Monday, 29 June 2015

[50GFSE] #42 - Arsenal 2005-06 Home Shirt by Nike

When a football kit manufacturer radically changes the shirt traditionally worn by a club, it has to either (a) have a pretty good reason for doing so, or (b) have exceptional confidence that the new design will be popular. Sometimes, both. Failure to give the fans what they want as a result of not meeting either criteria tends to result in extreme displeasure on the part of the club's followers.

It's happened before. Le Coq Sportif ditched Sunderland's traditional red and white stripes in 1981 in favour of red candy stripes on a white background. Two years later, order was restored, but not before the fans had raged at the brief abandonment of their heritage. More recently, Southampton suffered the same fate when Umbro gave them an all red strip in 2012. To make matters worse, Adidas did the same the following year until finally the red and white stripes were reinstated for the 2014/15 season.

Sometimes, however, it's permissible to introduce a one-off kit which, though very different to those that precede and succeed it, is accepted by the majority of fans because of what it represents. Such was the case when Arsenal played out their 2005-2006 season wearing redcurrant-coloured shirts, rather than their bright red shirts with white sleeves.

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It all came about when Nike produced a design for Arsenal's final season at Highbury Stadium. As part of a concerted effort to look back on the club's history following their move from the Manor Ground in Plumstead, Nike came up with a modern take on the kit worn during their first Highbury season in 1913/14. Photographic evidence showed that The Arsenal wore dark red shirts back then, and dark red shirts were what Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and many others were given to wear by the American sportswear brand.

The trouble is, this whole episode seems to be built on a complete misunderstanding. As detailed by Historical Football Kits, the original photograph that inspired the Nike 'redcurrant' design was in fact badly colourised. Arsenal's first-choice shirt of 1913 was probably as red as any other worn during their history, but because of the limitations of photographic processing back then, the image took on a false hue that found its way onto Arsenal's Home shirt of 2005/06.

Faintly embarrassing as this may now be, one could argue that Arsenal did in fact end up with one of their finest ever shirts as a result of this unfortunate error.

The styling is beautifully understated and the proportions and cut of the fabric are virtually perfect. As with any commemorative shirt worth its salt, there are no superfluous motifs or stripes or flashes of any kind. This was a shirt that took good old-fashioned simplicity and shot it through the prism of modern-day chic.

Sporting a modest collar bearing a shallow v-cut below the neckline, the Arsenal badge is located just below it in the middle of the shirt while Nike's 'swoosh' logo appears far away above and to the left in gold print. Almost regrettably as a modern shirt, the sponsor's logo takes centre stage, and it too (or should that be 'O-too'?) is also in gold. Whether this final touch crosses the line of vulgar bling-obsessed self-satisfaction, we'll leave for others to judge, but it's true to say that the gold does work well in contrast to the redcurrant. Just a shame that gold was used to promote a telecommunications company rather than the club's identity.

Finally, the reverse of the shirt was reserved for the player's name and number (again in gold) while the words 'Highbury 1913-2006' provided a nice touch in small lettering below. All in all, a very nice shirt and one which, I believe, many fans would have been happy to see for much longer than its tantalisingly brief single-season existence.


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.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

[50GFSE] #43 - Norwich City 2004-06 Away Shirt by Xara

Norwich, like their small band of similarly hued compatriots Watford, Hull City and Wolves, don’t actually, to all intents and purposes, always need an away kit. Colour clashes can be few and far between and in some seasons non-existent. This hasn't stopped all these teams sporting some superb change outfits over the years, though, and for my money this Xara-produced Canaries strip from 2004-06 is one of the best.

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Launched as the club prepared for Premiership football after nine years in Division 1, the design was both of its time and yet simultaneously way ahead of the game.

It featured the mid-2000's trend for asymmetry with the fairly discrete Xara logo jauntily placed high to ensure, despite its relatively diminutive stature, its inclusion in all ‘head and shoulders’ player photos. The placement of this logo and the subsequent central position of the club badge and Lotus Cars sponsor logo gave them both added prominence.

The asymmetrical approach continued with the yellow-trimmed crew neck that seemed to have been rotated 45 degrees in a ground breaking move that was miles away design-wise from anything else going on at the time.

One of the key elements in this kit’s success was the colour. Norwich away strips have traditionally been white, or occasionally red, yet many fans have often questioned why the club seldom utilised their prominent secondary colour, green, as a change option. Perhaps its stigma as an unlucky hue had something to do with it? (Norwich’s results in this strip may bear that theory out).

