What makes a ‘classic’ football kit?

We don’t really know. But we spoke to some people who do.

It’s 1992. Dave from Hull might only wear cheap polos and indigo jeans the rest of the time, because he doesn’t want to look like one of those ‘soft’ people that he’s always piping on about down at the Swan. But you can bet at the weekend, he’s going to throw on a bright orange shirt, with a vivid tiger print all over it, and make a tit of himself chanting ‘mauled by the tigers’.

He doesn’t care that it’s actually amber, and he doesn’t care that he’s in the midst of what football historians will come to call football kits’ ‘baroque era’. He doesn’t care that back in 2019, thanks to Versace and Paco Rabanne, animal prints are actually having a bit of a moment. But Hull are his team, and he’ll wear whatever kit the manufacturers release at the start of the season. Blindly unto the breach of gnarly orange kits he goes.

That kit is now going for nearly 200 quid online. Not that Dave gives a shit.

But what makes a ‘classic’ football shirt? It’s hard to tell. But we asked a few people who were both informed and confident enough to give it a stab.

Alan Bond is a content creator from Mundial, who have collaborated with the company Classic Football Shirts in curating an exhibition of Umbro’s best kits, to celebrate their 95th anniversary.

“It’s the design, isn’t it?” He asks. “I don’t think it’s classic until it’s got a legacy behind it, but it’s the design aspects that make it classic. I think it’s just something that fans can really relate to, in terms of the history of the specific club. It’s a very unique thing – as you look at some of these shirts, you kind of visualise a player, as soon as you see the shirt.”

So, like a time capsule – an aesthetic signifier of a specific moment in a club’s history, a tangible link to the glory of days past. “Like the Ajax one from 1995,” Alan says. “I just think, what that team achieved, bringing in the team through their own academy, was brilliant. And they achieved excellence with winning the Champions League.”

But aren’t the moments that happen in a kit important? Cantona with his arms in the air like the messiah. Bobby Moore lifted in the air in ‘66, Jules Rimet in hand. Cruyff and Holland ‘74. Henry in the claret shirt, kissing the ground after Arsenal’s last goal at Highbury.

“It’s kind of a tug of war between the design and the achievements,” says Denis Hurley, a freelance journalist who runs Museum of Jerseys (museumofjerseys.com), a website dedicated to football kits and their history.

“I would say it’s close to fifty fifty. A design that comes to my mind straight away is the Nottingham Forest 1992 home shirt, red with white pinstripes – it was a really classy design – but they got relegated in it. A quarter of a century on, it’s still regarded as a good shirt.

“Then, you’ve got a pretty ordinary shirt which a team does well in, which is still well regarded. The Brazil 1970 jersey is a nice shirt, but it’s very plain, just yellow with green collar and cuff. But because Brazil won the world cup, playing such good football, it makes it memorable.”

But you need a decent aesthetic foundation to build on, he says. “I don’t think achievement will make a bad shirt good.” He uses the 2005 Liverpool shirt as an example – the year that they beat AC Milan in debatably the greatest Champions League final of all time. “I don’t think it’s looked on with any great fondness. There has to be some positive aspects to the shirt in the first place, and then the achievements will help to lift it up another couple of notches.” You could win the treble and stop climate change, but if the design’s bad, you’ve got no chance.

So perhaps the word we’re looking for is nostalgia. That’s at least what Dr Chris Stride says, a statistician and sports historian from the University of Sheffield, who over the last 6 years has published between 10 and 15 papers on aspects of material culture in football, as well as other sports. That’s right, we got a doctor. We don’t mess about.

“I think nostalgia is what generates in people’s minds the idea of a ‘classic’ shirt. They don’t mean a ‘classic football shirt’, they mean a ‘classic football shirt’ from their childhoods,” he says. But there have to be moments that spark the nostalgia.

“Football matches can be those moments, and it’s not necessarily just the match, it’s the time spent with friends at the match, and the emotions stirred by the match. Therefore, kits worn by teams in famous games, games that are more likely to be memorable, that are going to be great moments in a club’s history, are therefore more likely to make a classic football kit.”

