Northern Ireland’s irreplaceable kit

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When adidas launched their new international away kit collection ahead of the World Cup in March 2018, there was a general positive reaction, if not global approval for the striking fresh designs.

Spain got a cool silvery white with pinkish red trim, Russia’s similarly coloured shirt looked the part with teal round neck, cuff and shoulder stripes and Argentina’s black with light blue and white diagonal chest stripes was a popular throwback to a similar adidas template from the 1990s.

Outside of the teams heading to the World Cup, Wales fans were glad to see the back of their previous grey/black away kit and anything would have been welcomed as a new look. Despite that, the white horizontal shadow design with green trim and shoulder stripes was a real winner.

It’s a design that would have been a perfect fit for Northern Ireland, but adidas decided to be bold with the new away kit and seemingly ditched the white which had been worn against Wales in Euro 2016 and through the 2018 World Cup qualifiers:

The new design was the same as Wales’ and the colour described as ‘ice blue’. Although the trim and shorts were said to be a darker shade of blue, they are more like a teal.

Rolled out for the first time in a 2-1 friendly win over South Korea, the kit was popular among fans, possibly due to its uniqueness among Northern Ireland kit colours. Its second airing came in Northern Ireland’s next competitive away game, in the Nations League in October 2018 when Austria’s decision to revert to red and white as their first-choice colours after years of playing in white and black meant a change for the Irish – although playing in all-green on their previous visit to Vienna in October 2005 was sufficient.

The Sky Sports commentators mentioned the unusual colour for a Northern Ireland kit – but they revealed that in the next game away to Bosnia they would be playing in a white kit. For the first time in history, Northern Ireland would be required to wear a third kit, as the new away version clashed with Bosnia’s royal blue.

Bosnia had worn white shirts in Belfast a month earlier, but – despite their protestations – had been forced to wear the blue shorts from their home kit to avoid a clash. It is worth remembering that, as few international teams play in green, it was rare for Northern Ireland to have to don even a second kit before marketing took over and away kits began to be worn even when not required due to a clash. Or is it FIFA and UEFA being hugely over pedantic when it comes to what they designate as a clash?

Outside of the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals and qualification meetings with the Republic of Ireland in the late 1970s, late 1980 and early 1990s, Northern Ireland had only worn a change kit four times in that period: two pre-World Cup friendlies in France in both 1982 and 1986, a European Championship qualifier in Yugoslavia in 1987 and against Scotland in 1983 when we’d played in white – previous times they’d played in all green to avoid a dark-light-dark clash when black and white TV was still common.

Northern Ireland even had an early 1990s blue away kit, produced by Umbro after they took over from adidas in 1990, which was never worn by the senior international team. Almost 30 years on, it is now a cult favourite because of being left on the shelf.

The link to that 1987 game was that it was the only time Yugoslavia ever played an international in Sarajevo and a year after playing their first competitive game there Bosnia chose to take Northern Ireland back to the Grbavica Stadium. One question remained to be answered though. Would Northern Ireland dig out the previous white away kit from cold storage, had adidas badged up a template kit or even produced a one-off bespoke version?

Throwing an IFA crest onto the Wales kit would have sufficed, but it was to be something of an anti-climax when the old kit, which was last worn during the disappointing World Cup play-off exit to Switzerland 11 months before, was unveiled. This time, however, it would be mashed up with the current home shorts to create an all-white look against the Bosnians.

The shirt had been used in an all-white kit on one previous occasion, a World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in June 2017, but back then the home shorts had blue stripes to tie in with the blue sleeves and chest stripe on the home shirt so looked a little out of place. This time, looking out of place were the blue names and numbers, which had been taken from the new away kit, rather than reverting back to the previous style in green on that particular shirt.

The ice blue kit was back for a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in November, with no issues caused by that and the south playing in green. ‘Blue and green should never be seen’ does, however, seem to be a mantra that FIFA/UEFA have taken up.

When Estonia arrived in Belfast for the opening Euro 2020 qualifier in March 2019, they reverted to their white away kit, despite never changing in any previous meeting with Northern Ireland. That then raised a question over which kit Northern Ireland would wear when they would go to Tallinn for the return fixture.

If blue v green wasn’t allowed and Northern Ireland’s ice blue away would definitely cause a clash – FIFA/UEFA’s kit clash department would go into meltdown at the merest suggestion of a royal blue v light blue clash despite it being acceptable in domestic games and even the 2019 Carabao Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester City – was Northern Ireland’s white kit going to live on into a fourth year?

There was no clue when the players came out for the warm-up. White shorts and green socks indicated that the home kit was possibly going to be worn. Those pesky socks were a red herring for kit nerds though as when the players emerged for the game – without the normal ‘anthem jackets’ due to the heat in Tallinn – it was once again in the white shirts.

When Northern Ireland then travelled to Belarus three days later, another element of the old away kit was given a surprise revival. In order to avoid a shorts-clash with Belarus in all-white, the green shorts last worn in Switzerland made a comeback. This, however, created something of a mismatched mashup. Back in October 2014, a trip to Greece saw something similar, with the white stripes and trim of the away shorts not quite going with the darker green shirt with light green trim. In Borisov, the shirts and shorts were two different shades of green. All this meant that in four competitive away games during the 2018-19 season, Northern Ireland never wore the same kit twice, with three different shirts used.

With adidas set to roll out a fresh tranche of home kits for their international teams in November and away ones to follow in March 2020, it is likely that we’ve seen the last of Northern Ireland in this particular white number. Away games against the Netherlands and Germany in the Euro 2020 qualifiers and a friendly in the Czech Republic won’t necessarily dictate a change from green, but even if they do, the ice blue will get an outing before it is retired next spring. If it is retired.

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