Friday, 31 July 2015

#9 - Africa Unity 2010-11 Third Shirt by Puma

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This is one of those shirts that frequently finds itself on those lazy 'worst football kits' lists that get trotted out by the papers every season when one club or another releases something different.

In addition to this, it's whole concept could be described as at the extreme of superfluousness, so why is it not only in the Top 50, but also in the Top 10 Greatest Football Shirts Ever?

Thursday, 30 July 2015

#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.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

#11 - Wales 1976-79 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.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

#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.

Monday, 27 July 2015

#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.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

#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.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

#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.

Friday, 24 July 2015

#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.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

#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!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

#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.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

#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 Aertex material. Yes. I really do love a shirt due to the inclusion of holes.

Monday, 20 July 2015

#20 - Olympique Lyonnais 2010-11 Away Shirt by adidas

As with the previously mentioned Marseille shirt, this was from the period where adidas were providing French teams with what some regard as strikingly unique and extravagant designs and other, less educated/cultured folk regard as abominations. I am clearly in the former camp, hence this shirt's initial nomination and, due to the others on this project being of a similar ilk (though not cultured enough to appreciate the aforementioned Marseille shirt), subsequent inclusion in the chart.
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Flouncing in in a deep burgundy, the front is adorned with what appears to be a pattern inspired by a Las Vegas casino carpet and given all the trim is in gold, one could be forgiven for thinking the whole ensemble was conceived somewhere on the Strip.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

#21 - Universitario 2013 88th Anniversary Shirt by Umbro

And so we come to another limited edition shirt on this list (yet again nominated by me), though this one encountered very little resistance due to its staggering beauty.

Released to celebrate Peruvian club Universitario's 88th year (oh come on, since when has that been any kind of event?), Umbro stripped things right back and went full-on retro.

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Despite being a very minimal design, there are several features that make this shirt great. Firstly, the whole thing is constructed from Umbro's lush cotton used on so many of their 'Tailored By' range.

And then there's the details. Starting from the top, we find a neat, trimmed collar which then has a neck opening that extends almost all the way down to the abdomen; a brave move given how most manufacturers still try to keep their tribute shirts within the bounds of modern features.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

#22 - Dundee United 1984-87 Home Shirt by adidas

As is clearly evident by a quick scan through our the preceding entries in our 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever series, adidas were enjoying a golden era during the 1980s and seemingly could do no wrong. This rich vein of kit design form continued north of the border with their 1985-87 kits for Dundee United that are splendid examples of the quality of their strips during this period.

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Adidas had been residents in the kit room at Tannadice since 1977 and this, their third home kit for the Arabs is arguably their best with so much to admire within it.

Friday, 17 July 2015

#23 - 1860 Munich 2012-13 'Oktoberfest' Shirt by Uhlsport

I am a sucker for limited edition shirts. Release a shirt with a crazy design, celebrating X number of years since your club first played on a Sunday or the anniversary of when they wore purple that time 63 years ago for some reason and I'm there, waving my cash like a hardened strip club patron.

That said, in recent years there have been so many limited edition shirts that not only is it impossible to buy them all, like some kind of kit pokemon, but too often the limited edition isn't much to write home about.

On the latter point, this delivers on all fronts!

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Released in 2012 (from what I can find out) this was the first of, to date, three Oktoberfest shirts released by the Munich club and is by far my favourite.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

#24 - Crystal Palace 1972-73 Home Shirt by Admiral

I spoke once to a Charlton supporter who at the end of a mocking of their arch-rivals Crystal Palace concluded with ‘and they don’t even know what their home colours are!’

I'm not one to get involved with such club rivalry but I did think he had a point. Palace have changed their entire strip and colour scheme several times in the past 50 years with some, such as the Charlton fan mentioned earlier, considering this a hindrance... or at the least an identity crisis. One benefit of this colour indecision is that there has been a rich variety of different Palace kits over the years.

