- Two weeks ago, we published a guest article by Jay Mansfield, categorising the acceptability of various types of alternate shorts. It proved so popular that he’s back for more
I shouldn’t have been surprised by how positively the piece on shorts mashup categories was received, as I was curating a retrospective on the work MoJ has put into cataloguing what to kit geeks is a fascinating phenomenon.
Nevertheless, it was pleasing to see so many positively engaging with what we’d done. People on Twitter shared their favourite instances with us, and a couple even placed their example on the scale, which was nice!
(The scale itself is just a bit of fun, and I wouldn’t for a second suggest that people start referring to Manchester United’s next away short selection as a ‘number three on the scale’. But you definitely should.)
As ever with blogs I’ve written, shortly after the piece went live, my brain decided to point out things I’d forgotten to include. So let’s have a further look at the wonderful world of the mashup, incorporating some of the proffered examples mentioned above (most annoying was Denis coming up with the tagline, ‘Something Teamwear, Something Away Kit, Something Blue’).
Leeds United, 1993-1995 (Ray Hyland, via Twitter)
I recently wrote a post on my own blog about modern traditionalism, a phenomenon that proves it’s not just Uefa and the Premier League that think football started in 1992. In it, I observed that Leeds United were a team that for a long while would prefer to wear their away kit rather than wear alternate shorts with their home shirt to manage clashes, such as Arsenal and Celtic do.
I’ve since read that this might have originated as a practice to advertise their change strip; in the early 1970s, Leeds were at the forefront of developing the very concept of replica kits as a commodity. Whatever the reason behind it, when I started watching the game in the early 90s, Leeds would wear their presentable yellow away kit almost as often as their beautiful white Umbro home strip (which, incidentally, I received as an 11th birthday present). The Premier League, however, did away with the shorts-clash rule when it was formed in 1992, and after that Leeds appeared to change their opinion of mashups.
In 1992-93, they combined yellow third shorts with blue away shirts and socks. A year later, they wore change blue shorts with the home kit and home white shorts with the away kit, and then, in 1994, they unleashed the mighty white home shirt with yellow and blue trim, and navy/green shorts combination.
Arsenal, 1990-91 (Phil Hambling, via Twitter)
The beauty of a mashup is in the eye of the beholder, as the old adage goes. Life would be boring if we all had the same notion of what made a nice strip, and most people will have their own reasons for liking or disliking a particular colour combination, or even how many tones are in a colourway.
As a Rangers fan, I’m inclined towards four-colour palettes because the Gers’ home kit is made up of blue shirts, white shorts, and black socks with red tops. I find a certain elegance in kits with this number of colours and while I’m aware that many others would find me insane, there are other examples of how this can work. Spain’s kit of red shirts with yellow trim, blue shorts, and black socks is a historical look they returned to in 2018. Aston Villa’s home strip of 2011-12, which combined the recognisable colour scheme of claret, blue, and white, together with black socks, referenced a colour scheme the club wore for much of the early part of the 20th century.
However, as mentioned in the previous part, combining four colours on a kit requires some kind of forethought and balance, which mashups don’t often allow for. I had invoked Arsenal’s approach during the English top flight’s shorts-clash era of preferring to wear their away kit rather than sully the look of the iconic home strip with alternate shorts, but they weren’t so fussy about the change set.
As the 1988-91 away kit was yellow with navy sleeves and shorts, this created a clash when worn against Southampton. The Gunners’ solution was to wear the home shorts, which actually worked quite well due to a peccadillo of adidas design at the time.
Traditionally, adidas kits have had three stripes in a contrasting colour on the sleeves and shorts. Where you have a team that play in one colour, like Real Madrid, the stripes can be the same trim colour. For Manchester United though, the stripes would end up being white on the red shirts and red on the white shorts.
The German company would appear to have addressed this when they developed side panels to house the shorts stripes in the late 80s, but even this concept was oddly applied. Liverpool’s kits had contrasting white panels where Manchester United’s were complementary red, which worked for the latter but not the former. Similarly, Arsenal’s facelifted new home kit of 1988 had large navy blue short panels. This design choice was so inexplicable that, 30 years later, it inspired an April Fools’ joke by Jay at Design Football.
