Did old football kits look better?

Developments in textile, manufacturing and design over the last 30 years have ensured that 500 volt nylon related shocks and (ahem) 'joggers nipple' are no longer an issue for your modern day pro, or fan for that matter.  But have we lost something?  Chris King thinks so.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

Seems strange to open a piece on a football website with a quote from Coco Chanel, but then who better than the queen of couture to give weight to the argument that football kits no longer have the style and beauty of old?

And it was style, not fashion, that I saw when I caught sight of my last piece; supported elegantly by Glenn Hoddle, draped in that magnificent Tottenham kit of the 1981 FA Cup final. That photo made me yearn for a time when football kits were framed - often in the soft hazy sunlight of an end of season match – slightly out of focus, almost grainy against their lush green backdrop.

A time long before dejected art school types realised there was no money in their, err well, art; and joined the plethora of design agencies and kit manufactures – adding “krazee” designs and motifs to a club’s 3rd kit for the forth coming season.

The last official, non-retro replica top I bought was in 1991 – an Umbro number for that year’s FA Cup Final. The abrasive, interplanetary material they used at that point was guaranteed to catch a nipple or skin tag - leaving it red raw for days. After that, I just no longer yearned for the latest top, even to wear around the house. Fine to wear a kit for a kick about or practice, but I had enough replica kits in the drawers not to add further to the club’s marketing machine.

So that image got me thinking – were kits simply better back then? Did they have something that the need to update, and sell on a seasonal basis is now lacking in our kits? Even in black and white, you could still see the class radiate from that top. The edges are framed by a bold line. The manufacturer’s logo would not be prominent face on; that glory left solely to the badge – a badge that had been the same since the mid 1960s give or take the detail to celebrate a centenary or major final.

In preparing this piece I approached the people at The Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company (Toffs.com) to see what their best sellers were. To find out if there was any possible connection to the way a shirt has been mistreated by designers compared to TOFFS most popular lines. The six top picks over recent years are Brazil 1970, Argentina 1986, Liverpool 1984, Manchester United 1970, Arsenal 1970 and Tottenham Hotspur 1961. Now clearly four of those are linked to major moments in the club or country’s footballing history, but with the possible exception of Liverpool 1984 they are pretty much the classic, go to kit for each side – something that each new kit supplier will return to when trying to close out the retro market, and sell a few more, new shirts to the older generations.

So what are the most stylish kits that I would have loved my club to have chosen if they were starting all over again? Well, I have to throw a quick caveat in that will no doubt alienate me from the masses – I simply do not like red kits. Red is power, it is danger; it is hate – though it can also suggest love – but usually only on delicate things like flowers and hearts, not home kits.

Maybe part of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal’s success is down to their kit colour of choice – but though their players may have been elegant and stylish; to see the kit clash with the blotchy, booze-soaked face of a fan down the pub is enough for them to be instantly discounted. Same with the England top of 1966; give me the cool, relaxed air of the 1970 3rd kit any day.

Here instead is what rocks my style and footballing worlds:


OK, so this is more a colour than an individual top – but if you know your history, Roman rather than football, you will appreciate that this is the colour of the Kings. I even had it as the lining of my suit when I got married in Italy, what with the surname and the close proximity to Florence when I agreed to give up my season ticket.

La Viola winning the 1995/96 Coppa Italia with Gabriel Batistuta and Rui Costa in their plain Purple kit showed just how regal the colour can be. Tottenham and Real Madrid may have recently used it as their 2nd or 3rd option, but there is no looking past Fiorentina. Though their recent kits haven’t exactly set the world alight, the retro 1940s shirt wouldn’t look out of place in a sun-drenched piazza, whilst enjoying an aperitivo in the company of the opposite sex.

Inter Milan v Celtic, 1967 European Cup final

Ok, so this is a bit of a copout picking two kits rather than one – but I think this final epitomises the use of clean, simplistic lines in old football kits. Argentina, Newcastle, QPR and Juventus fans will appreciate that I could have slipped one of their tops in here, but it was easier to combine the stripe and hoop at the same time. Though sorry Ajax, Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern Munich fans – remember, no red allowed.

Add to that the fact that black and blue or green and white look just as good with shorts or jeans – which really is the yard stick to the quality and style of a shirt; given that most fans will wear their tops in a social context nowadays. There are no sponsor’s logos cluttering up these two offerings, not even a number in the case of Celtic’s European Cup Champion’s top. They are simple, elegant; almost perfect.

Sampdoria and Boca Juniors

So I’ve gone with two teams again, but there is clearly an underlying style design here – the band across the proud wearer’s chest.

Before Roberto Mancini was defined by his scarf and Gianluca Vialli shaved all his hair off, if you wanted the imagery of Michelangelo’s David on the football field, then you need look no further than the strike partnership of Sampdoria in the early 1990s. Smooth, elegant, graceful – and that was just the way they approached the game.

It’s the same with the Boca shirt and it’s bold, gold band placed simply across the line of the heart. Had they read the piece on Tottenham’s Magic Number, there is no doubt that the Boca fans would have felt the exact same way – given that their number 10s have included Diego Maradona and Juan Riquelme.

The beauty of both kits is that minor tweaks aside – closer fitting and different sponsors – they still have that same, stylish air as they did when worn by those greats. If it ain’t broke – why give it a stupid sleeve design? Sampdoria’s top just edges it.

France 1980s

Ok, so this is getting ludicrous. First I can’t decide between two kits from the same match, then I went for teams in separate continents; now I’m struggling with a whole decade – but what a decade it was for the France top.

The French kit is usually based on the same Tricolor design, yet even with that restrictive controlling influence, the tops of the 1980s had a life and style of their own.

It was definitely a tossup between France and Italy as to which iconic top to go for from the 1982 World Cup - the tailored pinstripes of Les Bleus or the Champion’s colours of The Azzurri? Yet when you consider what followed in 1984 (Platini holding aloft the European Championship with the Red band and white, fine hoops) and 1986 (from that edge-of-the-seat Quarter-Final against Brazil), combined with their style of play in that era, it simply had to be France.

Napoli 1989-90

It’s a fix I hear you cry. The writer manages to sneak Diego Maradona in once again just to curry favour with the editors. Yet you couldn’t be further from the truth. This is top is simply the very best crossover shirt ever made. It really does sit equally at home on a squat, hirsute footballing genius as it does the protruding gut of the armchair fan. It goes with shorts, with jeans, as something to put on out of bed – or whilst lying about in the park, on a glorious near Mediterranean Sunday afternoon.

Napoli’s kit of the modern era may have a similar style factor, it just lacks that special ingredient – it is now nothing more than a replica shirt, like all the others sold throughout the land. What makes this one special is the fact that it is from the era of their last Scudetto and only European success; yet more importantly, it is because the sun is always shining in every photo you see of Maradona proudly wearing his Azzurri.

It is perfection.

We love all things new, but look forward to dazzling our mates at the local five a side pitch 'a la Cruyff' in this little number, which we thought was a snip at sixteen quid.

Is Chris onto something here?  Even if your memory doesn't go beyond 1992, the retro shirt must still hold some allure, or are todays kits, just.....better?  Let IBWM know.  Comments always welcome.

Chris  writes about life, family and sometimes sport on his blog www.northernwrites.co.uk and can be found on twitter: @NorthernWrites