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Fans under 20 probably only know the club in red and blue stripes. Chaps of my age (40+) still have it in our heads that they play in white with a red and blue sash but if you’re any older, then its various combinations of claret and light blue that you will most associate with the Eagles - or as they were nicknamed in those days, The Glaziers.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

#25 - Scotland 1988-91 Home Shirt by Umbro

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For me this beautiful shirt is one of the best Scotland jerseys of all time and was a massive departure from the designs that preceded it.

The shirt appeared on the cusp of the retro football influence that transformed a purely modernist approach to football fashion that occurred throughout the '80s. This Scotland shirt was first worn in May 1988 in a home international match against England and introduced an era of button down collars accompanied by a placket or opening in the neck. Button-down collars were to find their way on to virtually every Umbro shirt over the next three or four years and were rapidly copied by many other smaller sportswear brands at the time.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

#26 - Internazionale 2010-11 Home Shirt by Nike

Kit design is as cyclical as mainstream fashion, if perhaps on a somewhat longer cycle. In recent years, this cycle seems to be ever decreasing with clubs having moved from releasing a new kit every few years to up to three every new season (plus the odd European edition for good measure). As the pace of change increases, so the time span between design phases shortens and as kit designers look ever more to the past for influence, so we see the period of influence change too.

One period that so far seems to have been largely ignored however, is the late '80s / early '90s. This was a time that saw designers no longer shackled by the limits of fabric technology and with it a host of insane ideas were released into the kit world. As with all fits of excess, it burned itself out in a refreshers coloured flame at Euro 96 and shirts once again settled into the land of collars and traditional colour schemes. Things soon began to swing further in the retro direction and the logical conclusion was reached with the ultra minimalist Tailored By Umbro range. But as is the way with design, once a point has been reached, the only way to go to be fresh is in the opposite direction and a few kits in recent years have hinted that perhaps it is time for the retro backlash to begin and maybe we'll begin to see a return to some of the more interesting ideas from the time.

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At first glance, this seems like just another standard Inter shirt. The requisite black and blue stripes, Pirelli sponsor, classic V neck, etc... But something isn't quite right and there’s something familiar about it, but I just can’t quite work out what. Then from a childhood memory, I see images of Peter Shilton picking the ball out of the net... a lot. And there it is: Inter's 2010-11 home shirt was a re-imagined version of England’s goalie kit from Euro 88. And I for one was happy with this.

Monday, 13 July 2015

#27 - Coventry City 1987-89 Home Shirt by Hummel

It's often the case that when one inspects some of the most iconic designs in kit history, despite usually being remembered for one particular team (Holland '88 for example), they were actually just a standard template of the time, ultimately used by all and sundry. The aforementioned Netherlands shirt saw action not just on the backs of USSR and West German players, but also a host of German non-league sides.

The same applies to one of the other most sited classic designs, that of the Denmark '86 half-and-half shirt. While this doesn't seem to have been used for any other national teams, it certainly adorned a lot of club sides around Europe. Strangely though, it wasn't until a whole season later that that template would land on UK shores, and by that point it had been applied to Aston Villa (for both their home and away shirts), Southampton and this entry, Coventry City.

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It was asked in our first 50GFSE podcast whether having a national shirt template for your club felt somewhat demeaning and my immediate response was an overwhelming 'No!', citing this beauty as my prime example. Indeed, once Coventry had announced they were to be supplied by the Danish manufacturer, I hoped and hoped for a version of this template.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

#28 - Evian Thonon Gaillard 2011-12 Home Shirt by Kappa

Some football shirts have made this list by virtue of having a simple, but classic design, some by becoming memorable through exposure in a major tournament, while others have arrived here by being memorable purely by their distinct looks or features.

This entry in our Top 50 falls firmly in the last of those categories.