Oddly enough, this navy element meant the home shorts kind of worked when teamed up with the away shirt, but that couldn’t be said of the next generation pair. Continuing with their contrast panel approach, in 1990 adidas gave Arsenal home shorts with red segments instead. This of course still meant they didn’t match the sleeves, although at least the stripes were navy on both garments.
More pertinently, it now meant that when the home shorts were worn with the away shirts, as at Southampton, the Gunners would turn out in what most well-balanced people would consider a garishly mismatched getup (and which I quite like.) Yellow shirts with navy sleeves and yellow adidas stripes with white shorts and red panels and navy stripes.
Thankfully, if that’s your take, 1991 saw the introduction of yellow alternate shorts for Arsenal, and 1992 saw the end of the shorts-clash rule.
Liverpool, 1995-96 (Gary, via the blog comments section)
Liverpool’s third kit of 1993-96 is probably in my all-time top ten of shirts. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous, as I have done from the first time I saw it. It’s a strip that pointed at a new direction for adidas after the slightly confused collection they issued for the World Cup in 1994 (although, oddly, it predates all of them.)
Not only is it a neat design, and uses the 3 stripes in a different format, the colour scheme of gold and black is a stone-cold classic look. However, Liverpool would discover that, like Arsenal before them, having a red home kit and black away shorts equals trouble in a country where a number of teams play in red and white stripes with black shorts and where short clash rules still exist in some cup competitions…
The full story of how Liverpool ended up wearing their olive green away shorts with the gold shirt can be found here; or, you can just marvel at how bad this is.
Even I’m struggling to find anything good to say about it, and I love strange mashups.
Nottingham Forest, 1992-93 (me, via rummaging)
Finally, while researching this piece, I found another example of a mashup, which I’m not sure fits within the scale. It might also be an example of one that probably isn’t seen anymore, given the short lifespans of club kits now.
In the summer of 1992, Nottingham Forest took part in the annual pre-season Makita Tournament, a two-day knockout tournament sponsored by a power tool company. Leeds United hosted at their Elland Road ground and played Stuttgart in the first semi-final, a harbinger of events to come. Forest played Sampdoria and wore their brand-new Umbro pseudo-retro kit. Both clubs wore white shorts.
The following day, losing to all-white clad Stuttgart in the third/fourth-place play-off, Forest turned to their 1990 vintage previous alternate red shorts. It’s not clear if it was a visibility issue or one of Brian Clough’s superstitions, but it was interesting to see two eras combined in a very pronounced way.
At that time, most English teams kept their kits for two or three years, with home and away replaced in alternating cycles. Matching elements across generations was common (see the Arsenal mashup of 1990-91 above,) but not for 30 years had there been such a change in the way kits were cut.
A year previously, Umbro had re-introduced the now ubiquitous baggy shorts into the British game with Tottenham Hotspur’s new home strip and while their other new kits in 1991-92 had modestly proportioned shorts, they began to get longer and wider in 1992. This was a season when Umbro and Adidas had moved away from their previous design ethos of convoluted geometric patterns to something…’more subtle’ is probably the wrong term, but each designers’ output in the 92-93 season preferred solid blocks of colour.
With virtually every major team’s kit refreshed annually at the same time, we rarely experience now the same slightly jarring juxtaposition of when a club had a new home kit and a year old away kit. For this friendly, Forest combined two generations of kit into one.
The effect was not unlike when a Victorian sandstone building gains a contemporary steel and glass roof section, à la the Reichstag in Berlin. But, while the Reichstag remains as an enduring symbol of German unification 20 years after its reconstruction, inter-generational mashups of this ilk would soon become a thing of the past, killed off by a revenue craze engendered by the Premier League and the Uefa Champions League that gradually saw clubs introduce three, and even four, new kits every season.
The Premier League’s decision that summer to do away with the shorts-clash rule also drastically reduced the number of high-profile occasions when a team would be expected to rummaging through their kit hampers for an alternate.
Conversely, Uefa would later adopt the rule, but this has simply resulted in teams wearing their limited edition European fourth kits more. There have even been occasions recently where shorts-clashes have been permitted in the English Championship; whatever next?!
As a result, those of us that enjoy a good mismatched football strip have to look towards unlikely heroes such as the overly-fussy referee and the slightly deranged kitman to ensure that the mashup lives on.