Note: This story may be true, but for now you’d be best advised to note the date of publication before reading on. Thanks to Jay for coming up with the idea and the execution.
- The large navy panels on the shorts of Arsenal’s 1988-90 home kit have long been a source of wonder to Jay from Design Football. After lots of research, he thinks he has finally got to the bottom of the issue.
“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
The duck test, which may have long been subconsciously applied to this particular kit by hundreds of football fans, before being bypassed with head-scratching resignation, has, it turns out, come good again.
The Arsenal 1988-1990 home kit by adidas looks like a mashup, thanks to the large navy panels on the shorts. This was by far the most of this long-accepted tertiary colour that had appeared on the club’s first-choice white items in the 20th century – nothing since has troubled the record – and, despite the sparing use of navy on the shirt and socks, it jarred. As it turns out, I have it on very good authority that the kit looks like a mashup, because it is a mashup.
But a mashup of what? Well, this story gets even more intriguing. Did you know Arsenal had a third kit in 1988-89? No? Neither do many of their fans, and it was news to me too.
As briefly as I can sum up, in the spring of 1988, a representative of adidas by the name of Rolf Palio visited Highbury with one example each of the following season’s home and away kits – the designs of which had been agreed with the club a year earlier – for the purpose of a low-budget photoshoot.
The away was what we now generally view as the ‘Anfield ’89’ kit, in yellow and navy, and the home shirt, most controversially at the time, featured a raglan sleeve design, with red stripes trimmed in navy running from neck to sleeve hem. The home socks were indeed those that would be seen in the Championship-winning run – the same as on the 1986-88 kit – but the shorts were different to the ones we know and love/hate.
Virtually identical to the previous season’s, the intended home shorts were white with stripes which matched those on the shirt sleeves. No large panels to be seen, and certainly not in navy.
In addition, Palio had brought along the aforementioned third kit too.
With Bradford City flying at the top of Division 2 the previous autumn, a bright spark in North London telephoned Germany to say that red clashes with claret and yellow clashes with amber, so Arsenal would be needing an alternative in the event of the Bantams achieving promotion.
Adidas were tasked with coming up with something, and they did exactly that. Below is, I’m reliably informed, an accurate representation of the 1988-89 Arsenal third kit, which consisted of white shirt with red-trimmed navy stripes, white socks with matching stripes, and very familiar white shorts with navy panels.
A beautiful outfit, in my opinion. There was, however, an obvious problem. As the Arsenal manager of the time, George Graham, is said to have exclaimed, oddly presciently with the benefit of hindsight: “No chance! I’m Arsenal’s manager, not Spurs’!”
This is where the details get a little sketchy, but the story goes that in this moment of hilarity, or perhaps sheer panic, concentration levels dropped and white shorts were grabbed as an afterthought for the Arsenal captain, Tony Adams, to don for the pictures.
The wrong shorts, as it turned out, and Palio departed to Germany with the third shirt, third socks, and intended home shorts. Whether or not Palio realised his and Arsenal’s mistake in time, or pre-Photoshop with launch deadlines fast approaching the bullet was bitten and the third shorts were deemed acceptable – or a combination of those explanations – is open for conjecture, but a new, mashup kit became first choice.
Bradford City, for their part, fell away and were eventually knocked out of the play-offs by Manchester City. Could the white kit have made an appearance had they made it up? Even if any hopes of it being marketed were most probably dashed? We’ll never know.
But I certainly wonder where that third shirt is now…