However, green kits had began to pop up now and again in the Carrow Road kitbag since the late '90s but now, for the first time, rather than the more familiar ‘emerald green’ a ‘Racing Green’ shade was chosen. The colour, rendered in three beautiful tones was a nod to the impressive racing heritage of Lotus Cars who were actively involved in the creation of the design – one of the first times such a collaboration between club and sponsor had occurred. The multi-tonal approach to colour, which Xara pioneered with this strip, has also subsequently become the norm with many major sportswear designers today.

The kit just oozed class, and the fact that it was produced by a relatively small company (at the time their offices were in Scotland but today the parent brand focuses primarily on the US market) shows how less famous brands can sometimes really punch above their weight when it comes to innovation, elegance and style.

Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of TrueColoursFootballKits.com.

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.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

[50GFSE] #44 - Corinthians Centenary Home Shirt 2010 by Nike

Corinthians (full name Sport Club Corinthians Paulista) are one of Brazil's biggest clubs with a history stretching back to 1910, when it was founded by five railway workers. Their shirts are usually white with black trim and occasionally white with black stripes. The club crest consists of two crossed oars and an anchor.

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As you can see from the image here, this shirt looks nothing like that.  That's because the centenary shirt was based on the shirt they first wore back in 1910. The shirts back then were actually cream coloured, but faded after washing. This left the club with a problem... as the shirts faded, they had to buy new shirts. To solve this, they took the pragmatic decision to just adopt the white colour as their own. The current look was adopted in the 1950's.

This is one of my all time favourite shirts for several reasons. While the colour is faithful to the original shade of cream, it's given a modern twist by turning it into a subtle striped design. Look closer and you'll notice this design has been taken further by each stripe having a fade effect on it, alternately fading from dark to light and light to dark.

Taking yet another closer look, you can see that each stripe is bordered by a very light pinstripe. On top of this, running throughout the shirt is a very subtle shadow print. By rights this should mean a shirt that looks way too busy, but the subtle ways it's all put together just makes for a very classy number.

The black trim is kept to a minimum, with the sleeves being capped in in a very thin line, while the V-neck is topped off with a neat collar.

Finally, the crest is a version of that was used on the original shirts, consisting of an intertwined C & P, outlined with a gold circle, intersected top and bottom with 1910 & 2010. Underneath that is a gold, half laurel wreath with 100 in the middle. Again, it's all done very low-key and it's that which I love most about the shirt.

I suppose we must talk about the sponsors, however. I'll say up front, I'm a big fan of multiple sponsors on shirts. It's one of those things that defines 'foreign' jerseys... makes the world seem that little bit larger and more mysterious. So anyway, while some would baulk at the idea of a centenary shirt with all its tradition being covered in the likes of Neo Quimica Genericos and Bozzano, I love it... and they have at least done them all in black.

The Corinthians Centenary shirt is the perfect mix of traditional and modern.



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.

Friday, 26 June 2015

[50GFSE] #45 - Cork City 1989-91 Home Shirt by adidas

Once we had selected this particular shirt for the 50, the four main contributors agreed that we had to have Cork City fan and kit expert Denis Hurley provide a guest post, which he thankfully agreed to do. Take it away, Denis...

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Jay has already referred to the fact that templates will feature in this top 50, something which is hardly surprising. This shirt is ‘kind of’ a template but, at the same time, it’s one of a kind, as was the case with many Cork City kits.

When the club was established in 1984, the club wore a kit very similar to the classic Queens Park Rangers adidas kit of the time, with green replacing blue. For the next five seasons, five variants of this style were used – none, as far as we are aware, worn by any other adidas club. The reason for this was that Irish sportswear firm Three-Stripe International was based in Cork, producing adidas clothing under licence, allowing them to come up with bespoke looks for the local side.

In 1989, City made it to the FAI Cup final for the first time, against a Derry City side seeking to win the domestic treble, and, to mark the occasion, a very new departure was taken on the outfitting front. The final was lost, 1-0 after a replay, but that didn’t detract from just how good the new look was. Taking inspiration from the West Germany kit introduced at Euro 88, the shirt was now predominantly white with a green and red zig-zag across the front. It wasn't a simple re-colouring of the West German look though, as the pattern was higher up the chest and also featured narrower colour blocks, creating room for the sponsor, Guinness.

That the name of Ireland’s most famous export was across the chest no doubt accounted for some of this shirt’s popularity outside of the club’s catchment area. Just look at the company it’s keeping here without looking out of place, while The Beautiful South also did their bit to raise exposure.

