The Mansfield Scale of Alternate Shorts Compatibility

The key element of a mashup is the shorts. Socks are a relatively small element of the kit, and changes are a dime a dozen. Changing shirts is on the other hand is just a change of shirt. However, combining a shirt with a pair of shorts can drastically change the overall look of a kit.

I’m a big fan of a mashed up kit, for reasons I can’t adequately explain. I’m in good company though, as evidenced by the continued popularity of Museum of Jersey’s Midweek Mashup feature. For those not familiar with the term in a football kit context, it simply refers to the mixing and matching of home, away, and/or third kit elements to reduce colour-clashes. While shirts and socks form part of mashups, it tends to be shorts that are the focus of the most interesting elements.

Why shorts, though? Shirts are regularly changed when there’s a clash. Alternate socks are turned to by teams every couple of weeks, plus they make up a relatively small amount of the overall ensemble. Shorts though? A different pair can dramatically change the overall look of a kit, for better or worse. They’re (arguably) more prominent than socks, and are changed due to mismatches less regularly than their fabric fellows – some competitions mandate shorts-clashes are managed, many don’t.

Furthermore, designers in any industry spend countless hours selecting the correct colour palette for project they’re working on. Football kit designers may or may not take into account a kitman or referee deciding that shirts and shorts from two different kits should be slapped together. As such, mashups can range in appearance from looking like they were conceived to be worn together, to looking like two 4 year olds were left in charge of choosing the colourway.

The degree to which a mashup pair of shorts integrates with the shorts can be measured to a degree, from 1-8, using what I am humbly proposing we title the Mansfield Scale of Alternate Shorts Compatibility, as outlined below.

Before we start, I would point out the importance of accent colours in a good mashup, and in all kit combinations, truth be told. Football strips can be made up of two colours, or three, or four. The shirts and shorts can be the same hue, or not. Single or two tone kits generally work okay, but what can tie a more complicated strip palette together is when there are small tonal references to the main colour of each other garment – a small amount of red trim on the shorts calling back to the jersey collar and the sock turnovers. Black and white normally help, as neutral tones.

Brazil’s kit, arguably one of the world’s most famous colourways, shouldn’t really work so well, combining a yellow jersey with green trim, sky blue shorts, and white socks. Because the socks reference the green and yellow of the shirt, and the shorts the white of the socks, and all four colours are drawn from the Brazilian flag and federation crest, it’s all a lot less of a clash than it could be. So, for mashups to work sympathetically, colours should reference each other well, by accident or design.

8. Fully compatible (bespoke)

Increasingly, manufacturers are providing teams with alternate home, away and third shorts for use in event of a clash. These are typically exactly the same as the primary shorts, but with the main colour swapped with an accent.

Examples:

The yellow alternate away shorts Arsenal wore during the 1991-92 season or Manchester United’s black alternate home shorts, 1992-94 and 1994-96

7. Fully compatible (modular)

This situation arises when a team has two or more kits of near identical design, and colourways in different proportions. This allows for elements to be mixed and matched while still ensuring a good overall blend, and the colours all still complement each other.

Examples:

England adopted this approach in the 1980s after re-signing with Umbro; the white-navy-white home and red-white-red away could be worn in eight different combinations. Practical, and even as a Scotsman I have to admit they were some elegant-looking strips.

The Netherlands won Euro 88 in a strip consisting of their home shirt and socks combined with their away shorts.

6. Mostly compatible

My second-favourite type of mashup, this occurs when a team combines shirts from one kit with shorts from another, and from a distance they match quite nicely, but on closer inspection…

Examples:

When Arsenal played Everton in 1982, they changed to their away shorts as both normally play in white sets. The Gunners change kit that season was green shirts with navy blue sleeves and shorts. Navy is a colour that sits quite nicely with red, and Arsenal’s kitmakers have often combined the two. The effect was no different here, and the Highbury club looked quite snazzy…but there was still a slightly unsettling thin green accent stripe at the sides of the shorts.

In a couple of games in the 2018-19 season, Rangers have combined their orange third shirts with their blue away shorts. This works really well from a distance but closer up you notice the white chevrons and the red hem trim…(incidentally, one of the games was away to Kilmarnock, when Rangers created a blue shorts-clash by changing from all-orange)

5. Compatible, if you squint

This occurs when a team has two or three kits utilising similar templates and broadly similar colourways, but they don’t quite match fully. It’s close enough though.

Examples:

Take Bulgaria against Mexico at the 1994 World Cup, wearing their away shorts to avoid an overall clash:

In 1990-91, Everton used their blue and yellow away shorts as home back-ups. After getting a new shirt for 1991-92, they had a new set of alternative shorts in the same design but with white rather than yellow trim.

4. Training shorts

Every so often a club will realise they have a shorts clash coming up and try to actively manage this.

Their away or alternate shorts might not be the right colour, and their supplier can’t sort them out in time, but the kitman finds himself staring at the team’s training shorts, stroking his chin, and thinking…Virtually all senior clubs have specific training kit now, distinct from any of the actual playing kits. Generally these are of a very different design to their matchday cousins, and the colours might not quite match exactly, but if you slap a set of numbers on them they’ll pass muster.

