Despite being on opposing sides of Europe in geographical, political and economic terms, World Cup 1974 Group 3 competitors Bulgaria and the Netherlands did have a couple of things in common.
For one, going into the competition both had yet to win a match at a World Cup finals. The Dutch national team were only beginning their great era and were appearing for the first time since 1938 (knocked out after one game as in 1934), while the Bulgarians held a slightly more credible recent record having made it to every edition since 1962, but with seven defeats and two draws to their name over the three tournaments.
The second was something that they shared with nine of the other 14 teams in West Germany, in collectively being the first to appear at a World Cup in adidas-branded kits (including one side, uniquely, bearing both adidas and Umbro trademarks, as already reported on this site).
As per competition branding rules, either a trefoil or stripes only were allowed on adidas teams’ shirts (though Zaire flouted this for their game with Brazil). With Argentina and Uruguay the only two opting for a trefoil on the chest, the main identifier was the three stripes adorning sleeves, shorts and socks of the rest, most of whom had a trefoil on the shorts also.
But, even with kit-maker branding in its infancy, there was already controversy as Johan Cryuff struck a blow against corporate advertising while simultaneously striking a blow for the power of lucrative, personal sponsorship deals, by reducing his own Dutch kit’s three stripes to two in light of his Puma contract.
Group 3 was the only of the groups to contain four adidas-wearing nations, with Sweden and Uruguay filling the other two spots. At a time when black-and-white TV clashes were still very much relevant, Fifa’s kit policy meant that many memorable combinations appeared at this tournament, and others in the era, highlighted even better by the burgeoning colour-TV age.
The Netherlands started against the Uruguayans, a 2-0 victory being the first of four games in a row in the home shirt, but with slightly different configurations in each match.
While black shorts were first-choice for the Dutch at the competition, a white set was used against the South Amercians.
This World Cup became infamous for its bad weather, despite taking place across June and July and in the Netherlands’ next outing, against Sweden – a game made famous by the debut of the famous ‘Cruyff turn’ on the world stage – they wore long-sleeved shirts.
There differed from the previous ones in that a crew neck featured while the black shorts were able to be worn in the 0-0 draw, the Swedes wearing blue shirts and white shorts.
That game was Sweden’s second consecutive scoreless draw, as they had begun with a 0-0 against Bulgaria. In that game, Sweden were in their usual yellow shirts and blue shorts and, with yellow v white considered a clash, Bulgaria appeared in red shirts, white shorts and red socks.
Bulgaria’s home kit of white shirts, green shorts and red socks was used for their 1-1 draw against Uruguay, which was enough to force the latter to use their white away shorts and socks. In order to qualify for the second group phase, the Bulgarians would need to get a result in the final Group 3 game against the Netherlands and hope it would best Sweden’s performance in the other match.
While Uruguay made it three combinations in as many games in Düsseldorf against the Swedes, pleasingly wearing white shorts and black socks with their light-blue shirts, the Netherlands and Bulgaria took to the field in Dortmund for their fifth meeting to date. The Bulgarians had won two of those games, with one win for the Dutch and one draw, and for the last encounter – a World Cup qualifier in Rotterdam in 1969 – both sides had worn their home kits (a time when the Netherlands preferred white shorts as first choice).
In black-and-white footage from the 1969 match, the orange versus white jerseys had appeared distinguishable enough to be repeated, especially since Bulgarian white against the light blue of Uruguay had been fine. But, evidently, orange was considered too light a colour, and since the only option available to the Dutch was also white, it was up to the Bulgarians to change.
Of course Bulgaria’s own only option was red, which on paper certainly seemed to be more of a clash against orange than white would be. With white shorts and red socks going up against the black shorts and orange socks of the Dutch, the middle of the kits would be the only sections to be on completely opposite sides of the colour spectrum.
Surely the solution for the Dutch would have been to also wear their away kit, perhaps even with a tasty black-shorted mash-up for kicks, but maybe wearing white against a side who usually wear the colour would have been too confusing and farcical. They did wear short sleeves this time, however, making it a slightly different uniform from last time in our book.
The orange men ended up dominating the game and progressing with a 4-1 victory, while Bulgaria were sent on their way. From here, the Dutch would wear white shorts and white socks (strangely non-adidas off-brand models) with the home shirt against Argentina; orange, white and orange again against both East Germany and hosts West Germany as defeated finalists; and white, white, orange against Brazil finally in an away-shirt-v-away-shirt match, meaning that the Bulgarian game had been the last of the tournament where the black shorts were used.