The changing colours of patriot games

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  • Jon Jones wrote this article some time ago and it’s only our own laziness which has prevented it from being published before now. The tardiness doesn’t dilute the interest therein, however.

It’s not something which will occupy us this year but the last official date in the FIFA international calendar on any odd-numbered year is always an exciting time for football kit enthusiasts.

That’s when the big-name manufacturers unveil the latest designs ahead of the forthcoming major international football competitions, a two-year cycle that sees the latest technologies in football kit design, along with the usual marketing-speak that goes with it, brought out to the world.

As is usually the case in today’s connected world, any new football jersey is met with a range of opinion, with social media often going into a frenzy, whether a new kit is well-received or not. Most certainly, if an international team’s kit has a significant change from ‘the norm’, you can expect the likes of Twitter to go into complete meltdown.

At the end of 2015, there was much comment about Nike’s new Vapor range, for which most of the talk was of the contrasting socks for the majority of their international teams, which in some quarters did not go down particularly well. But what if an international team had a more dramatic change, where it wasn’t just the socks, or even the shorts (if we take FIFA’s penchant for monochrome kits in 2014 as a point), but the whole hog of an entire colour-switch? How would social media react to such an occurrence today?

Go back to 2015, for instance. Mexico, having worn a design in the previous World Cup that, even without any logos on the shirt, would have just screamed ‘MEXICO’ with the green-white-red tricolour and zig-zag flashes, decided on a complete break from tradition.

Mexico’s 2014 (left) and 2015 home kits

Out went the traditional ‘El Tri’ and in came a funereal black strip with bright green trim. Fans were left scratching heads over the new look. Of course, the tricolour hasn’t always been synonymous with Mexico, having only been adopted as the first-choice strip since the late 1950s, but such a dramatic change of colours certainly gets noticed in the modern era.

Mexico had previously worn wine-red shirts and navy shorts as their first-choice strip, before discarding them for a more patriotic look based on the colours of the national flag.

Mexico’s 1970 home (left) and away kits, the latter based on the previous first-choice colours

They were not alone in the 1950s for adopting such measures – Brazil, perhaps more famously, did likewise, post-‘Maracanazo’, when the then-all-white strip worn in the final pool match of the 1950 World Cup was ditched, with the famous canary yellow strip making its first appearance in a major tournament four years later in the World Cup in Switzerland.

Brazil 1950 (left, not a World Cup-winning kit) and 1970 (a World Cup-winning kit)

Another example in the Americas is Colombia. Even now, they still don’t appear to stick to a defined colour scheme, pairing their yellow shirts with either blue, navy or even white shorts in recent times, and they have worn a bewildering number of different colours/combinations in the last 50 years.

Having previously worn sky blue, and then white in their history, Colombia appeared in their first World Cup in Chile in 1962 wearing a deep shade of blue, almost navy in appearance, with white shorts and socks. This colour-scheme was retained for the rest of the 1960s, as the team failed to qualify for the next two World Cup tournaments.

In 1971, when a new general assembly was created to run the game in Colombia, the national team had a new identity on the pitch in the form of a bright orange shirt featuring the Colombian tricolour in the form of a sash. This shirt was complemented with white shorts and orange socks, though the shorts were changed to a black pair when Le Coq Sportif made the kit in the early 1980s.


By 1985 however, the colours were then switched once more to the colours of the Colombian flag, with the home kit featuring a red shirt, blue shorts and yellow socks, and the away colours having the shirt and socks colours reversed.

The yellow-blue-red combination then became the first choice for the 1987 Copa América, when Puma made the kit. However, when Adidas took over the contract, the red-blue-yellow kit became first choice once more, as Colombia appeared at the World Cup after a 28-year absence at Italia 90.


In 1992, Umbro took over supply of the national team kit and reverted to yellow-blue-red, and this colour scheme remained more or less the same for the next 20 years.


By 2013, Adidas had returned as suppliers and introduced a new kit for the forthcoming World Cup, but owing to interpreting FIFA’s rule on kits as having to have the same levels of contrast, had paired the yellow shirt with white shorts and socks, which created a rather jarring effect. Subsequent kits have reinstated the blue shorts (albeit a much darker shade) and red socks, but it is believed that manager José Pekerman favoured white shorts and socks for superstitious reasons and so that is what appeared at the most recent World Cup in Russia.


