Thursday, 30 July 2015

[50GFSE] #10 - England 1980-83 Home Shirt by Admiral

There's no written rule that says football shirts have to reflect the fashion trends of the era in which they're born, and yet many do. Think of the football shirts of the 1960's: basic, functional, unshowy... Until Twiggy started wearing spangly mini-skirts, the word 'flair' hadn't even been invented.

Then when the 1970's arrived, colour flooded into everything from TV programmes to home décor as creativity and imagination underpinned art, architecture, clothing and much more besides.

And after that, the 1980's came along, where fashions became... well... 'sensible.' But you know what? By the early 1980's, we all needed a bit of sensible. It was time to take stock of what had gone before and forge ahead with understated design that was modern and sleek without being ostentatious.

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This was the very essence of how England's 1982 World Cup shirt came to be. Thanks to Admiral Sportswear, the England team had moved from basic unambiguity to tentative boldness with their 1974 kit, but six years down the track, it was time embrace a new decade. Out went the old-fashioned stripes down the sleeves and in came silky polyester, a continental-style collar and bold shoulder panels.

Naturally enough, it rubbed a few people up the wrong way. BBC TV commentator Barry Davies, upon seeing England wearing the new kit for the first time against Argentina in 1980 said "England wearing their new kit today... although why it has to have all the colours of the Union Jack is beyond me." Truth be told, the previous kit had also featured the same red, white and blue, but the shirt was predominantly white. Now... well... this.

The thing is, half the world's football teams seemed to be wearing the three stripes of Adidas on their shirts by this point, and very stylish they looked too. Adidas had become THE football brand to wear, whereas Admiral... well, to put it politely, their day had been and gone. Their iconic designs of the 1970's reflected the decade perfectly but were suddenly out of step with the 1980's. Even this new shirt that would go on to be worn at the 1980 European Championships and the 1982 World Cup somehow didn't have the allure that Adidas could provide.

And yet, we all missed the point and still do. At the start of the 1980's, fashion trends were becoming more modest, more muted, more... 'M&S'. Shirts didn't need wide collars, fiddly detail and wacky colours. This was a new era where 'modern' and 'smart' were the watchwords, and the new England shirt embodied those values perfectly.

Finally, let it not be forgotten that you, our knowledgeable Football Attic audience, have already declared this your favourite England shirt of the last 50 years - a considerable achievement given its attachment to a fairly ho-hum period in English football history. What it does attach itself to, and perhaps why it's already proven to be so popular, is its forward-looking modernity symbolising hope for a bright new future. Yes, football shirt design was capable of being technically better or more exciting, but this was the right shirt at the right time, and executed with great discretion to boot.

So there we have it: a shirt whose greatness has been earned through its imperfection, you might say. Not as stylish as Adidas with all their fancy pinstripes, but a neat 'of its era' shirt worn with pride by dozens of players from John Barnes to Kevin Keegan - and there can be no doubt: they all looked absolutely bloody great in it.

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.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

[50GFSE] #11 - Wales 1976-80 Home Shirt by Admiral

It's time once again for us to welcome a guest writer into the 50GFSE fold, namely Simon Shakeshaft - Welsh football fan and an esteemed authority on the many and varied shirts worn by the national team. Here he is to discuss a classic vision in red, gold and green...

On this countdown the ‘template’ word has already appeared on a number of occasions. This Admiral shirt design is another one of those, a template. No disrespect to Eintracht Frankfurt, Dundee, Saudi Arabia, Vancouver Whitecaps or even Coventry City who actually had it first (even in their infamous shade of russet), but this is probably the most recognisable.

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The FAW joined the pioneering shirt designer’s revolution in 1976, just as the replica shirt market started to really take off, donning the same iconic Admiral ‘tramlines’ design until the end of the decade.

The colour combination of all red with the two arched ‘tramlines’ stripes in yellow and green, from the shoulders vertically down each side of the shirt’s front, was perfect for a Wales shirt. What separated this one from others in this template was the Welsh dragon crest placed centrally on the chest. The Admiral logo had to be moved onto the winged collar, meaning they could use two, and this appeared to give the shirt more of a balanced look.