Even now, the periodic ‘best-ever kit’ polls on the Cork City supporters’ forum will have this on or near the top, even though these days the club’s first-choice kit is a reversal of what it was then, with green shirts with white shorts currently favoured. That may be better than, say, the dalliance with previous away colour red as a home kit, but, for some, white should always be the primary colour and this shirt will be the standard against which all successors are measured.



Huge thanks to Denis. He can be followed on Twitter here and his site, CorkCityKits.com, demonstrates that this shirt is certainly not the only impressive example the Rebel Army have turned out in. Denis also tweets news and his views on GAA kits here, for his legendary compendium, Pride In The Jersey.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

[50GFSE] #46 - France 2009-10 Home Shirt (Techfit Version) by adidas

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Ah, Techfit. Much maligned, largely abandoned, the adidas technology started out as a feature of underwear and shifted to football shirts proper as part of the “underwear as outerwear” phenomenon that also influenced England’s 2010 Umbro Away shirt.

The principle - most clearly demonstrated in the shirt France took to the Croke Park field in when facing Ireland in the World Cup 2010 qualification playoff first leg - as well as purportedly providing muscular support, manifested a logic that a tight shirt with wicking properties could remove sweat and allow it to drip off the shirt or evaporate. The science suggested that the amalgamation of baselayer and outer shirt was vital in order to prevent the distinct latter from compromising this process and weighing down the player with the “wick-ed” moisture.

Fine, we believe you, so you dress footballers as cyclists. In fact, aerodynamism must have been a handy bonus - perhaps, in the second leg, Thierry Henry felt he could move all the swifter to provide his own “handy” contribution.

Facetiousness aside, a huge array of Europe’s top teams - of the adidas stable - ended up in Techfit, but it never again quite reached the peak of the France 2009 version. This was mainly because, for the French shirt, for the second time, the German manufacturer took the opportunity to modernise the 1984 all-time classic.

I regard myself as the internet authority on cover versions and my thoughts can be transposed to apply to updated iconic football shirts. Certainly the ideal that a “song should be covered in a way that makes the new version a good recording in its own right. It's pointless covering a song if you're bringing nothing new to the table” is both entirely applicable here and realised by adidas. The '98 version was a faithful reinterpretation by contemporary standards - and duly delivered the glory it was hoped it could - but in '09 the goal was modern, top down reinvention (and glory in South Africa - ha!) and this was plainly demonstrated.

Yes, the rubber “Powerweb” features were too much - too modern? - for some, yet the impeccably-angled red and white flashes neatly highlighted players’ abdominal muscles and helped (re-)usher in the super-slim-fitting kits which followed - for adidas, including adizero ranges, Nike and, notably, Puma’s current approach.

In fact, another novel process was allowing the French players to choose the type of shirt they wore - the Techfit or traditional Formotion technology-boasting version. Yes, different styles of shirt were worn on the same pitch, but it was the Techfit option that wowed. And so great is the design that adidas couldn’t face it being tossed into the dustbin of history when the FFF decamped to Nike, so they waited a couple of years and chucked something very similar onto a Chelsea Third instead - guess what: the definitive version of that release was again the Techfit variant.

This is a shirt that brings to mind the insouciance of Platini and Zidane in its retrospection, whilst at the same time, with its physique-flaunting modernism, telling opponents, basically, I’m the Juggernaut, bitch! I defy you to imagine a more stirring juxtaposition.



Written by Jay, resident blogger on DesignFootball.com.

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

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

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

[50GFSE] #47 - Pumas 2014-15 Home Shirt by Nike

Pumas, the official football team of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, have one of the most recognisable shirts in the world. The famous stylised puma face staring out, larger than life, from the front, leaves opponents in no doubt of who they’re up against.
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But, in fairness, the fixture list carries that off pretty well too. The danger with durative iconic kits - kits which have a rigid and distinctive starting point that designers have to work around - is that one season’s offering can blend into the next's. Nike, however, returned as Pumas’ technical partner last year and elected to put their stamp on things.

I mean, literally, you can see the Swoosh. You can’t see much else though, because the 2014 shirt - celebrating the club’s 60th anniversary and billed as a nod to the 1976-77 version worn when Pumas won their first Mexican championship - is actually pretty minimalist. Rather than deploying the heavily embellishing approach that seems to be creeping back into kit design, Nike kept the collar and cuffs simple and non-contrast, complementing a slim cut and tastefully golden whole.

That famous puma face? I see no evidence of it aping a seventies version, but the outlining lowers the contrast proportion to increase the cleanliness of the overall look. What? You’ve never heard of a “nice, clean design”? Cleanliness, see? And there’s even the university crest, though you’ll have to really search, as it’s embossed. Yes, that understated.

