Despite being obsessed with football kits even as a young boy, I was a fairly late adopter to the replica shirt world, my ever-frugal Dad balking at their cost even then.
Still, I guess I managed to wear him down and on one of our regular trips to see our family north of the border, which coincided with my August birthday, I became the proud owner of my very first shirt: Scotland’s 1980-82 home kit. I was about to turn 11. If memory serves it was bought from a sportswear concession in a Glasgow department store which, and this is where my brain cells are a little fuzzy, I believe had a connection with Scotland keeper Alan Rough or a member of his family.
My Dad was keen to secure the best value possible with the purchase and so we opted for an Umbro ‘Repli-Kit’ Umbroset which also included the shorts and socks at a good price. Plus, in an extra bonus as far as my Dad was concerned, the shirt was long sleeved and so therefore provided even more fabric for our money! I believe long sleeved replica tops at the time were only available in these box sets.
Now I was a fairly normal 11-year-old size wise although perhaps a little taller than usual for my age and as the boxed Repli-Kits were sized via the shirt measurements we bought accordingly. Returning to my Aunt Betty’s house in Glasgow suburb Scotstoun I ripped open the box and held the shirt admiringly in my hands. The whole kit was great – but the shirt was always the main focus. Kit aficionados (and owners of my book True Colours: International Football Kits) will know that this particular Umbro shirt was to all intents and purposes the same as the previous ‘diamond taped’ ensemble with the exception of the removal of the white inset panel on the collar. Instead the lapels now sat astride a self-coloured V-neck.
To this day I remember running my fingers over the transferred Umbro logo and Scotland badge, which with the benefit of hindsight looked pretty inferior compared to the players’ richly embroidered versions. It didn’t matter to me though – these small motifs were important; they meant it was official, just like what the players wore, and not some ‘sew the badge on yourself’ market stall knock-off.
I remember pulling on the shirt and twisting the Umbro diamond taping down each sleeve around so it sat flush on the outside of my arm. Beautiful! It fitted perfectly. Now for the shorts.
And this is where events went a little awry. Although the shirt (and socks come to that) were a great fit, the shorts appeared to be made for someone 2 or 3 years younger than my age. As I pulled them up I remember a slight feeling of anxiety as the leg openings gripped my thighs (bear in mind, unlike now, I was a very slim boy!) and as a I drew them up further I realised in the most uncomfortable way that only a male would appreciate, that these shorts were WAY too tight! I could barely move in them, let alone play football! So, either my proportions didn’t correspond to the ‘norm’ or Umbro were slack in allocating the variously sized items into these boxes.
I did my best to shrug off the problem and hobbled around for a few days, eyes watering and squirming uncomfortably in the full kit until I guess we all admitted defeat and, although I can’t recall for sure, I believe my parents very kindly bought me another pair of shorts (or possibly exchanged the ones in the box) that were a more relaxed fit.
I loved that kit – and still do (along with numerous other Scotland shirts that I’ve owned over the years, especially the 1988-91 home jersey and the sublime tartan affair from Euro 96) and wore it to death although sadly no photos of me in the ensemble seem to exist (hence my crudely mocked up image).
After a few washes the Scotland crest on the shorts began to fade dramatically which bothered me greatly. Fortunately, we had picked up a Scotland Argentina 78 home shirt at a second hand market held regularly at Roots Hall (Southend United’s ground) near our Essex home a few months after I acquired the 1980 jersey. On a boy’s size the crest patch on the 78 shirt felt massive as it also housed the special commemorative text (rather than it being embroidered directly onto the fabric) and was actually not that pleasing to the eye. So, in one of those rash acts that only a young boy could conceive, and one that has subsequently caused my shirt-collecting pals to have mild palpitations, I carefully cut the Scotland badge from the Argentina shirt and asked my Mum to sew it on to the shorts over the faded transfer.
So, all was well in the world once again as I had a pristine full Scotland kit!
As a postscript to this story, the remainder of the Argentina 78 shirt was converted into dusters and despite the tight shorts ordeal, I still managed to go on and father a child…
John Devlin is the Strip! Exhibition Consultant, as well as the author of the True Colours series of books. Find out more at truecoloursfootballkits.com.