In Focus – 1953 FA Cup Final Kits

One of the most famous Cup finals of all time wasn’t just about one superstar player, one unique hat-trick or one remarkable turnaround, it was also about two truly exceptional kits.

The 1953 Cup final marked a transition between the old and the new in terms of kit design. There was an acceptance that change was coming to football, just as it was to a society still slowly recovering in the aftermath of the Second World War. However, that did not stop Blackpool from turning out in the exact same style of shirts they had worn in their previous FA Cup final appearance two years earlier. They had even worn this design back in the 1948 final (albeit in white), when clothes rationing was still in place.

From the late 1930s until the mid 1950s, almost every club in the country wore a variation of these collared jerseys with a re-enforced placket. This style was ubiquitous not only in association football but also in rugby, where the style remained in use until the end of the century.

The jerseys worn by Blackpool in these finals were made by Umbro, and the inner labels bore both the Umbro logos and the ‘Tangeru’ branding. They represented some of the manufacturer’s premium, top-of-the-line products at the time.

Tangeru was Umbro’s finest fabric, first introduced in the mid 1930s. It was made of ‘Pima’ cotton, harvested by hand in the northern coastal valleys of Peru. The long staple length of the cotton supposedly made it both very soft and extremely durable, therefore ideally suited to sportswear.

“This shirt is on permanent display at the National Football Museum, courtesy of the Priory Collection, and is one of very few in the collection that makes up part of a complete kit. More often than not, only shirts were kept as souvenirs of big matches, either by the players who wore them or the player they swapped shirts with at the end of the game. In this case we also have the silk shorts – made by Bukta rather than Umbro, and featuring a perplexing pocket (perhaps for keeping your half time woodbines in) – as well as the heavy woollen socks.”

Tim Ashmore, National Football Museum

Bolton Wanderers, like so many others, usually wore the same style Umbro jerseys as their Lancashire rivals, but on the occassion of the Cup final, they chose to make a statement. Eschewing tangeru, they took to the Wembley pitch in a set of shimmering, almost reflective white shirts and silky navy blue shorts.

This kit was a great example of how innovations in fabric at that time had led to a level of experimentation with kit that hadn’t been seen since the dawn of the game. The rise of floodlighting technology in the early ’50s had seen manufacturers outfitting clubs with special versions of their kits to wear in artificial lighting during evening matches. Sportswear outfitters advertising promised the shiny new fabrics would help players stand out from the crowd and give them an advantage over the opposition.

Bolton Wanderers shirt worn by Ralph Banks in the 1953 FA Cup final. Courtesy of the Priory Collection.

“We know that man-made materials were being introduced to sportswear at this time, with fabrics like rayon and nylon becoming more common, but we can’t say for sure exactly what this shirt is made from. While we believe that rayon is the most likely material, it could also be natural silk, and unfortunately there’s no inner label to tell us for certain”

Tim Ashmore

Although the Cup final was always played in the afternoon sunlight, rather than under artificial lighting, Bolton’s management obviously bought into the marketing claims and believed their new kits had the ability to dazzle their opponents into submission. It turned out they were right… at least for sixty-odd minutes.

The match will be most commonly known for that Stanley Matthews inspired comeback, and of course for Stan Mortensen’s not inconsiderable contribution to Blackpool’s 4-3 victory that day. But it should also be remembered as a watershed moment in football kit history; the end of the old and the dawn of the new. The cotton jersey had been perfected, but was already set to be replaced.

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