Monday, 6 July 2015

[50GFSE] #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.

I'm not stating as fact that both these kit situations were key in Manchester United clinching their first league title for 26 years in 1992-93 (and the inaugural award of the then newly rebranded ‘Premier League’) but I certainly feel they played their part. As I've often been told by kit designers through the years, when a team looks good, they play good.

By 1992, United had been kitted out by adidas for 12 years and despite some nice enough designs along the way, the relationship did appear to be going stale. Simultaneously, the club were also struggling to get their hands on that all-important league trophy that had eluded them for so long. But with Alex Ferguson’s young side gathering strength season upon season, the final piece required in the Old Trafford puzzle was an absolute humdinger of a kit to spur them on to glory. Up stepped Umbro who absolutely stormed it with one of the greatest shirts in United’s history and one that was the starting point for an era of almost unrivalled success.

The early '90s were witness to a post-modern acknowledgement of past football fashions that complemented the technological advances and contemporary styles of the day. Out went the sleek, modernist approach that defined the '80s and in came proper old-fashioned collars and button-up plackets, inspired by kits of yore. In United’s case, though, Umbro pushed the retro feel even further and even introduced a lace-up collar – a style that in 1992 had last been seen regularly in football 60 years previously.

Combine this with the flamboyant, baggier shirt sizing that was widespread in fashion both on and off the pitch at the time, liberally decorate the fabric with a 3D geometric jacquard weave of the club’s initials, add the familiar and iconic Sharp logo and sprinkle just the right amount of red and black trim, and you have yourself a bona fide classic kit. One that was fit for champions.


 
Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of TrueColoursFootballKits.com.

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.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

[50GFSE] #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.

It was a superb Umbro design that wasn't widely taken up by their roster but later, quite rightly due to its very effective way of accentuating a team’s colour scheme, found life in their teamwear catalogue.

Although recent years have seen Watford favour simply yellow and black as their primary colour combo, for me a large dollop of red (as was the clubs penchant in the '80s) is what really makes a Watford strip really buzz although arguably it doesn't sit comfortably with the yellow and black implication of the 'Hornets'.

The jersey also features that trademark of many mid-80s designs, namely the multi-trimmed V-neck and cuffs. In this case, the fact that the neck and cuffs are the same colour as the shirt just adds to the glamour of the jersey. Glamour - with all due respect, not a word you’d generally associate with Watford (apart from the patronage of Sir Elton, of course), but prove what benefits and strength a well considered and carefully designed strip can bring to a team's visual identity.

Back to the sponsor though... As mentioned earlier, in theory the inclusion of the Solvite logo in its corporate green should spoil the shirt, but in my view its this colour clash that helps give the shirt an added dimension. And it should be remembered, of course, that most shirt sponsors logos in the early-mid '80s were simply adapted to fit in with the colour scheme of their host team.

Thanks to this brave colour decision, all parties manage to come out of the deal with their visual identity and integrity intact, plus the sponsor gets maximum stand-out on the shirt (just imagine how a black logo would have visually disappeared under the chest colour bar).

Time can often change opinions of the aesthetic decency of a football shirt, though. At the time of its launch, its possible that the green Solvite branding may have upset supporters as interestingly it appears replicas were sold mainly without the Solvite logo. Their loss!


 
Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of TrueColoursFootballKits.com.

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.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

[50GFSE] #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.

It was a design that, lets be honest, remarkably wouldn't look out of place today amongst Nike and Puma's bold colour-block kits that are the current flavour of the month. The v-neck was identical to the one that formed part of the club's previous shirt with the merest suggestion of red adding a nice counterpoint to the blue and white. The main visual element of the shirt, though, were the three horizontal panels across the shoulders that were paired with a series of horizontal pinstripes positioned further down the jersey.

At the time, any shirt adornments were always pretty regular in format so this imbalance of proportion really helped the shirt stand out. Brighton have traditionally favoured blue and white stripes but since 1980 had worn solid blue shirts, so introducing a larger proportion of white back into the design, albeit at 90 degrees, must have gone some way to appeasing the Goldstone Ground faithful.

