Victorian convention had required footballers to wear shorts that covered their knees, although this does not appear to have been an official rule. By 1904 players were no longer required to spare the blushes of the crowd, and as a result, ‘knickers’ became noticeably smaller, allowing for greater movement.

An Ireland shirt from 1902, worn by Preston North End’s Andrew Gara. Ireland played in blue home shirts until 1931, when they switched to the familiar green.

In 1909, kit rules were amended, with the requirement that goalkeepers wore different jerseys to the rest of the team. This was primarily to make it easier for the officials to differentiate players and spot incidents of handball in a crowded goalmouth, which had been extremely difficult when all players on each team were wearing the same kit. At first the choices were limited to red, white or blue. Green jerseys were permitted a few years later and became the standard until the 1980s.

Approved colours for goalkeepers. Extract from FA Rule Book c1920


The next decade was a fairly quiet one in terms of changes to rules on playing kit, and styles remained largely the same. This period of history was defined by the First World War, and football was disrupted by it as much as the rest of society and culture. At the end of hostilities, football equipment was in short supply and as a result, many teams had to make do with whatever they could get hold of, leading to some temporary changes to colours. Examples were Oldham Athletic and Blackpool briefly changing to plain white shirts.

A Newcastle United shirt worn in the 1911 FA Cup final.
A Burnley jersey, worn by Eddie Mosscrop in the 1914 FA Cup final. Shirt courtesy of Andrew Morris.

The late 1910s saw women’s football becoming increasingly popular, and large crowds regularly turned out to watch women’s games. The kits worn by teams such as Dick, Kerr Ladies were essentially the same as those worn by male players, albeit with the addition of a cap or bonnet that matched the designs of the jerseys.

Socks, caps and belts from an early women’s football kit.


Humphrey Brothers Clothing, later to be known as Umbro, begin trading in 1920. They would soon become a major rival to Bukta, who had been one of the main kit manufacturers since their founding in 1879.

Umbro’s founding was soon to make an impact on the fortunes of companies like Piggott’s, who supplied many teams with kit from equipment catalogues.

Football League rules changed in 1921 to state that the travelling team should wear their change shirts in the case of a colour clash (although FA Cup rules did not follow suit for several years). The International Football Association also ruled that goalkeepers in international games should wear yellow jerseys.

Wales were one of many teams still wearing shirts with lace collars in the mid 1920s. By the end of the decade, the style had largely been abandoned in favour of buttoned collars or simple crew necks.

In 1928 Arsenal and Chelsea wore numbered shirts in their opening Football League matches, but the experiment was short-lived, possibly due to the League intervening. Although this is the first documented occasion of numbered shirts in English football, there is evidence clubs in other parts of the world had experimented with shirt numbers earlier than this.


Shirt numbers were used in the 1933 FA Cup final between Everton and Manchester City. Everton players wore numbers 1–11 and Manchester City numbers 12–22. This was the first occasion their use was sanctioned by the FA.

West Bromwich Albion wore royal blue when they met Sheffield Wednesday in the 1935 FA Cup final. Rules at the time still required both clubs to change in the event of a kit clash, The shirts were made of a very lightweight material, possibly silk or rayon.

Shirt numbering became mandatory for all teams in the Football League and FA Cup at the start of the 1939-40 season. Ultimately the season was abandoned due to the outbreak of the Second World War, but the rule remained in place when the competitions resumed.

Read Part 3: 1940s-1950s here

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