Kappa only made the Barcelona kits for six years, but it was a very important period in the club’s sartorial history, taking it from the almost-too-stable constancy provided by local supplier Meyba to the excesses and gimmicks we have come to expect from Nike. Originality and envelope-pushing characterised the Italian firm’s tenure, while the nerds had more than enough niggly variations with which to be appeased.
With Barça having beaten Sampdoria after extra time to win the European Cup in May 1992, Kappa’s arrival that summer was well-timed. Keen to announce themselves, they immediately lit a fire under some extreme elements with the liberal inclusion of white on the sleeves and shorts, with the Kappa logo repeated on those strips. The fabric also featured the logo and the ‘Barça’ wordmark repeated.
As designs go, the home was pleasing in terms of balance and layout. While the away was in an unusual colour (they did wear light blue against Manchester United in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, but it was more of the sky variety), the inclusion of blue and red helped.
Barcelona won a third title in a row in 1992-93 and Kappa decided to introduce a special kit for the 93-94 Champions League campaign. The stripes layout, with the sleeves joining perfectly with the body, would become common on later efforts, while the middle section of the neck could be ‘hidden’ by closing the two white buttons.
In the summer of 1994, though, UEFA clamped down on excessive advertising in European competitions. For Barça, it meant that the sleeve trim lost the Kappa logos while the fabric was now plain. Champions League patches were also worn for the first time in 94-95, with Barça employing both versions – a white star on the away but the star enclosed in a black square on the European home. Incidentally, Champions League group rivals Manchester United also fell victim to this, wearing a changed version of their away in the 4-0 game at the Nou Camp.
Kappa’s first Barcelona kits will probably go down in history as the last time an elite European club wore the same home strip for three seasons. The new version introduced in 1995 used the same striping as the 93-95 European kit (but with the colours reversed), while the use of navy was also initiated, something Nike would really run with.
The away kit kept the turquoise but in two shades and employed an array of geometric shapes. Numbers were included on the shorts from 95-96 – UEFA wouldn’t mandate them until a year later.
While a specialist European kit was no longer used, Barcelona had to alter their kits to remove the Kappa logos from the sleeves and shorts. An orange version of the away kit was prepared for use as a third strip but never appeared in a game, as far as we can ascertain.
Orange was, of course, the colour worn by Barça in that 1992 European Cup final, presumably a tribute to then-coach Johan Cruyff as much as anything else. It returned for Kappa’s final set of kits, an attractive outfit trimmed with blue, grenadine and navy. The home dispensed with the navy but injected contrasting pinstripes in the middle of the normal versions. The neck style would later be used by Wales when they joined with Kappa.
Having not won La Liga since 1994, Barcelona did the double in 97-98 under Louis van Gaal. In the celebrations, we can clearly recall Iván de la Peña driving one of those motorised buggies used to carry off injured players – unfortunately, we can’t find the footage.
Kappa also marked their swansong with new European kits, this time with an away kit too. The home recalled the halved shirts initially worn by the club (Nike would have a closer replica for the centenary celebrations in 1999) but carrying the style onto the shorts was a bit of a bum note. Again, the away was orange with a similar style used – better when done so sparingly, for our money.
Did someone say bonus track? Well, here is what we still think, 19 years on, is one of the best things done on a kit. In 97-98, Barcelona’s two goalkeepers were the Portuguese Vítor Baía and Dutchman Ruud Hesp – whether it was the relative brevity of their names or another reason, Kappa gave each fully personalised kits.
By that, we don’t just mean names on the back – these had the players’ first and second names down the sleeves, in the fabric. Truly unique, and just a pity nobody has done anything similar since. Edit: See comments for another kind-of example.