24 March 2012

I was a teenage kit designer...

Yes, I admit it. Rather than doing the decent thing of going out and hanging around with girls during my younger years, I found peace and contentment by designing football kits. It probably accounts for something, but my wife’s probably the best person to say it.

Felt-tip creations: Arsenal,Liverpool (away),
generic and Leeds United.
I didn’t do it all the time, of course. When I was very young, up to the age of 11, for instance, I liked nothing more than to play football with my school friends and watch football on TV. When football kits started to get flashy however (I’m sorry – the word ‘sexy’ just doesn’t work for me on that level), I then found my imagination was well and truly engaged. I wanted to see if my own creativity matched those of the kit manufacturers, and the best way to do that was with some paper, felt tip pens and a glass of orange Quosh to sustain me.

Actually, it wasn’t always felt tip pens. Though they added strong, bold colours to the page, that same boldness could be inconsistent if you overlapped an area you’d already covered. That’s why pencils were sometimes my medium of choice, although it was slightly harder to scrub the colour onto the page.

In water-colour: Ipswich
(home and away)
I even tried using water colour paints in my early-20’s, mainly because it would allow me to quickly apply the colour to the page while retaining some pathetic semblance of artistic integrity. The results weren’t bad, but it was never going to be easy creating a design with any high level of detail. When decent home computers arrived around the same time, I tried designing kits on them, but though the output was neat, it lacked any kind of soul.

Before you even designed a kit, you had to draw an outline template which would go on to be coloured in. Though some of my peers would have gone for the simple shirt-shorts-socks approach (latterly showed in its finest possible light by John Devlin), I always favoured an action shot of a real player. The trouble was you had to find exactly the right pose to show off all the important details the kit you wanted to draw. Having found one, however, you could then trace it onto one page after another to provide you with a consistent template for future drawings.

Computer-designed generic kits
That was rather tedious, though. Who wanted to waste time drawing templates when the real joy was to be had colouring in the kits?  The answer could be found in the form of a piece of technology that was growing massively in popularity back in the mid-80’s. It was called a ‘photocopier,’ yet even that had its drawbacks - the main one being the expense of getting your copies made. If your local newsagent seemed to be charging too much at 5p a copy, you could always try the local library but either way you felt a bit embarrassed not to be duplicating passages from something altogether more academic in subject matter.

Once you were armed with a large stack of outline templates, however, you were all set for a heavy session of kit designing heaven. The big question was always “Which team’s kit shall I design?” and for me that was answered by focusing on the top teams of the day, both at club level and on the international scene. All well and good, but that virtually blank sheet of paper could either inspire you with potential or strike you rigid with the absence of detail staring back at you. What you needed was a device to help you get started, and for me, that was always the branding used by specific manufacturers.

More felt-tip kits:
Derby and Man United
By simply drawing three Adidas stripes down the sleeves of a shirt or scribbling in an Umbro-esque collar, you could diminish the blankness of the page and instigate the seed of an idea at the same time. You could even take the strip of one team known for wearing, say, Adidas and create another similar one styled by a different manufacturer. Such cheap thrills gave exponential rewards to the young designer, let alone those gained from designing an all-white Brazilian away strip or a retro-style Liverpool kit (for instance).

Sensing that the enormous number of teams I could potentially design kits for was somehow not enough, I even managed to extend the range by creating a whole new realm for my imagination to embrace. In the pre-internet days of the late 1980’s I proposed to a friend of mine that we create a play-by-mail football game, the like of which were very popular back then (as the back pages of World Soccer will verify).

My idea was to create a championship competition whereby entrants could ‘manage’ one of many teams around the world with the intention of winning a World Cup of sorts. In my game, however, those teams would be entirely fictional and would represent well-known cities from around the globe. To make the game more real, my friend and I set about the task of designing kits for all of them and this is where the fun began.

My world championship:
Auckland and Tokyo kits
What colour should Auckland wear? Would striped shirts suit Bogota? What would the well-dressed fan of Stockholm be seen proudly wearing? The colours, the styles and the teams were wrapped up in a billion possibilities, all of which seemed to purge the drabness of my juvenile life from the brain of my 16-year-old self.

And what now, as a man just turned 40? Do I still design football kits? Do I yearn to explore every avenue of my creativity?  Truth be known, the need to retire to a world of imagination is nowhere near as strong for me as it was. Nowadays, when I use my computer to illustrate a football kit, it’s to bring an existing design to the attention of an unknowing world. This is the thinking behind Kitbliss, a pet project of mine I created some time ago to occasionally showcase kits chosen virtually at random. It’s very much a work in progress and will one day, I hope, be an online catalogue showing thousands of diverse designs covering many decades of football history.