The origin of the design, and its puzzlingly few outings worldwide is unclear, the result being that its low profile has led it to being one of the most underrated kits of the '80s. The other most notable example of this design was sported by Anderlecht in the 1984 UEFA Cup Final against Spurs. Their version of the kit included an additional chest band that seamlessly led into a whole set of horizontal pinstripes running down the entire length of the shirt. Presumably it was decided that this impeded the clarity of sponsors logos and club badge (a fact that seems to have deserted the mindsets of many contemporary kit designers!) and these were removed from the Brighton shirt leaving a nice clear presentation area.

Two sponsors graced this fine, fine shirt – Phoenix Brewery in 1985-86 and the eternally humorous NOBO the following year, which just goes to show that having a double entendre as a sponsor still didn't manage to detract at all from one the classiest adidas kits to ever grace the Football League.


Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of TrueColoursFootballKits.com.

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.

Friday, 3 July 2015

[50GFSE] #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.

Adidas, who to be fair were only relative newcomers to the football apparel market by 1980, were clearly enjoying a golden age and looking back now could seemingly do no wrong with their designs. But what made their strips of this era, and this shirt in particular, so special?

One word - pinstripes.

Pinstripes didn’t really arrive in the UK until the following year so to see this adornment on previously plain colours was tremendously exciting! To see them in different colours AND then also continuing on the collars was almost too much to comprehend. Dual colour pinstripes never really took off to a great extent in England for some reason and seeing them on collars was rarer than a Balotelli goal for Liverpool.

Another key aesthetic element was the enhancement of the collar with a vital ingredient of a contrasting white insert panel that accentuated the self colour of the collar and helped give the shirt a touch of Gallic swagger.

The traditional French tricolore rendering of the Adidas three stripes,  the low-slung FFF badge, dainty Adidas logo (minus text) and slim fit all enhanced the shirt’s greatness.

This shirt was actually only worn in a long-sleeved version with a much more sober white v-neck prefered for the short-sleeved incarnation. However, by the 1982 World Cup, a more faithful rendition of this shirt emerged with the white insert replaced by a V-neck, presumably to combat the Spanish summer heat.

Its a peach of a shirt that looks as good now as it did then when it symbolised the difference between the panache of European football fashions compared to ours over in Blighty.



Written by John Devlin, founder and illustrator of TrueColoursFootballKits.com.

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, 2 July 2015

[50GFSE] #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.

That settling process was aided by the second generation of these “over-shoulder bar-stripes” shirts, and amongst these was the United States of America (USMNT) 1992 Home. With sublimation dispensed with and replaced with cut out stripes mounted onto the shoulder, and a newly raised adidas Equipment logo in a central position on the V collar, this shirt was a more substantial affair than the first incarnation. This one was to be taken seriously.

As it turns out, the USA had worn this style - complete with the second gen improvements - way back in the summer of 1991, albeit with an older POTUS-alike crest, notably in a friendly against Sheffield Wednesday in Philadelphia. I have no idea how or why the US team managed to carry this version so early, but they’re very lucky to have done.

Because, befitting its inclusion in our countdown, the shirt was wonderful. The alternating patriotic stripes - blue/red/blue - contrasted strikingly with the stark white (sans-watermark), whilst the black adidas logo adds a certain sobriety to the appearance. The new national side badge wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but it was simple and functional and didn’t remove the focus from the inspired application of a controversial template.

With hindsight, there is an exciting edge to admiring of all of the early Equipment (or “Performance” logo) releases due to the knowledge that most competition regulations today would ban branding of that ball park of footprint. But, even adding this spice, so few of these, in effect, experimental and guinea pig manifestations of the philosophy really stand the test of time.

The USA 1992 shirt does. It’s not the only included example worn in a victory over England, as it happens, but it retains distinctive aesthetic glory to complement that famous win.



Written by Jay, resident blogger on DesignFootball.com.

Jay can be found on Twitter and DesignFootball.com are on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

[50GFSE] #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.

The twin stripe effect of the Umbro template is undoubtedly striking. The red and white on a green base immediately brings to mind the Basque Country’s ikurrina, which proportionally-speaking it has no right to. The colour combination could just as easily evoke memories of Christmas time, but somehow the desired effect is achieved.

Indeed, the same template was carried by Scottish club Rangers in their last season before their liquidation, and if it is to follow that their equivalent styling was based on the British Union Flag then it failed. Sometimes, we must deduce, a template is exactly what a particular palette and crest have been waiting for, and, along with the local sponsor(‘s logo) and the local governmental leaf patch on the sleeve, this shirt is a great example of such a thing.

