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Today, May 16, marks the 30th anniversary of Coventry City’s only major silverware win to date, the 1987 FA Cup final victory over Tottenham after extra time.

From a purely kit-nerd point of view, it was an interesting match-up. After two years in their first Hummel kit, Spurs opted to launch their new outfit for the final.

Their 87-89 kit would see a return to navy shorts, however, and the clubs’ first-choice strips would have been been slightly troublesome from an overall clash point of view – earlier that season, Tottenham had had to wear Coventry’s yellow away shirts at Highfield Road as they weren’t allowed to wear their home shirts with change navy shorts and socks.

A sensible compromise was reached in the form of the clubs swapping shorts colours, and therefore both being allowed to wear home shirts. Coventry had had navy shorts in beating Leeds United in the semi-finals, and Tottenham were more than familiar with all-white.

That’s not the primary focus of the piece, though. Instead, our friend (and Tottenham fan) Lee Hermitage of NWM Football will take you through an incident which has gone down in kit-snafu folklore. Take it away, Lee:

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“It’s the most exciting F.A. Cup Final on which I’ve had the pleasure of commentating,” – that was John Motson’s immediate summing up at Wembley on the afternoon of May 16, 1987.

Coventry’s 3-2 win over Tottenham is still fondly regarded as one the greatest ever FA Cup Finals, but 30 years on it’s also remembered as the biggest ‘fashion fail’ in football kit history – not all of the new Spurs shirts carried the logo of sponsors Holsten.

tottenham-hotspur-spurs-hummel-1987-fa-cup-final-white-shorts-coventry-no-holsten

So, who wore what and what happened? Apparently, once Tottenham decided to go with the new kit, four sets of shirts were delivered to the club, and sent onwards for embroidery, two short-sleeved and two long-sleeved.

The story I’ve often heard is that, with the shirts being brand-new, there was no ‘play’ in them. A number of the players put a shirt on, felt it was too snug, so discarded it and took the second shirt – which just happened to be the unsponsored ones!

Obviously, Ray Clemence’s goalkeeper’s shirt was fine. Mitchell Thomas (no. 3) was the only player to take a long sleeved shirt.

The rest of the THFC team was as follows:
2. Chris Hughton – with Holsten
4. Steve Hodge – with Holsten
5. Richard Gough – NO HOLSTEN
6. Gary Mabbutt – NO HOLSTEN
7. Clive Allen – with Holsten
8. Paul Allen – NO HOLSTEN
9. Chris Waddle – with Holsten
10. Glenn Hoddle – NO HOLSTEN
11. Ossie Ardiles – NO HOLSTEN
12. Nico Claesen – with Holsten
14. Gary Stevens – NO HOLSTEN.

The subject has been visited in more than a few books. Here’s Clive Allen in There’s Only One Clive Allen:

The final will also be remembered for the controversy surrounding the Spurs shirts, only some of which carried the name of Holsten. There was one almighty row about it afterwards.

I can honestly say that no one in the dressing room noticed anything amiss before we went out. You just don’t look at things like what is written on your shirt a few minutes you got out to play in an FA Cup final. All you are thinking about is the game ahead.

The first I noticed was when we were warming up out on the pitch. I saw there was no sponsor’s name written on Glenn Hoddle’s shirt. He came towards me and I said to him, “What about your Holsten?”. Quick as a flash, he replied, “Clive, I’ve got a game to play. I don’t think we should have a drink just now!”

I noticed my cousin Paul didn’t have the logo on his shirt either. People have asked since why we didn’t change at half-time and all I can say is that during the interval in a cup final players tend to be a bit preoccupied. We were leading and we spent the precious 15 minutes encouraging each other, trying to make sure we were exactly in the right frame of mind for the second period.

It never occurred to anyone suggest changing shirts. That sort of thing just doesn’t enter into the conversation. I still can’t give the definitive account of what happened.

The only thing that comes to mind is that there were three sets of shirts in the skip that contained our kit. With new shirts, the fit isn’t always right for the player concerned. He might ask for the second one, and maybe it was those that didn’t have the Holsten logo on. Mine fitted all right first time, and I had the sponsor’s name on the front.

