Saturday, 8 August 2015

#1 - West Germany 1988-91 Home Shirt by adidas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris and Rich

Friday, 7 August 2015

#2 - England 2009-10 Home Shirt by Umbro

It's time for us to reveal the Second Greatest Football Shirt Ever, but which one will it be? So many iconic designs haven't even been mentioned in our countdown so far, and they can't all occupy the final two spaces of our list... so which shirt takes its place at Number 2? The answer is as follows:

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It's England's home shirt, worn during 2009 and 2010. Look up 'understated' in the dictionary and you'll find the above picture in the definition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some would say that perhaps never did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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