Tuesday, 30 June 2015

#41 - Birmingham City 1972-74 Third Shirt by Umbro

The 'Third' kit is an interesting phenomenon. Born out of necessity because the colours on a home or away kit clash with the opposing team (unlikely, you'd have thought), it's now become a license to break as many design rules as the manufacturer sees fit.

We think of Third kits as being a modern-day entity, but look hard enough and you'll find various examples worn by clubs going back many decades... and they're no less wacky in their execution either.

One of the ultimate examples of Third kit theatricality can be found as far back as 1972 when Birmingham City wore a shirt featuring the colours of the West German national flag - black, red and yellow. But be not mislead: this wasn't, for instance, a red shirt with black and yellow trim, oh no. It was a shirt divided equally into thirds - yellow on the left, black on the right and red down the middle.

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Legend has it that this bizarre cavalcade of Teutonic hues came about when Birmingham City went on a pre-season tour to West Germany, a PR stunt designed to ingratiate the St Andrews club with their foreign hosts. Be it true or not, the shirt found its way into the Blues' dressing room on several occasions over a two year period for league games against Tottenham, West Bromwich Albion and, as you can see from the video below, Queens Park Rangers.

Monday, 29 June 2015

#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.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

#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.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

#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.

Friday, 26 June 2015

#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.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

#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.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

#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.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

#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.

Monday, 22 June 2015

#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.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

#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.

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.