This shirt appeared during Umbro’s most recent golden era and sold out very quickly - you’ll struggle to find even second hand examples today - so has certain hipster credentials. And deservedly so, but that is not to say its rarity is the draw; the shirt is a masterpiece from its neat granddad collar right down to the “Tailored By” hem insert along the side.

Of course a certain victory at Old Trafford - where black shorts and socks provided a further pleasing twist - will elevate this shirt’s historical impact even further, but putting this aside, and even the nationalistic Basque connotations of the colouring, this design is neat and tidy as well as being adequately striking, and remains a classic even in the midst of Athletic’s waning cachet.



Written by Jay, resident blogger on DesignFootball.com.

Jay can be found on Twitter and DesignFootball.com are on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

[50GFSE] #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.



On a practical level, one could argue that the shirt was not without its problems. Depending on which direction the players were running in, you'd be excused for thinking they were wearing black shirts going one way up the pitch and yellow ones going the other. Not only that, but when the players lined up in a wall for a free kick, they looked like a Munich marquee during Oktoberfest.

But let's not be distracted by such trivial details. Instead we should marvel at the sheer audaciousness of Umbro to create a shirt whose combination of colours were rarer than an admission of guilt from Sepp Blatter and as subtle as a hedgehog in your underpants.

Football shirts don't have to be modest and safe in their design, although many modern-day manufacturers would have you believe otherwise. They should open your eyes and make you gasp at their distinctiveness and individuality.

Birmingham City went boldly into battle upon hearing this rallying cry. Who else has had the bravery to wear such a fine football shirt since?
 
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.

The Football Attic Podcast 24 - 50GFSE 50-41

We've come to the end of the first 10 shirts in the 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever and what better way to celebrate that milestone than by the four of us (Rich, Chris, John from True Colours and Jay from Design Football) waffling about those same 10 shirts?

So buckle up and prepare for a rollercoaster ride (a very tame one) through shirts 50-41 in the 50GFSE!

Subscribe to The Football Attic Podcast on iTunes or download our podcast here.

Fantasy Nostalgia: Regional ITV Football Kits

In much the same way as our League of Blogs graphically rendered websites as football kits, this little exercise in pointless fantasy does exactly the same for some of the ITV regional TV channels of yesteryear.

And so we present the likes of Granada, Thames, Grampian, TVS and many others in football kit form. No real reason for it... just thought it might be a pleasant distraction from football in the real world...

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Left to right: Grampian, Scottish Television, Border, Ulster

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Left to right: HTV, London Weekend Television, Thames, Television South West

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Left to right: Anglia, Channel, TVS, Yorkshire

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Left to right: ATV, Granada, Tyne Tees

-- by Chris Oakley

Monday, 29 June 2015

[50GFSE] #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.

The trouble is, this whole episode seems to be built on a complete misunderstanding. As detailed by Historical Football Kits, the original photograph that inspired the Nike 'redcurrant' design was in fact badly colourised. Arsenal's first-choice shirt of 1913 was probably as red as any other worn during their history, but because of the limitations of photographic processing back then, the image took on a false hue that found its way onto Arsenal's Home shirt of 2005/06.

Faintly embarrassing as this may now be, one could argue that Arsenal did in fact end up with one of their finest ever shirts as a result of this unfortunate error.

The styling is beautifully understated and the proportions and cut of the fabric are virtually perfect. As with any commemorative shirt worth its salt, there are no superfluous motifs or stripes or flashes of any kind. This was a shirt that took good old-fashioned simplicity and shot it through the prism of modern-day chic.

Sporting a modest collar bearing a shallow v-cut below the neckline, the Arsenal badge is located just below it in the middle of the shirt while Nike's 'swoosh' logo appears far away above and to the left in gold print. Almost regrettably as a modern shirt, the sponsor's logo takes centre stage, and it too (or should that be 'O-too'?) is also in gold. Whether this final touch crosses the line of vulgar bling-obsessed self-satisfaction, we'll leave for others to judge, but it's true to say that the gold does work well in contrast to the redcurrant. Just a shame that gold was used to promote a telecommunications company rather than the club's identity.

Finally, the reverse of the shirt was reserved for the player's name and number (again in gold) while the words 'Highbury 1913-2006' provided a nice touch in small lettering below. All in all, a very nice shirt and one which, I believe, many fans would have been happy to see for much longer than its tantalisingly brief single-season existence.


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.