Of course, there are a few sponsors in navy too. But Banamex has become almost as familiar as ol’ catty cat across the front, back sponsors are just plain cool and Coca-Cola on the sleeve, well, as logos go, there are worse you could have. And at least they’re in navy. Full-coloured branding would have been a disaster here - instead, it’s just secondary colouring that classily finishes off the creation.

The most impressive trick Nike pulled off was manufacturing, in my opinion, the greatest ever Pumas shirt - both unashamedly modern and faithful to traditions - when taking over from Puma. Pumas should have their kit made by Puma, always, or so I thought. No longer. The Transformers-evoking shirt - particularly so when one of their players is the spit of Shia LaBeouf - has never looked better, and probably never will.



Written by Jay, resident blogger on DesignFootball.com.

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

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

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

[50GFSE] #48 - Germany 1991 Away Shirt by adidas

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The style of this shirt will likely be familiar to most, albeit the colours perhaps less so. Technically the first new design the national team of the recently reunified Germany wore, the shirt was essentially the famous Home version with the white turned green and the black adidas shoulder stripes - for some reason - turned white.

Indeed, in green and carrying the Schwarz-Rot-Gold of the German flag across the chest - this time as a crudely sewn-on patch - the shirt represented a quasi-amalgamation of the versions worn in West Germany’s last two matches in the Italia ’90 World Cup: the immediately recognisable Home example carried in the victory over Argentina in the final, and the iconic patterned Away style from the penalty shootout triumph over England in the semi. It was somewhat fitting that Wembley was to provide the setting for this one-off variant to appear, and England the opposition.

It is rare that a football shirt so derivative achieves cult status, even more so based on aesthetics, and rarer still a shirt that was only ever worn in a presumably meaningless friendly - the aforementioned German victory in London in the autumn of 1991. We can go further and say that there are few shirts in history which feature the use of five distinct colours and are considered great, but this version somehow manages it.

This is where we begin to question our objectivity. Do I love this design purely on its appearance or does the mystery surrounding its existence and rarity elevate its significance in my memory? I still believe it’s the former, but if I’ve been influenced by an historical impact then so be it. After this shirt’s deployment, the Germans’ next two Away shirts (proper) included prominent use of the national flag’s colouring on a green backdrop, and were both masterpieces.

It also must be considered that the 1988-91 Home shirt’s graphic was so remarkable, so striking and impactful, that its recycling on an otherwise largely plain green shirt was bound to be successful. Perhaps, even, to not at least test it out on a green Away shirt that had become so synonymous with West German sides when forced to change, would have seemed a waste - especially at a point, in the wake of the Berlin Wall tumbling down, when the German flag evoked positivity and progressiveness.

Well, they tried it. And how it worked.



Written by Jay, resident blogger on DesignFootball.com.

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

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

Monday, 22 June 2015

[50GFSE] #49 - Hull City 2007-08 Home Shirt by Umbro

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Something that this countdown will have plenty of is templates. Very few football shirts through history are unique in every element. In the modern age, panel structure, collar design and sleeve stripe placement and length, for example, will often appear on several shirts of a manufacturer’s stable, over a single season or sometimes staggered over several, before transitioning onto a teamwear range.

That said, I can assure you that the Hull City 2007-08 Home shirt will be the only example of its particular Umbro template included. Bringing about a seismic shift in the manner in which football shirts were designed, this was the nadir of needless flashes and trim. And yet, somehow, for Hull it worked.

Rather than the multi-coloured approach of, say, the England Home shirt which introduced this new style, the Hull version is just gold with black details. The Umbro diamond pattern on the shoulders and lopsided horizontal stripe below provided, in navy and red respectively on the England version, a clumsy and off-putting nod to the 1982 World Cup version, but with Hull it’s all in black and suggests stylised parallel striping - all very tigerish.

And so it goes on. The side panels, ostensibly at least, carry a pattern of deconstructed double diamond Umbro logos, but no one sees it like that. No, more tiger stripes, but in a subtler fashion than on more famous City shirts. Yes, this template, deployed in a more restrained manner here, even manages subtlety.

The simple, “Karoo” sponsor logo is nicely integrated in black, and whilst we could have lived without the Umbro branding on the right sleeve, the angular flashes on the lower back and rear hem combined, well, if you squint and really think about it... is that a massive tiger face?!

