Technically my first football kit was the one I wore when selected for the Churchtown Primary School Under 9’s team, my first, and last representative honour. Football was not on the curriculum at our little village school so we played just as we did in the playground, crowding round the ball in a small, shouty mob. When our form teacher shouted, “Stay in position!” I rooted myself to the spot in the right-back position, running about in the vague direction of the ball whenever it threated to come near me. It was not a success and I don’t think the school played any more matches after this. Oh, and the shirt was blue and gold quarters with a deep V neck that buttoned at the bottom and which hung off my skinny little frame like a sack on a washing line.
Back in 1966 two events caused my peers and I to drop our traditional schoolboy hobbies of collecting stamps, building model aeroplanes and sighing over girls, to develop a passion for football instead. The first of these was that my hometown team, Southport AFC, a side with a long and dismal history of failure, reached the FA Cup fifth round after knocking out Cardiff and Ipswich, both of whom were in the Second Division at the time. The school arranged for a group of us to travel on the supporters’ special to Hull where our lads were beaten 2-0 but we were now passionate Southport supporters to a man (or at least spotty adolescent).
Over the remaining months of the season my dad took me to watch Southport every other Saturday. Sitting in the rickety old wooden stand we cheered Billy Bingham’s Golden Boys on as they clawed their way to the first promotion in the team’s history. Their plain, bright gold strip lacked decoration of any kind and featured long sleeves, crew necks and tight little shorts. This became the definitive football kit against which all others would be judged.
The second event was the World Cup. My dad, a journalist, had wangled a free copy of the official programme out of his Sports Editor on the back of which were crude colour drawings of the competing teams’ kits. As the quarter-final with Argentina loomed we expected our opponents to turn out in the scruffy, narrow royal blue and white stripes shown in the programme. Instead they marched out at Wembley in smart, broad stripes in pale blue and white with, of all things, neat little collars. Along with the rest of the country we howled in outrage as the Argentine team tripped, tugged and elbowed England, blithely ignoring the fact that our lads were flattening their opponents at every opportunity. Just typical, robust English play we told ourselves. It was not until the feature film, Goal, was released that I saw in glorious colour the full elegance of Argentina’s kit and that was the moment that I decided to start keeping a record of team colours.
Of course, no-one who was around in 1966 will ever forget the red and white strip worn by England in the dramatic, heart-stopping final. The essence of 1960s cool, the minimalist design, with just the three lions crest for decoration remains one of the most iconic outfits of all time.
Fast forward now to 1970 and the world has changed. The Summer of Love has come and gone, The Beatles have broken up and we were all growing our hair. Most important of all, I had a girlfriend now and her parents had a colour TV. So that’s were I was when Brazil, surely the best team of all time, beat Italy 4-1 wearing their vibrant gold, green, blue and white kit.
Plymouth Argyle are unusual in that they have always worn green, held to be an unlucky colour in the superstitious world of football. In the sixties they broke new ground with a predominantly white strip with green and black bands around the chest in the centre of which was their mayflower crest. In a period when club strips were pretty uniform and plain, this strip stood out and is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful ever to have graced the game.
Aston Villa were one of the most conservative clubs in the country when it comes to playing kit. Their iconic claret and blue tops had remained virtually unchanged since the 1890s and it was not until 1956 that management were persuaded to drop their heavy, woollen jerseys in favour of the modern, “Continental” style. When Tommy Docherty, a brash, noisy Scot brimming with confidence in his own ability, designed a radical new strip for the team, the traditionalists were outraged. Not only were the iconic blue sleeves now claret, the white shorts replaced with sky blue but also there was a flappy collar with a V inset on the shirt. Docherty departed in January 1970 and his innovative strip was immediately binned. It was, however, a sign of things to come. Within a couple of seasons almost every team in the Football League were sporting flappy collars.
The last kit that has most influenced my work of documenting the history of football kits is the outfit created by Admiral Sportswear for Leeds United in 1976. Cooked up as the result of a deal between Leeds boss, Don Revie and Admiral owner, Bert Patrick, this strip revolutionised the design of football kit and set the foundations for the market in replica kits that is now worth billions of pounds globally. By incorporating elements that could be copyrighted, such as the elaborately trimmed collar and aggressive use of their own logo as part of the design, Admiral could monopolise the sale of replicas to eager school kids. Patrick struck deals with the leading clubs of the day, showcasing new designs at major cup finals, as well as the England team, providing not just strips but also track suits, medical bags and kit holdalls all of which were heavily branded.
Over the last 50 years styles have come and gone, the major sportwear providers have thrown billions of pounds at clubs in sponsorship and interest in football strips has never been higher. We all judge the quality of what our team wears against what they wore when we first fell in love with the game. So when I watch the overpaid prima donnas of the modern game running out in the very latest gear, bristling with innovative technical wizardry that will keep them dry/moist/cool/warm, sublimated with designs based on roof struts/floral patterns/brickwork/interlocking geometrical shapes, I can’t help but wonder what Southport’s team of journeymen would have made of it all back in the day.
The phrase, “Ah’ll be boogered,” springs to mind.
Dave Moor is the founder of Historical Football Kits