There are a number of international teams who wear strips that do not take colours from their national flag – Italy, Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Australia to name but a few. Japan are another example but for a period at the end of the 1980s, they were absent from that short list.

For many years, Japan wore blue, or at least incorporated blue in their first-choice strip, with the primary shirt colours switching between blue and white for several decades. This was apparently owing to a superstition of wearing blue in a 3-2 win over Sweden in the 1936 Olympic football tournament. Indeed, by the next Olympic success in 1968, when Japan took the bronze medal, the kit consisted of a white shirt and blue shorts.


When Japan’s goalkeeper of that 1968 Olympic success, Kenzo Yokoyama, became coach of the national team 20 years later, the kit would undergo a dramatic change. Out went the traditional blue and white, and in came an all-red strip with a small amount of white trim on the collar, based on the colours of the national flag. Japan would make their first appearance in the AFC Asian Cup that year, but success was hard to come by, as Japan went home with just a single point from their four group matches, and then fail to qualify for the 1990 FIFA World Cup.


In 1992, Japan would host the AFC Asian Cup, by which time Yokoyama had been replaced with Dutchman Hans Ooft, and the red strip was also replaced, with a return to a new blue strip, with an abstract wing-like print in white, complemented with red applications [MOJ note – this shirt will feature very soon in a separate article].

Japan would win the tournament on home soil, and with that, an iconic kit was cemented in history. Japan have worn blue shirts as the first-choice ever since, though the shade of blue has varied from time to time.


It has been particularly common for international teams to switch from a particular colour as their first choice, to a white strip, often with bewildering regularity, to the point where there is no absolutely defined ‘home’ strip.

This still appears to be the case with the likes of Israel, Cyprus and Slovakia, who appear to switch between white and blue to accommodate their opponents’ choice of strip, rather than mix and match kit elements. Turkey and China also did so previously, though red seems to have been set in stone as their first-choice kits, particularly since Nike started supplying their kits. For this reason, we cannot really consider this to be a permanent switch of kit colour.

For most of their history, Austria wore white shirts and black shorts, very much like Germany, with only the socks being their main distinguishing mark from their rivals, as they were typically black with a red and white turnover (though white socks were also common).

In 2004, Puma introduced a template for the European Championship that they appeared to apply to all but one of their national sides, Italy being the exception. Austria, who missed out on qualifying, had the new template applied to their colour scheme – a white shirt with black trim and a hint of red as the home choice, and a red shirt with white trim and a hint of black as the away choice. Or so we thought…

By the time the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign had commenced, Hans Krankl, Austria’s coach and legendary former striker, made the decision to switch the kits around so that red was first choice. This was so that the kit would match the Austrian flag (red-white-red) and also distinguish them from their illustrious neighbours.

Indeed, when Austria faced (the then-West) Germany in the 1978 World Cup, they wore the red away strip as they memorably knocked their opponents (who were the holders) out of the competition, with Krankl himself scoring two goals.


But they weren’t the only European nation to switch kits in 2004. Greece had arrived in Portugal as one of the rank outsiders to win Euro 2004, and in the opening game of the competition, they shocked their hosts with an unexpected 2-1 win.

For the tournament, adidas had introduced two prominent kit designs, with the top-tier teams such as France, Germany and Spain wearing a dual-layered shirt with mesh panels and ‘spiked’ three stripe trim on the shoulders. Greece on the other hand were wearing what was regarded as the second-tier international team design, with curved panels running down the side and rear of the shirt. While other national teams who hadn’t qualified for Euro 2004, such as Romania and Finland, had the “spiked” adidas stripes on the shoulders, the Greek shirts had solid Adidas stripes, much like the teamwear version of the same design. Even the shorts and socks appeared to be teamwear.

Having scraped through the group stages on goal difference, Greece then proceeded to knock out holders France and then the much-fancied Czech Republic on the way to the final, where they would again meet Portugal, having already beaten them in the opening game of the tournament. Having worn the white change strip against France, Greece opted to wear this against Portugal, despite having worn blue when the two sides met previously. They then proceeded to stun the host nation once more to memorably win the tournament.

As a result of this, the Greek FA decided to switch the kits around, and have since worn white as their first-choice strip, though blue has continued to be used as a second choice.


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