Finally, the full-colour embroidered crest - an Umbro trademark that endures to this day - neatly finishes off a shirt which holds iconic status amongst Tigers fans for its association with Dean Windass’s 2008 Championship Play-off Final winner. Promotion to the Premier League has rarely been done in more style.



Written by Jay, resident blogger on DesignFootball.com.

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

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

Sunday, 21 June 2015

[50GFSE] #50 - Netherlands 1996 Home Shirt by Lotto

To kick off the 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever, we have an example which divides opinion.

We can be sure that this list will contain many shirts which have become lauded pieces of design work at least partly via an iconic status - for example, evocation of on-field glory. Others may sneak in perhaps owing to being hugely popular amongst the particular team’s supporter base.

Neither of those sticks can be used to beat the Netherlands 1996 Home shirt.
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Initially slammed with the cliché “It looks just like the last one” - like fingers down a chalkboard for most kit geeks - the Dutch did indeed carry an evolution of their USA’94 version (and the similar style worn in European Championship qualifying) rather than a sweeping redesign, as they capitulated under the weight of players’ egos and claims of racism at Euro 96.

No, the Netherlands’ showing in England - a weak penalty shootout exit at the quarter-final stage, having never recovered from going down 4-1 to the hosts - was far from ideal for Italian manufacturer Lotto’s marketing men. If the shirt was to sell, it would be primarily off the back of its aesthetics.

So how did Lotto justify tweaking as opposed to starting from scratch? The dotting of the red and blue trim on the collar and cuffs was the most noticeable differentiating quality, along with elevated badge positions and a new button-up collar approach, but it was actually the watermark that really made the impact.

It was the watermark that really made the impact. It seems odd to type those words, however true they are. A 1990s watermark generally acted as further branding for the manufacturer, or perhaps rendered the team crest as a pattern or enlarged; this time the players themselves featured, in celebration supposedly after a goal had been scored.

And here’s how Lotto delivered so marvellously. The similarity with the previous shirt wasn’t mere laziness, rather it was calculated genius. Because the photograph used could, conceivably, be displaying current players wearing the current shirt. Prepare to have your brain fried, as Lotto gave us a theoretical Droste effect.

The Droste effect - named as such due to its use in a poster advertising the, naturally, Dutch cocoa powder Droste - refers to a concept whereby an image appears “inside itself”, creating a type of infinite recursion. So, in this case, “Holland” would be wearing a shirt, which depicted players wearing said shirt, which in turn would carry the same image, and so on.

You couldn’t make out the detail on the watermark’s players’ shirts and, yes, deep down you knew it was really an earlier version - the goal being celebrated was actually Wim Jonk’s against Ireland in the USA 94 second round - but the love of football shirts can incorporate indulgence, faith, imagination and fantasy.

Even if Dutch fans claim the shades of orange were all wrong and consequently dismiss the design as a whole, my mind was blown by the concept and inventive deployment of a backdrop when I saw the shirt in a sports shop nearly twenty years ago, and it still has the same effect on me now.



Written by Jay, resident blogger on DesignFootball.com.

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

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

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Welcome to The 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever

For too long, people have poked fun at football kits that we're reliably informed are badly designed, garishly coloured or just plain ridiculous. Look around on the web and it won't be long before you stumble upon the usual blog articles; someone describing why Jorge Campos always looked stupid in his dayglo outfits or why David Seaman's Euro 96 kit was terrible... and that's if you're lucky enough to get a description at all.

Quite honestly, we think you deserve better, and to that end we're launching an antidote to this endless stream of puerile banality. We bring you, The 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever.


Every day for the next seven weeks or so, we'll be bringing you a blog post that highlights the brilliance of football shirt design. From shadow patterns to subtlety, from commemorative shirts to controversial shirts, we'll be telling you about the great and the good from a world of colour, creativity and sometimes sheer genius.

And we say 'we' with good reason. Rather than just being a Football Attic series, we thought we'd team up with two people who know more about kit design than the rest of those naysayers put together.

First of all, there's our good friend Jay, resident blogger at DesignFootball.com and a man with a discerning eye for good football shirt design. There's also John Devlin, author of the football kit bibles 'True Colours (Volume 1 and 2)' and someone who understands the detail of a football shirt - because at some point he's probably had to illustrate it!

Together, the four of us, along with a few special guest writers, have taken the time and effort to explain why 50 football shirts are great in the hope that you'll see their design in a different way. And to help you keep track of which shirts have featured in our countdown, we've created a page that lists each and every one, along with an explanation of how this series came about.

The 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever begins tomorrow, and we encourage you to get involved by sending us your feedback and comments. We hope you enjoy it!

-- Chris and Rich