Generic felt-tip kit designs
Thankfully, though I have lost my instinct to draw imaginary kits, others are showing theirs to be much stronger. There are many websites catering for fantasy kit design enthusiasts such as Football Shirt Culture and Design Football and a quick browse of the examples uploaded never fails to be an uplifting and rewarding experience. If, like me, you appreciate good design in the real football world, your starting place should always be John Devlin’s excellent True Colours website before visiting the multitude of others dedicated to the subject.

Here on The Football Attic, we aim to bring you lots of our favourite kit designs from down the years, and we look forward to hearing about your own design efforts, either via a comment on this post or by emailing us at admin [at] thefootballattic [dot] com.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for that Chris. As a kid i was always designing kits, sometimes for real sides and sometimes for fictitious teams from equally imaginary leagues.
    One league i remember was a primary school homework project circa 1980. I don't think 'invent a football pyramid structure' was the actual set task, but it was certainly my take on it.
    My drawings were of the simple shirt,shorts,stockings formula due to my basic artistic talents, but things like pinstripe detail was of vital importance. As was a large club crest drawn next to the kit.
    I will point out that at no time did i ever feel a need to add shirt sponsorship!

    Thanks again for posting and for giving me the courage to own up to my imagination!
    Al

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  2. Wow - you created an entire football league pyramid structure as a kid?!? Now that's hardcore! Makes me feel like I was wasting my time on stuff that was pointless... :)

    Always interesting to hear how people drew their own kits - thanks for sharing your memories, algordon_cafc!

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  3. Hi,

    Really enjoyed reading about this!! Everything you have put is exactly what we have experienced..which is quite funny and weird as the same time. Almost like it was written by me. (although we never used water colours!)

    I'm sure you'll be interested in our site: take a look- http://wearethetwins.com/our-story/ and http://wearethetwins.com/our-story/football-kit-archive/

    All the best,

    Samuel and Thomas Phillips
    www.wearethetwins.com

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  4. Hi, just read your story. Fascinating!

    We started designing kits when we were 5 years old. http://wearethetwins.com/our-story/

    We still have the original kits! check them out!
    http://wearethetwins.com/our-story/football-kit-archive/

    Nice blog and Kitbliss is looking good! Keep up the good work.

    Best Wishes

    Thomas Phillips
    www.wearethetwins.com

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  5. Oh Chris, we are kindred spirits you and I. My obsession with kits started back at USA 94..I was 13 but loved colouring and drawing etc. For the World Cup I made drawings of all 24 teams, drawing both the home and away kits with the squad written down in matching colours.

    I think the thought of trying to draw Scotland's tartan strip with felt pens put me off doing the same for Euro 96. However I did start doing something a bit more advanced.

    On the popular game Pro Evolution Soccer I wasn't happy with the teams offered and began to create my own teams, they would be given a new, history, back story, playing squad and of course home and away shirts. My favourite team was a Spanish club called "Benidormída" built by an English hotellier they would sport a red shirt with yellow trimm green shorts with yellow trim and of course yellow socks. Sounds quite garish but I assure you that it was very tasteful.

    Other teams included Zaanstad a Dutch team playing in black and yellow, German side Sooest who sported Germany's national flag colours, FC Siena (before they came back to Serie A briefly) I ended up with eight teams all with their own identity and strips. I think I must have played about 4/5 seasons playing as each team and each season a new set of strips to design.

    It was a time I really enjoyed and I'm sure some of my designs were ahead of their time, I even went to the extreme of creating my own font for some of the squad numbers in my designs.

    Unfortunately I do have the designs to share (I think...my have to check a folder at home which has flashed into my brain)

    What I can show you is a youtube video of a recent Pro Evo game in which I resurrected Benidormída to great success http://youtu.be/yTx7z6ybOQw

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  6. What can I say, Thomas and Samuel - thanks very much indeed for your comments. I have to say the story of how you came to be such fans of football kit design is really inspirational, and I'm VERY impressed that you've still got your old drawings from such a young age! Absolutely wonderful stuff... I recommend anyone reading this to take a look at your website - it's brilliant!

    Andrew - that Scottish tartan kit (brilliant though it looked) is a real nightmare to draw and no mistake! I love the idea behind creating your own PES teams, though. I wish I'd done the same when *I* used to play PES! And I can totally believe you when you say some of your designs were ahead of their time because a few of mine seemed to materialise into similar-looking real kits many years after I'd drawn them! Nice video clip, by the way! :)

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  7. My greatest kit design 'claim to fame' is predicting the early 90's revival of the lace up collar, which I incorporated into some of my kits in the late 80's :-)

    I also used to love the, albeit limited, custom designs you could create in Sensible Soccer.

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  8. Hi very nice blog... I make fantasy kits my self, visit my blog and if u want please add my link to your blogs fav... I allready done that with yours

    Cheers

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    Replies
    1. No problem - all done! Thanks for your kind words... :)

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  9. another amateur kit designer,good work here, if u want add me aswell !! gammadesigns.blogspot.com :)

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