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As of next season, Evian TG - Évian Thonon Gaillard to give them their full name - will play in the French Ligue 2, having been relegated from the top flight at the end of 2014-15, but their story is a rather interesting one, having only formed 12 years ago. As such, they must surely rank as the newest club on this list.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

#29 - West Ham United 1976-80 Home Shirt by Admiral

Somebody call Admiral. No, not the car insurance company. Somebody call the legendary football kit manufacturers of the same name. They're needed back in modern football where they used to be... BADLY.

Actually, they're needed back in modern football with all of the ingenuity, creativity and boldness they possessed back in the 1970's. Is that too much to ask? It's just that today's football kits often have an air of bland conformity, designed with one thing in mind - to offend as few people as possible. At least that's my view.

Admiral knew the time was right to shake British football out of its design coma four decades ago. What it brought to the table was a reinvention of the way football teams looked out on the pitch and the way fans looked away from the match.

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One miraculous example was the kit they provided for West Ham United at the start of the 1976-77 season, and the shirt that provided the most eye-catching element of it. In short, it featured chevrons; four thin claret-coloured v-shaped lines on a v-shaped light blue yolk covering the upper body. There's little anecdotal evidence as to the effect this new shirt created 39 years ago, but by all estimations, it must have been huge.

Friday, 10 July 2015

#30 - Saint-Étienne 1981-82 Home Shirt by Le Coq Sportif

The iconic French side Saint-Etienne (pronounced ‘center gen’ as we are reliably informed by our resident Frenchman, Jay) have had so many sublime kits over the years its difficult to pinpoint just one to be elevated to greatness. The 70's classic with tricolore trim is just one example of how ‘Les Verts’ dominated French football fashion at the time. But for me the 1980-84 Le Coq Sportif long-sleeved home shirt is truly an item of apparel to be marvelled at.

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It's a jersey that is as confident, bold and stylish as the team that wore it (which of course included a young Michel Platini who helped the side clinch the 1980-81 Ligue 1 crown). You may remember the French 1980-84 adidas home shirt that made it into our countdown last week? This shirt is a close relative and features a similar collar/white insert panel combo; the white insert standing out like a beacon amidst a field of green. This shirt also features pinstripes, but in a sartorial statement that took us in England a good couple of years to catch up on, they were placed horizontally! And in pairs! And they continued on the collar! Incroyable!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

#32 & #31 - USA 1994 Home & Away Shirts by adidas

Some things in life are great, not so much vicariously, but because something else exists (also consequently great). For example, certain film trilogies - you can watch one of the series but you enjoy it, generally, with the knowledge of the two others and their content - Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy - natch - and the careers of Blur and Oasis - both bands were bound for stardom but achieved greatness through dovetailing. Y’know what, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t be all that without the Father and the Son either.

Numbers 32 and 31 in our list demonstrate this principle. The two USA shirts worn at the USA '94 World Cup in the USA - what I'm getting at is "U-S-A! U-S-A!" - carry enormous merit in their own right, but it is as a pair, a tag team referencing the American national flag, that they nail it.

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It is perhaps incongruous that we place the Home shirt at number 32. Not only is this committing the traditionalists' cardinal sin of placing elevated importance on the change shirt rather than the ostensible first choice colours, but it also means we discuss Old Glory's stripes before its stars. In fact, the only benefit of this ordering is the agreeable flow of this article's title.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

#33 - Olympique de Marseille 2011-12 Away Shirt by adidas

If I had my way, this shirt would have been much higher up the list... probably not Top 10, but somewhere just outside. This is the trouble with democracy - you have to take other people's opinions into account.

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Rather than be a weakness, I believe this divisiveness is one of this shirt's greatest strengths. With kit life-cycles now generally being no longer than one season, we live in a world with thousands of forgotten designs... kits that did the job, but passed us by, never to be remembered.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

#34 - Rangers 1987-90 Home Shirt by Umbro

Often in the world of football kit design, the basic, perhaps primitive ideas of yesteryear are dismissed as being too old-fashioned or simplistic. This should never happen, for today's kits have all evolved from those same ground-breaking designs. It's the responsibility of all of us to remember the best of what went before.

