By Ray Hyland
- This is the third part of a series – part 1 is here and part 2A is here. The long delays in between are solely my fault and I thank Ray for his patience
So here we were. The last hurrah for English top-flight football pre-Sky TV. One more year of Elton Welsby and Jim Rosenthal: a last season of sporadic rather than Super Sundays and unreliable goal highlights from the regional ITV channels.
In other stories related to football, we were still awaiting Division 1’s first £3m player, with Dean Saunders’ move from Derby to Liverpool (£2.9m) the highest in the summer of 1991. For context, Spain, Italy and even France had already long since passed £4.5m – the lack of European football was a factor, presumably, but the ban was fully lifted in 1991.
Stadiums across Britain were remnants of post-war functionality; brutal, but not without their charm (with the pitches themselves often bereft of grass for an entire winter: see Reading’s Elm Park). In fact, most of them didn’t yet have the audacity to call themselves stadiums. Terraces often accounted for over 25% of a ground’s capacity with the biggest being Old Trafford at roughly 45,000. The post-Hillsborough disaster Taylor Report in 1990 had however given them a life expectancy of just a few more seasons. There were big evolutionary changes afoot.
Which brings us nicely along to the reason you all come here. To spend some time browsing and hopefully learning! The jerseys of 1991 and onwards, specifically those of a Matchwinner variety.
The brief history lesson is basically to provide context. The post-Italia 90 era was beginning to really take hold and that the average fan in Britain was perhaps taking on a different look. Replica kits were now a staple of most matchgoing fan’s wardrobe. What had for the past few years has been a burgeoning industry was now very much part of most club’s business plan. A tangible means of getting more money from a fan’s pocket.
The first club to jump on it in a big way was Tottenham. The release of their 30-plus page merchandise catalogue (given away free in Shoot! magazine, as I recall) was the brainchild of their marketing executive Edward Freeman, who would end up selling pencil cases and men’s briefs a few seasons later at Manchester United (to great effect, it must be said).
Spurs were, of course, at the forefront of fashion. Their FA Cup final victory over Nottingham Forest in May had seen many era-defining moments, not least their almost knee-touching long shorts. Umbro were again pioneering fashion as they had done all through the late 1980s and, this time, British football was arguably going back to go forward.
For their part, Matchwinner were in still in thrall to the big guns, subtly taking their cues from more illustrious brands. Hereford United and Oxford United had shoulder stripes not unlike the Adidas Equipment look of the same season – in the past, MW had taken the courtesy of waiting a season to copy others!
Outside of the adidas homage, Kilmarnock sported a curious-looking home kit that sported white shoulders that tapered into a chevron shape before continuing with traditional blue and white stripes. Meanwhile, Queen of The South’s brushstroke 1990-94 kit was perhaps a subtle tribute to Liverpool’s snowflake-esque kit.
Similarly, in 1991 Clydebank brought out a kit that perhaps offered a glimpse into the future. The age of the public transport upholstery look was truly upon us (though this particular number would only last a year).
At the far end of the respectability scale, arguably the coolest kit of the lot belonged to St Mirren. This away shirt would surely have been the envy of any New Zealand rugby fan at the time – the Buddies beating Manchester United by two years in having the first all-black kit in British football.
By and large, however, the summer of 1991 was one of consolidation for MW. The designs that appeared the season previous (tidy button-down collars, neat trim on the shorts) were developed slightly with the likes of Wigan Athletic, Rotherham United, Torquay United and Lincoln City displaying good examples that August. Flashy inverted MW-like logo trim on the pocket of the shorts was the only huge flourish, nicely exemplified by Dundee, who followed up their excellent 1989-91 efforts with only a slight tweak to the collar colour. All very respectable. Lovely stuff.
Even the Reading kit, which employed a pattern which saw it compared to television interference, wasn’t totally in your face.
Of course MW were not going to be household names around the world given the teams they worked with. In modern social media terms, they would be likely to end up in a celebrity boxing match with the likes of Ribero around this time. They weren’t Influencers yet. But that was soon to change. And it was maybe thanks to another company called, well…Influence
Portsmouth had a memorable 1991-92. Pompey were FA Cup semi-finalists, perhaps unlucky not to beat a Liverpool team who rode their luck twice before winning a replay on a penalty shootout. But look closely at those semi-final kits – see anything familiar?
If Tottenham’s baggy long shorts had provided one source of merriment from North London that summer, then Arsenal’s bruised banana had surely given us another. And yet, despite a defeat in mucky Wrexham in January 1992, the jersey has always retained a cult following. So much so that Adidas has kindly brought it back as part of their originals line in 2019. Just in time for Christmas, with the less said about the eye-watering RRP, the better.
Anyway, this design, or at least the pattern, was apparently up for grabs, as Brian Moore would say – a situation I’m quite sure would never happen nowadays. And so Influence got in there with Portsmouth and MW got in there with erm…Morton. In time, the pattern would be used by a multitude of MW clubs, generally from 1992 onwards, right up to 1995.
So, much like British football itself, Matchwinner seemed intent on keeping the fireworks stored away for one last summer. But oh boy, were they coming.