It was a question we threw out on Twitter earlier, one difficult to describe in non-clunky language.
There were a few different suggestions, such as the lateral-thinking shout for the 1970 World Cup, late 1970s/early 80s in England and the 2004-05 Premier League season. Funnily enough, though, it was the first reply which came closest:
There might be some unconscious bias on our part, given that it was our first year watching football, but the 1990-91 Serie A season ticks the most boxes for us.
Almost all of the kits have a minimalist approach which gives them a solid look. It was something of a last stand for Italian brand Ennerre (their logo was ‘nr’, which sounds the same as the full name in Italian). Continental Europe was a few years behind England in ‘getting busy’ with kit designs and 91-92 would see teams like Internazionale and Napoli sign deals with Umbro and don more modern/gaudy (delete as applicable, based on personal views) styles. Also – and a big thing for us – pretty much every away kit complemented the respective home strip.
While we won’t cover every club one-by-one – we’re foreseeing batches of three or four, but we’ll see how it goes – we’ll make an exception for the defending champions, Napoli.
When we saw this ad in Shoot! in 1991, it perplexed us. As you can see, number 13 is the Napoli home but there is another blue and white shirt too, number 11, which is described as the ‘away’. The white (7) is the ‘change’ – which, strictly speaking it was – and the red (6) is truistically called ‘red’.
We thought for a few years that they were like Portsmouth in the 2003-04 Premier League, when they had a navy kit worn in every away game, but later received an answer that the kit with the white swirls was for cup games, domestically and in the European Cup. Examining their games one by one, however, this doesn’t appear to be the case either.
The shirt with the greater amount of white – which we’ll call the alternative home – actually looked to be the first-choice kit early in the season. It was worn as they beat Juventus 5-1 in the Supercoppa in August and then, after the away kit was worn against Lecce in the league opener, also saw action in the losses at home to Cagliari and at home to Parma. Whether it was a bid to change fortunes or something else, the ‘plainer’ blue was used at home to Pisa, where Napoli won, and the alternative wasn’t seen again in the league.
With the Scudetto on their chest for the second – and last, as it stands – time, Napoli’s crest was on the left sleeve. All of the shirts had ‘nr’ repeating through the fabric, giving a shadow effect. The alternative, or ‘cup’ shirt, was paired with blue shorts against Hungarian champions Újpesti Dózsa in the European Cup, while all-white was used away to Inter in the league. Away to Atalanta two weeks later, the dark red third kit, similar in style to the alternative blue shirt, was worn, despite the home side having the same colours as Inter.
Napoli exited Europe on penalties against Spartak Moscow after two goalless draws. At home, the cup kit was used but, for some reason, the game in Russia saw the plain blue shirt paired with blue shorts for the only time all season. Away to Pisa – another blue-and-black-striped side – the red kit had white socks, while it appeared against Sampdoria too, but white blue shorts and white socks.
Perhaps Napoli hoped to wear their away kit and only brought the third jerseys as a contingency? Ten days later, they were away to the champions-elect in the semi-final of the Coppa Italia and wore all-white, but a 1-0 first-leg lead (with the normal home kit worn) was overturned as they lost 2-0. It extinguished their only chance of silverware as, shorn of the services of Diego Maradona following a drugs ban, their title defence didn’t amount to much and they eventually finished eighth.
That summer, everything changed. Maradona was gone, Umbro replaced Ennerre and food company Voiello had their name on the front of the shirts instead of Mars. Hardly surprising that it has taken the glory days so long to return.