Any look back at footballing times gone by through rose-tinted spectacles invariably includes at least a cursory glance at matters off the field as well as on it. Amongst the topics for discussion are the grounds and facilities of days gone by, the development and progression of match-day programmes, the state of pitches, rule changes and personal match-going experiences.
Those of us who get our fix of nostalgia through the medium of YouTube and other similar sites, can transport ourselves back in time and relive all the above. There is nothing that tops an hour or two surfing old matches on the internet, and I personally have a fascination with the kits worn in the 1970s and 1980s.
Recent years have seen the rise in popularity of retro football shirts and thus a niche market has opened up in terms of manufacturing and selling them.
Priced anywhere between 10% and 250% of the going rate for a current replica shirt, the retro editions vary in both quality and value for money. Indeed, they range from being almost exact reproductions of the original to badly-knocked up versions that would make even Del Boy blush – famed Trevor Francis tracksuits notwithstanding.
My footballing consciousness kicked-in in the mid-1970s when shirts were really rather bland, still favouring the simple plain colours and round-neck styles of the preceding decades. Many a club’s shirt had but one main colour with another on the cuffs and collar, a club crest and perhaps a manufacturer’s logo, and that was about it. There was no shirt advertising permitted back then, either.
Looking back now with the benefit of forty years hindsight, it is clear that the marketing of football shirts was practically non-existent back then and the sales of replica shirts was barely a trickle.
This began to change slightly in the latter years of the 1970s when fashion and music started to become slightly intertwined with football. Going to the game became a bit more of an event within itself and, changing with the times, football became more fashion conscious.
Ironically, it was perhaps Don Revie who was at least partly responsible for this shift and for opening up football’s collective eyes to the possibility of making money through the sales of football shirts. I say ‘ironically’ because the passage of time has not been kind to Don Revie’s legacy, and this is particularly so with regards to his time in charge of the England national team.
Yet it was through his foresight and thinking that first Leeds United and then England signed deals with shirt manufacturers Admiral which ultimately resulted in shirts becoming attractive to the public to buy
Although the England kit deal, in particular, was criticised in certain quarters at the time because it was said to be unseemly to merchandise the country’s national shirt to raise a few bucks, the new England shirt as designed by Admiral proved very popular. Released in 1974 and worn by England teams until 1980, the plain white England shirt was given a revamp as blue and red stripes were added to the sleeves and a V-neck collar with lapels introduced.
Sales were brisk and soon club sides started to sit up and take notice of the possible income streams involved. Admiral was hired by several clubs and soon sides like Manchester United, West Ham, and Tottenham were adorning new, more fashionable strips.
Tottenham’s Admiral kit of the time (1977-1980) was a natty number which consisted of a white shirt with navy blue cuffs and a lapel collar. The Admiral manufacturer’s logo was reproduced in navy repeatedly along the sleeves. At the time it was portrayed as the height of fashion and was a personal favourite of mine.
Other shirt manufacturers such as Umbro and Adidas got in on the act, and the final years of the 1970s saw some iconic strips. As with several Admiral shirts, Umbro and Adidas often designed kits with a focus on sleeve adornments.
On shirts as worn by Everton, Stoke, Manchester City, Newcastle and the Scotland national team, for example, the Umbro logo was to be found running down the arm sleeves, while Adidas shirts famously incorporated ‘the three stripes’. Ipswich town in their Royal Blue and Nottingham Forest in their Blood Red kits are amongst the Adidas shirts that most readily spring to mind from this period.
As Ipswich and Forest battled away in contention for the major honours at the tail end of the ‘seventies and early ‘eighties, their silky shirts with the three stripes became synonymous with success.
Although a Liverpool supporter, I remember imploring ‘Father Christmas’ to bring me a Nottingham Forest shirt at around this time. Unfortunately for me, the only ‘father’ that had any real sway in the matter adamantly refused to do so and instead I had to make do with the Liverpool away kit of the time – a perfectly good white Umbro shirt with a red v-neck, cuffs, club crest and single Umbro logo.
Forty years later I finally righted that wrong when I went online and bought myself a retro 1979 European Cup Final Nottingham Forest shirt.
See, Santa? It all comes to he who waits.
In 1980, the Admiral company hit hard times and many clubs were enticed away by other manufacturers. Manchester United and West Ham went to Adidas, while Leeds were enticed away by Umbro and Tottenham and Aston Villa fell under the wiles of Le Coq Sportif.
Into the early 1980s and fashion kept evolving. Or did it? Somebody decided in 1981 that pin-stripes on football shirts would be a good idea. I remember not being particularly convinced of this particular wisdom at the time, as I felt they just looked, well, naff.
The totally iconic Ipswich and Forest shirts, for example, were, in my opinion, ruined by the onset of vertical white pin-stripes running down them. Umbro joined in by splashing similar ‘white lines’ down my beloved Liverpool shirt, but I could never take to it and the 1982-85 shirt worn by the Anfield men remains my least-liked ever.
Whereas a team would up until this point in time ordinarily keep its kit for several seasons, it was around now at the onset of the ‘eighties that a large number of clubs put their kits onto a two-year cycle. This meant that after two years of wearing the same shirt it would be retweaked and then re-issued.
As Admiral disappeared from the scene, and Umbro and Adidas gained more of a foothold in the market, other manufacturers emerged. As mentioned above, Le Coq Sportif was one such company that burst onto the scene and made some high profile signings.
Think of the great 1984-85 Everton side, for example, and picture them in their moment of triumph in Rotterdam winning the European Cup Winners Cup in possibly one of the greatest kits of all time. This all-blue ensemble was provided by Le Coq Sportif and looked fantastic. Similarly, Tottenham Hotspurs’ back-to-back FA Cup victories of 1981 and ’82 were achieved whilst adorned in silky Le Coq shirts – white in 1981 and light yellow a year later. Both these jerseys would also make my top ten of all time. Aston Villa succeeding in the 1982 European Cup Final is yet another example of a classy Le Coq shirt being seen on the highest of stages.
Time passes and clubs change manufacturers regularly nowadays. Nike, previously more well-known for athletics and basketball, are now huge players in the world of football, for example, and while Umbro still has a holding in the game, it currently enjoys nowhere near the share of the market it once did.
Around a decade or so ago, most clubs decided to change from two-year cycles to annual ones. This means that clubs now change their kits every year as the income derived from the sales of replica shirts runs into the tens of millions. Although there are pro and contra opinions in favour and against this form of merchandising, with the money at stake it looks as if it is a policy that is here to stay.
In closing, I have taken the liberty of listing my top ten kits of the 1970s and 1980s.
10. Nottingham Forest away shirt 1977-1981. Adidas. Silky yellow shirt with dark blue Adidas stripes down the arms.
9. Glasgow Rangers home shirt 1987 – 1990. Umbro. Dark blue shaded shirt with rounded button collar.
8. Liverpool away shirt 1985 – 1987. Adidas. Silky white shirt with red Adidas stripes down the arms.
7. England 1974 – 1980 home shirt. Admiral. As described above.
6. Scotland 1976 – 1981 home shirt. Umbro. As described above.
5. Tottenham Hotspur 1977 – 1980 home shirt. Admiral. As described above.
4. Tottenham Hotspur 1980 – 1982 home shirt. Le Coq Sportif.
3. Tottenham Hotspur 1980 – 1982 away shirt. Yellow. Le Coq Sportif
2. Everton 1983 – 1985 home shirt. Le Coq Sportif. As described above.
1. Nottingham Forest home shirt 1977 – 1981. Adidas. Silky red shirt with white Adidas stripes down the arms.