- Today, we feature a guest post by Les Motherby, part of the team behind Hull City Kits. He looks at the Tigers’ use of amber alternative shorts and the game which was the catalyst for their introduction
In recent years, amber alternate shorts have become a kitset staple for Hull City, brought out whenever a clash is caused by the home kit’s black shorts, rather than the amber and black striped shirts that inspired the club’s big-cat nickname back in 1905.
So accepted have amber shirts become that there was no murmuring of disapproval in 2014 when City wore them at home in a Europa League qualifier against Belgian side Lokeren. Had we not been eliminated on away goals that night, it’s possible amber shorts in Europe would have become a thing in the manner of Spurs in all-white and Manchester United in white socks when playing under floodlights in Uefa competition.
Amber shorts are very much a 21st-century innovation though, something we could very much have done with in previous seasons – I recall a particularly rancid kit incident at Exeter in August 1999, which saw us borrow the Grecians’ purple change shorts and socks, pairing them with our home shirts to horrific effect. A set of amber alternate shorts would have spared the aesthetic sensibilities of all in the ground that day.
That wasn’t the inspiration for the advent of amber alternate shorts however – let me tell you that story…
Some 17 years ago, in early 2001, I was invited to meet the new Hull City owner Adam Pearson as one of the editors of the Amber Nectar fanzine. The Tigers had been bought by Pearson when they were in financial administration, the inevitable result of several years of maladministration by a succession of owners that were in turn apathetic and inept, naive and impetuous, and downright kleptocratic.
Things were looking up with the impressive Adam Pearson though, who had cut his teeth in business managing the Hull branch of Marks & Spencer and was an executive at Leeds United in the late 1990sm when they were cutting a swathe through Europe. After the solemn topics of moving stadium and managerial candidates were discussed in our meeting, I directed conversation – like the unabashed kit-geek I am – to how Hull City would dress in this new, financially solvent, era.
Pearson said he wanted to have a gold home kit and a silver away. I hid my disappointment – the bloke had just saved the club from financial oblivion after all, but my dismay was threefold:
- The pedant in me was irked by the nomenclature of ‘gold’; we play in amber!
- Stating one colour means solid-tone shirts, and I prefer us to wear striped shirts; Hull City pretty much own that look in English football.
- Silver? That’s difficult to pull off. It could just look grey, we were just five years on from Manchester United’s ill-fated day at Southampton, after all.
As it turned out, my worries about the ‘gold’ kit were unfounded. Sure, I prefer striped shirts, but plain amber shirts with black trim can look smart and this was such an example. Patrick0branded, the shirt was superficially similar to our Umbro ‘continental’ shirts from the late 1950s: solid amber, featuring a subtle jacquard weave rib that made the shirt glisten in the sun, with a contrast black v-neck and black piping under the arms.
The silver shirt wasn’t so bad either, the same basic design as the home shirt with v-neck and underarm piping but much looser fitting. What was curious, though, was the pairing of navy blue shorts and socks with the silver shirts. This meant that both primary and change kits had light shirts and dark shorts, which would prove to be an issue in the October when City went to Darlington in late October.
Not though, when City travelled to Pride Park for a League Cup tie against Derby in mid-September. Hull City wore their full away kit, silver shirts with navy shorts and socks, while Derby wore their familiar white shirts, black shorts and white socks. Referee Graham Laws clearly didn’t think this constituted a clash.
Yet his officiating colleague Mike Jones, assigned the Division 3 clash of Darlington v Hull City soon after, evidently thought differently. The Tigers took only their away kit, and the referee took exception to the Tiger’s navy shorts, so instructed City to wear a borrowed white set from the Quakers.
Poor Rodney Rowe, a man with an arse that would prompt remarks from Sir Mix-A-Lot, looked like he had his shorts painted on, they were that tight. Clearly, Darlo’s number 10 had a more slender frame than ours.
So the game kicks off, with Darlo in white shirts, black shorts and white socks and Hull City in silver shirts, borrowed white shorts and navy socks. Job’s a good ‘un, eh ref? Nope.
Just six minutes into the game and Jones orders a change, compelling Darlo to swap their shirts, creating the unedifying spectacle of eleven players hurling white shirts at the bench as the kitman frantically threw red shirts back to the players.
To add insult to Darlo’s kit injuries, City won 1-0 courtesy of a Gary Alexander penalty after Rodney Rowe was felled inside the box. Darlington players made it clear they though Rowe had taken a dive, but maybe the pain of his skintight shorts is what really sent him tumbling.
To prevent a reoccurrence of the shambles at Feethams, the Tigers commissioned some amber alternate shorts, and they were pressed into service within a fortnight of the Darlington game. They made a debut at Lincoln as Hull City lost 2-1, and a second and final appearance at Luton in a 1-0 win.
Now I was too far away from the pitch at both SIncil Bank and at Kenilworth Road to see any detail on the shorts, but, looking over some match photography some years later, I noticed a pattern that surprised me. The shorts had a jacquard pattern very different from the simple ribbed look created by a herringbone weave of the primary shirts. This pattern was of repeated diamonds that contained chevrons. a pattern also used on Boston United’s home shirts.
It was safe to conclude that wherever the Patrick-logo-carrying amber alternate shorts for Hull City were made was also where Boston’s ‘Paulas Benara’-branded shirts were put together.
The reason Hull City were able to order, receive and wear an amber shorts set within weeks of the Darlo fiasco was they were made at a factory just 18 miles north of Hull, in the East Yorkshire village of Driffield. That was the base of Dewhirst, a clothing manufacturer and long time supplier to Marks & Spencer, before they shifted operations to London and Cheshire, and the actual manufacturing to Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
They were the company behind apparel branded by Patrick, Paulas Benara and O’Neills in the early 2000s, and the sportswear section of their website proclaims them to be currently responsible for Puma, Nike and Umbro designs. The latter firm’s wares are shown in the form of the 2015-16 Hull City home shirt, which of course was paired several times with amber alternate shorts, which makes you wonder: would amber shorts have become a staple part of the Tigers’ wardrobe if it hadn’t been for the fiasco at Feethams, leading to the look first seen at Lincoln?