Remember the tramlines were even more enhanced by the fact they continued down the front of the matching red shorts. A great colour combination for a Wales shirt, although I'm not quite sure about Admiral’s marketing explanation for the colours. ‘Red for the dragon’, yes... ‘yellow, for the daffodil - Wales’ national flower’, yes ok... ‘green for the leek, the national vegetable’... Seriously!!!  Not totally necessary justification for an 11-year-old - after all, Wales away colours were traditionally yellow with a green trim and I don’t think Umbro use of those colours’ would have been explained in quite the same way in 1949. The away kit of this design was another beauty, a reverse of home in the traditional daffodil yellow with tramlines in red and green.

By the mid-Seventies, the Welsh national football team were enjoying a bit of a purple patch, the only one of the home nations to qualify for the quarter finals of the 1976 European Championships and a controversial failure to qualify for Argentina ’78 World Cup due to the hand of Jordan.

It was a great time to wear your replica Admiral Wales shirt with pride, although it was also a time when it was deemed semi-acceptable to see non-Welsh kids wearing the shirt, such was its appeal. In the late Seventies - and early Eighties, if you’re English - Admiral replica shirts carried the same status that, later, a pair of Jordan Air Max did.

You weren't really fazed by the scratchy, itchy, small electric shock of the nylon material or the fact that your previously shiny vinyl crest and logos cracked and peeled after Mum washed it for the umpteenth time. Wind forward 25 years from when I first held a cotton player’s shirt in my hand and imagine my joy in finding out these also came in an aertex perforated hole variety... it was nearly too much to take! The cloth crest, logos and numbers stitched to the shirt were a work of art and that buzz, even today, is still the same.

If you missed the Seventies replica shirt boom, you probably don’t really get all the fuss made about Admiral Sportswear, but for those that were there, many are now iconic classic shirt designs. For me and many other Welshmen, the Wigston factory in Leicestershire produced the finest Wales shirt of all time.

Our grateful thanks to Simon 'Shakey' Shakeshaft. He can be followed on Twitter here and his website, Wales Match Shirts, contains everything you need to immerse yourself in the wearable history of Yorath, Giggs, Southall and many, many more.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

[50GFSE] #12 - Boca Juniors 1981 Home Shirt by adidas

I must confess to not being much of an expert on South American domestic club kits. I guess the relatively low profile many of the sides have in Britain (or certainly had during my kit awakening in the late '70s) is the reason. In fact probably the only fact I seem to have retained about shirts south of Mexico way is that at some point or other they all seem to have been sponsored by Coca Cola.
However, one South American shirt design has always stuck in my head for its originality, freshness and simple downright coolness,  and that’s the iconic blue and yellow home strip worn by Boca Juniors - arguably Argentina’s most famous club.

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With so many wonderful interpretations of the big and bold design to choose from, its this early-'80s adidas incarnation that just edges it for me. It has a higher-than-usual profile, no doubt aided and abetted by the fact that it was worn by football legend Diego Maradona when he signed for the club in 1981. Proof that a world class footballer can really help get your kit seen and noted around the globe.

Of course all Boca home shirts are dominated by the in-your-face yellow band stretching across the chest. Its a remarkably simple but remarkably effective piece of design and one that has influenced many contemporary kits where large colour blocks are used to dramatic and dynamic effect. None, however, wear them with as much as panache as Boca. Perhaps it's the fact that the chest band often seems to appear just a little deeper than would be obvious?

The shirt was way ahead of its time in terms of fit and style and was beautifully put together with a thin and rather low-slung wrapover crew neck accompanied by the always stylish version of the adidas trefoil logo, minus the text and of course their trademark three-stripe trim. Interestingly for the era, there are no cuffs on the shirt; a decision perhaps prompted by the high South American temperature.

The kit was actually first worn in 1978 but it wasn't until 1980 that the final small (but very important) finishing touch was added in the shape of the four-star Boca Juniors badge. Each star houses the letters ‘C A B J’ which, of course, stands for Club Atlético Boca Juniors.

Its always puzzled me why this stunning strip design hasn't been ‘borrowed’ by more clubs, and in fact the combination of blue and yellow in this way is also relatively scarce. Legend has it that the distinctive colour scheme was apparently inspired in rather curious circumstances.

The story goes that another Argentinian side, Nottingham de Almagro, wore a similar kit to Boca and so in 1906 a one-off match was played to decide who could keep the colours as their own. Boca lost and decided to wear the national colours of the first boat to sail into port at La Boca the following day. It turned out to be a Swedish boat, Drottning Sophia, and so the classic blue and yellow colour scheme was born.

I can’t help but think Boca clearly eventually came out as winners in the fashion stakes, though.

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.

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.