is quite thick, luxuriously stitched on and again, really feels like it would have done in days gone by.

The Umbro logo, rather than going with just the diamond (as they did for most of their 'Tailored By' range), has the company name underneath, akin to their '80s logo - a strange choice given the look they're clearly going for. Similarly, along the shoulders at the back of the shirt, is a maroon line extending from the neck, a superfluous detail that looks somewhat modern and therefore out of place. It's all very well going for a mix of modern and retro (a la Corinthians), but this only works when the shirt doesn't have its foot so heavily planted in one camp to begin with.

Thankfully, these details don't detract too much from the overall look and to further enhance the shirt, the numbers are stitched on in contrasting thread. Finally, the sleeves are trimmed in thick cuffs and it's these details that truly make this shirt the work of art it is.

Written by Rich Johnson (The Football Attic).

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

Saturday, 18 July 2015

[50GFSE] #22 - Dundee United 1984-87 Home Shirt by adidas

As is clearly evident by a quick scan through our the preceding entries in our 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever series, adidas were enjoying a golden era during the 1980s and seemingly could do no wrong. This rich vein of kit design form continued north of the border with their 1985-87 kits for Dundee United that are splendid examples of the quality of their strips during this period.

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Adidas had been residents in the kit room at Tannadice since 1977 and this, their third home kit for the Arabs is arguably their best with so much to admire within it.

Much to the excitement of kit nerds at the time (well, me anyway) the shirt featured dynamic DIAGONAL shadow stripes - a new development in this most stylishly subtle way to decorate a shirt. The trend for including a third hue to kit trim in the mid-80s suited the club’s tangerine and black colour scheme a treat with the newly introduced white adding a whole new level of sophistication to the ensemble.

The shirt is also notable for the inclusion of the rather smart and angular logo of supermarket/convenience store chain VG, the side’s first ever sponsor. VG's parent company included future United chairman Eddie Thompson as part of their managerial board and it was Thompson himself who engineered the deal with the club. Interestingly the VG logo on replica jerseys was much smaller than the ones on the players’ versions.

Adidas obsessives will note the truncated three-stripe trim (yes, this was back in the days when adidas did something different for a change with their most famous branding adornment!) that stopped neatly at the shoulder in a similar style to that also sported by Liverpool at the time. The epaulette-like rendering of the three stripes seemed to give the shirt extra gravitas and strength which suited perfectly a very impressive Dundee United side who, at the time, were enjoying their own golden era and rampaging through Europe in the UEFA Cup whilst wearing this kit.

In fact this strip’s last outing was against Gothenberg in the second leg of the 1987 UEFA Cup Final where sadly a 1-1 draw was not enough to avoid an aggregate defeat to the Swedish side (although to give credit where credit’s due, United had already knocked out Barcelona earlier in the tournament).

For me, this kit is another superb example of a great outfit accompanying (and possibly inspiring?) a great team - and you must remember that in the mid-80s Jim McLean’s side were pushing the Old Firm all the way for domestic honours... which was given extra spice by the notion of the logo of a pretty small Scottish convenience store appearing in some of the biggest stadiums in Europe!

Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of

John can be found on Twitter and True Colours is also on Facebook.

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