Examples:

Rangers in the UEFA Cup final of 2008 wore training shorts from the 2006-07 season. They’d actually worn them in a number of European matches over the previous two campaigns.

Arsenal in navy shorts again – normally they used to wear a change kit rather than alternative home shorts but both their away and third clashed with Fenerbahce in 2013.

3. Teamwear shorts

Similar to the above, but the kitman has managed to source a set of shorts. They might not be from the club’s official supplier, but a local sports shop.

They might have the correct manufacturer’s logo but no club crest. Overall, they just about look the part, but there’s something not quite right about them.

Examples: Rangers wore one-off blue shorts against Ajax in Amsterdam in 1996. While they had an embroidered badge, the shadow-stripe effect in the material was completely different to the repeating shield pattern of the shirt, belying their provenance.

While Nottingham Forest had bespoke red change shorts with their 1988-90, 1990-92 and 1992-94 home kits, they had a plain black set in 1994-95. For 1995-96, a style identical to Manchester United’s design was used.

2. Non-Compatible

Conversely given my pretentious wittering about complementary accent colours, my favourite type of mashup.

Probably the second least common occurrence is when, faced in the situation as described above, and having to change shorts, the kitman simply substitute a pair from another of the club’s sets of kit, regardless of whether they remotely match or not.

Examples:

For me, the gold standard example of this was when Aston Villa played Nottingham Forest in 1989.

Oddly, they wore their claret and blue home shirts against Forest’s red, although the former was a bit darker. To circumvent a shorts clash however, they looked to the away shorts…which were black with white and purple trim. The ensemble didn’t really go together at all, and while I wouldn’t advocate said colour scheme by design, there was something oddly beguiling about it.

In early 2019, Barcelona Femeni travelled to Lillestrom in the quarter-final of the Women’s Champions League. It’s not entirely clear why the decision was made, but the Catalans elected to wear their fluorescent yellow away shorts with their blue and red striped home shirt. Good grief.

1. Opponents’ Kit

There’s often debate among the kit nerd fraternity about why a team decided to ‘inexplicably’ wear a certain kit or combination in a particular game. It’s not always the club’s choice, though; the referee has the discretion to insist one or both teams change elements if he or she considers there to be a clash.

Often, the visiting team is asked to change shorts or socks and finds they haven’t packed any suitable alternatives. It’s then we see the ‘spotter’s badge’ scenario of a team wearing an opponent’s socks or shorts. Sometimes these might be accidentally complimentary, although let’s face it, it’s more exciting when they’re hilariously incompatible.

Examples:

Look no further than Hull City wearing Exeter’s purple away shorts and socks in 1999 with their own amber and black home shirts.

While not strictly falling under the auspices of wearing their opponents’ shorts, Shamrock Rovers did wear the blue shorts of amateur Cork club Glasheen with their green-and-white hooped jerseys against Cork City in 1995, which to a Glaswegian is tantamount to a war crime.

While I think the categories above are fairly objective and hopefully intuitive, football kit enthusiasts’ interpretation of which individual scale each mashup falls within might vary wildly.

For instance, I really liked the mashup Arsenal adopted in the late 1980s and early 1990s when playing Southampton away, swapping their navy away shorts for the white home shorts, and would class it as 7 on the scale. Most other kit fans hate it, and would have it as a 2 or a 5.


Similarly, I think Manchester City’s combo worn against Aston Villa in 1990 works really well. Sky blue and claret is a familiar and popular colour scheme in English football, and the deep navy and white accent colours add some neutral flavour. 

On the flip side, I think Swindon Town’s yellow and red with green trim mashup of 1993 really doesn’t work and would categorise it a 2, despite enough mutual accent references in the shirt and the shorts.

Many may disagree and cite that the overall look of the kit actually does work, but isn’t that the fun of it all?

5 comments on “The Mansfield Scale of Alternate Shorts Compatibility

  1. Gary

    Great article! And for your final category I submit a wonderful example from a game that I attended: Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool in a League Cup tie at Roker Park, October 1995. Liverpool wore the previous season’s 3rd shirt in “gold” with black trim, combined with the 95/96 away shorts in green with white trim. How’s that for a new “gold” standard?

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    1. Gary

      Wonderful piece, which also lays to rest my nagging feeling that I’d imagined Liverpool wearing Brucie’s Southampton goalie socks in another game that I attended (I think it finished 2-0 to the Mighty Reds). I was quite prolific in those days… This is an awesome site – keep it up!

      Reply
  2. Jon

    The piece on here about QPR’s choice of kit for the match at Tottenham in the 87/88 season, whilst in my opinion I honestly think packing the home shirts instead of the intended away shirts was the kitman’s mistake, it’d definitely be one of those kit combinations that would register as a “2” on this scale… bonus points for the shorts being a stock pair to avoid the regular black away shorts clashing with Spurs’ navy pair (the white adidas trim being the giveaway)

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  3. Tony McCabe

    A lot of mentions of the 1989-90 season here and as a Villa Fan I have fond memories of it. But it remains the only season (I think!) that we wore our home shirt at The City Ground, Anfield, Old Trafford and Highbury. The Claret/Red clash was deemed admissible for one season only. Think we wore black shorts at OT as well, but Hummel got around to manufacturing light blue shorts for the live TV game v Arsenal (Chrissy Price!!)

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