Gary Mabbutt, in Winning Their Spurs by Jeremy Novick:

The kit comes folded with their numbers showing, so you don’t see the front of the shirt. In the dressing room, we put our shirts on and then we put our cup final tracksuits straight on.

We went out not knowing, and it was only just before the game that anyone noticed. I’d taken my tracksuit off and Chris Hughton who was standing next to me said, “Look at your shirt.”

When we looked around, there were about five or six of us without Holsten on our shirts. We didn’t change. It was a huge thing and caused a lot of uproar. I think people were sacked because of it.

In the end, I don’t know what the deal was because Holsten got more publicity out of the situation than they would have done if all the shirts were the same. To us, it was funny.

The following day there was a picture in the papers – I think it was me, Glenn Hoddle and Paul Allen and none of us had Holsten on our shirts. If you can imagine this whole page in the paper and the headline above it was, “I bet they drink Carling Black Label”. Very quick, very sharp.

Roy Reyland (Spurs’ kit man) in his autobiography Shirts, Shorts & Spurs (with Jeff Maysh):

I watched from the stands as the team trotted out on to the pitch, and stripped off their warm up jackets to prepare for kick-off. I could instantly tell something was wrong but couldn’t put my finger on it.

Typically, Johnny Wallis [at that point Spurs’ senior kit man] had been his usual guarded self when it came to the first team kit, and had personally sent the shirts off to have the words ‘FA Cup Final 1987’ embroidered below the cockerel.

What he somehow missed was that only half of them carried the name of the beer brand that had paid us hundreds of thousands of pounds to be seen on the players’ chests during the biggest televised game of the year. It became possibly the best advertising Spurs and Holsten ever had.

But for Johnny, I was heartbroken. It’s every kit man’s nightmare to make a mistake. It’s the kind of thing you dread and for it to happen to Johnny, after three decades of absolute dedication to detail and an obsessive attention to perfection, it was the worst last day of a career you could possibly imagine.

I officially took over as kit manager during the weeks following that ill-fated final. No one would ask Johnny any questions, but a few weeks later I summoned the courage to ask him, not just out of curiosity, but also out of genuine fear of repeating the same mistake.

“We had some shirts made up for the youth team, and because these lads are not 18 years old, it’s illegal for them to advertise an alcoholic brand”. The blank shirts had found their way into the bag on the way to the embroiderers, and by the time they arrived at Wembley it was just too late to do anything about it.

And from Spurs chairman Irving Scholar’s Behind Closed Doors:

I was so engrossed in the game that it was not until around 35 minutes that someone tapped me on the shoulder to draw my attention to the fact that some of the players had the Holsten logo missing from their shirts.

I tried to get someone to find Peter Day [then THFC’s secretary] at half -ime so that he could contact the dressing room about the shirts, but he was nowhere to be found. I later discovered what happened was that four sets of shirts had been delivered to the club about three weeks before the final.

There were two sets of long-sleeved and two sets of short-sleeved, but only one set of the short sleeved had the sponsor’s name printed on them. For weeks, they lay in Peter Day’s office, nobody bothering about them, nobody expecting a problem. The day before Wembley, Johnny Wallis loaded them in the skips.

Amazingly, nobody in the dressing room noticed, and David Pleat explained afterwards that the tension was so great that the sponsors logo was the last thing on the players mind.

On the Monday morning I, along with David Pleat, Peter Day and Mike Rollo [Commercial Manager] met Holsten. We feared the worst, but Alan Bridget, Holsten’s chairman took a very understanding view and made it clear that there was no question of withdrawing the sponsorship.

But if relations with Holsten were repaired, there were some casualties at Tottenham as a result of this fiasco. John Wallis was relegated to the reserve team, Roy Reyland took over as the first team kit man, and poor Peter Day lost his job. I was sorry to see him go, and had no hesitation in giving him references later.

***

Looking back from my point of view 30 years on, it remains one of the finest games of football I’ve been to. At some point on Tuesday, I will settle back with a pint (Guinness, rather than Holsten) and stick the game on.

As the game reaches the sixth minute of extra time, I will wince and look away as Lloyd McGrath’s cross bounces upwards and off Gary Mabbutt’s knee and over Ray Clemence – but will also have a chuckle at the most famous cock-up in football kit history.

 

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