This is certainly true of Rangers' home shirt, worn for the last few years of the 1980's. As had been the case since at least the mid-1970's, Umbro were the manufacturers, but here, at last, their latest design was heading in a new, dynamic direction.

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In the few years leading up to 1987, the famous blue Rangers shirt had started to look a little tired, relying on a couple of Umbro’s less inspiring templates for any real excitement. Now, they had a beautiful yet simple checker-board shadow pattern with merely a thin strip of white piping to offset it on the shoulders. There was also a new collar - a round neck with button-up fastening as seen on the England home kit of the same era. Again, understated, but beautifully executed.

Monday, 6 July 2015

#35 - Manchester United 1992-94 Home by Umbro

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Folk are often sceptical about how much influence a kit can have over the fortunes of a team. However I've seen too many examples where a good looking outfit could arguably be seen to play a part in raising confidence levels within a side to dismiss this thinking. Similarly when a new kit supplier arrives with a kitbag full of new ideas, after a long period with a previous incumbent they can be like a breath of fresh air that can also inspire and change for better the fortunes of a stagnating team.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

#36 - Watford 1985-88 Home Shirt by Umbro

Thanks to its combination of colours (how does the rhyme go again... yellow, black, red and green should never be seen?) this Watford shirt shouldn't work. The fact that it does, even as it teeters on the edge of an horrific colour clash, is testament to its greatness.

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Sponsor's logo aside, the kit is one of pure class and is another one of those designs that’s proved to be a forerunner of today's outfits thanks in main to the brazen red and black colour bar placed prominently across the chest, divided neatly with a thin yellow stripe. Quite a difference from the kits of the day that, in the main, featured just one primary shirt body colour.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

#37 - Brighton & Hove Albion 1985-87 Home Shirt by adidas

As I hinted at in my write-up for the French 1980-84 shirt (number 38 in our run-down for those who missed it) It seems to me that adidas have always saved their best designs for the continent. It's certainly the case today where the flair and glamour of their European strips far overshadow creatively the more sober designs we see in the UK.

However, if I can take you back 30 years to a small club on the south coast of England... there was one set of strips that threatened to buck that trend.

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They belonged to Brighton & Hove Albion of the Second Division, and as far as I know their incredibly striking outfits were not worn anywhere else in the UK and were seldom seen in Europe, come to that.

Friday, 3 July 2015

#38 - France 1980-84 Home Shirt by adidas

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Forgive me for taking a slightly anglophilic approach as I look back at this beautiful France home kit, worn from 1980 to 1984 by the likes of Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Dominque Rochteau.

Although designs such as this may have been common on the continent in the early 1980s, in the UK at the time this manner of football clobber was the very peak of foreign glamour and mystery. Especially when you consider so many British contemporary kits of the era were still stuck in the 70s.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

#39 - USA 1992-94 Home Shirt by adidas

One of the most seismic shifts in kit design occurred in 1991. Adidas, of Trefoil logo fame and enduring sleeve stripes - with very few exceptions to this rule on football shirts - dispensed, overnight, with both of these immediately recognisable elements.

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The inception of the “adidas EQUIPMENT” logo, and related bold shirt styling, shocked sportswear and football fans alike. My memory of this drastic changeup was that it began with the largely sublimated 1991-92 Liverpool shirt, but this may be subjectivity rather than fact. Regardless, it was a staggering development, and one that took its time to settle.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

#40 - Athletic Bilbao 2011-12 Away Shirt by Umbro

This isn't the first time I've written about this particular shirt (incidentally, I had also written about the France Techfit shirt previously, here) and it’s often interesting how time passing alters the way we feel about a design.

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Please don’t misunderstand me; I still love the Athletic Club 2011-12 Away shirt as much as I did when it was released, and became iconic in double-quick time. The difference is the context: back then I was enamoured with the fashion for football shirts with some kind of a chest band/stripe, but hindsight tells us this was little more than a fad. The Athletic shirt, on the other hand, has stood the test of years passed.