So it’s a bit of a cocktail, really. A bit of nostalgia, a few nice moments that happened whilst players did their thing wearing a shirt. But, you can win all you want – if it’s ugly as hell, it’s not going to work.

Kieran Ahuja is co-founder, writer and creative director for 5WFootball. Follow him on Twitter here

Manchester United are staring down the barrel of transfer window tragedy

By George Storr

The race to finish fourth isn’t the only cause for nerves at Old Trafford at the moment. After a tumultuous season defined by personnel changes, rumours are already circulating that up to six of United’s senior players could be headed away from Manchester come summer. Having shown his capability to get Man Utd back to winning ways, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has to prove that he has the influence and know-how to replace potential departures. Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward is putting his faith in OGS, so expect to see some eye-widening signings and transfer fees. 

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How far is player power and respect being challenged in modern football?

Respect is a requirement in every path of life, but on a professional football field, you’d expect it would be a given. Your team is locked level in the dying embers of the Carabao cup final and you pull up with an injury, holding your legs. The managers first thought is to get a player off the bench ready to come on. Clearly instructing on the sideline for a substitution, you stand on the field of play waving your arms around like a kid in a soft play area instructing to his mother that he doesn’t want to leave.

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Away from home, a goal gets you home: the big debate on the away goal rule in European competition

Today (Wednesday) UEFA are set to meet to discuss a potential abolition of the away goal rule in European competition. This debate is set to be one, like VAR, to divide football fans. On the one hand, it can make ties interesting. On the other, it could ‘ruin’ games a bit premature. Here, Adagunodo Olumuyiwa looks at the debate, and gives his view… 

European competitions are famed for lots of goals and a constant swing in dynamics right throughout the knockout stages, up until the final minute of the grand final – Manchester United fans would agree with me. A reason for there being a great deal of goals may be attributed partly to the quality of players and football on show on the night. Yet, another reason may be the presence of UEFA’s away goal rule.

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Inside Bloomfield Road: what’s happening with the Blackpool boycotts?

By Joe Davies

It is a rare thing in football that an away support outnumbers the home fans in a stadium. As I failed to establish the chant ‘Woah Lacazette-y, Aubameyang’ (to the tune of Black Betty), it occurred to me that without a home chorus to contend with the incentive for away fans to stand up and sing is dampened somewhat. While Gooners have been criticised for their lack of home atmosphere since the ‘Highbury Library’ days, you really could hear your own voice echo as Arsenal beat Blackpool 3-0 at Bloomfield Road. The magic of the FA Cup this was not.

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What is the Asian Cup and should we care about it more?

By Andrew Misra

The Asian Cup rolls around this January and it’s something that, generally speaking, we know very little about in the UK. As with the Africa Cup of Nations, we’ve only really become aware of it due to the competition depriving us of high-profile players from the Premier League for about a month.

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Defining the ‘football hipster’: what are they, are they a bad thing, and are you one?

Neil Custis, the most reliably trusted and clued up journalist in the UK media sphere, replied to a tweet about the time of the Superclásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate in the Copa Libertadores final, asking: “Is that hipster time or GMT?” That was just one of many tweets that come up if you run a quick Twitter search of ‘@ncustisTheSun: hipster’.

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Lionesses can extend football fever in England

By Kathryn Batte

If you want to pinpoint the moment Women’s Football really took off in this country then 2005 is a good starting point. England hosted the Women’s European Championships for the first time and back then only two groups of four teams competed in the tournament, which Germany won for the fourth time in a row. England qualified automatically as hosts but finished bottom of their group, winning just one game. The final was played at Blackburn’s Ewood Park and attracted a crowd of 21,100 people, a record for a woman’s match in Europe. Had England made the final that figure would probably have been higher with over 29,000 spectators watching the hosts beat Finland 3-2 at the City of Manchester Stadium in the first game of the tournament.

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