The past fortnight has seen Nike officially launch the new kits for their main international contracts, to be worn at Euro 2016 and the Copa America.
Essentially, each offering is the same with the colours changed, Nike employing the usual kind of marketing guff you’d imagine to talk up their Vapor template. With the notable exceptions of Brazil and Poland, nearly every strip deviates in some way from the country’s ‘traditional’ look and the changes have drawn ire from many quarters.
Nowadays, ‘template’ seems to have become a dirty word in football kit discourse, an attitude which is no doubt aided by seeing lower – and sometimes not so low – division sides wearing off-the-peg outfits, restricted by the limitations of the catalogue, with nary a third colour to be seen on shirts. It is quite depressing to see sides plump for this option so they can carry a tick or three stripes on their kits, when other manufacturers can offer excellent bespoke strips.
In and of themselves, though, templates don’t have to be bad things once they’re done right and, let’s face it, they’ve been around forever. In the current edition of the excellent Design Football podcast, the font of kit knowledge John Devlin reckons that this onslaught by Nike is the most aggressive he can remember, and it set us thinking.
We think that a case could definitely be made for the 2002 World Cup, but, while adidas and Nike did engage in a large degree of homogeneity, the designs were relatively restrained and normal colours were used. If you were to ask us for the first time we properly noticed that designs could be transposed to different colour configurations, we’d go back 22 years, to USA94. The odd thing, however, is that it wasn’t a brand-new look.
In 1991, adidas went in a markedly different direction to what everybody was used to, eschewing the traditional three stripes down the sleeves for aggressive, over-the-shoulder branding. Cork City went more aggressive than most, before falling into line with the most common iteration of the new look.
Liverpool were the most notable exponent of this style in England, and two years later adidas took things even further, with two sets of three stripes coming up from the ribcage, and the same on the shorts. The away followed suit, carrying large elements of green, as its predecessor had.
In something of a first, adidas also used this design for the Reds’ goalkeeper kit, and that of Arsenal. In mid 93-94, Cork City also utilised the new format with their away kit (it’s hard to see, but the fabric featured the club’s crest repeating).
So, by the summer of 1994, this style was widely-known, in the British Isles, at least. The wider global audience would become very much acquainted with it, though, as four of adidas’s ten teams at the World Cup carried it – including two who reached the semi-finals.
One of those nations, Sweden, had a unique pattern through the fabric of their kits, incorporating three diagonal stripes and the country’s crest, while the shorts were plainer. At the time, they were allowed to have a white away kit – in 2002, FIFA would order them to hastily produce a blue alternative when white was originally chosen as the change option – and this followed the same formula.
The Swedes would prove they were no turnips (sorry, sorry) by reaching the last four, exiting after a 1-0 loss to Brazil and then securing third spot by beating Bulgaria 4-0 in the game nobody really wants to play. Before the World Cup, Bulgaria had never won a game at a finals and a 3-0 loss to Nigeria (also in adidas, but a tailored, tribal design) seemed to indicate that their woes would continue.
Wins against Greece and then Argentina got them out of the group though and the run carried on as Mexico and Germany were seen off in the knockout stages before Italy beat them in the semis. The usual national colours were applied to the new template, with the Mexico game seeing them mix and match, creating a shorts clash rather than having a green/white v white/green overall clash.
In the quarter-finals, Sweden had come up against Romania, winning on penalties after a thrilling 2-2 draw. The Romanians’ home shirt was almost identical to Sweden’s, apart from having one red stripe sandwiched by two blue and so both countries changed for the game. Romania had a red change kit with blue and yellow trim, but, oddly, the stripe format was reversed on the socks compared to the shirts and shorts. Stranger still, the replica versions also made this mistake.
Clearly, it was a template which performed well, providing three of the sides in the last eight. The unlucky country were Norway, who were eliminated in the group stage, but even that was harsh on them as they had the same 1-1-1 record as the other three countries – beaten finalists Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Mexico – and missed out by virtue of scoring fewer goals. Unlike the others, only their home was this template, with the away using the diamond style employed by Spain.
While Romania and Bulgaria had plain fabric, Norway had the same three-stripe fabric pattern as Liverpool. As with their previous home, which was modelled on Arsenal’s 1992-94 kit, the traditional adidas three stripes down the shoulder also featured. Maybe that’s what held them back from a podium finish in the USA?