We’ve all fancied ourselves as a kit designer in our time. Who hasn’t picked up a packet of felt tip pens and drawn what we’d like to see our team wear.
How about, though, the 19-year-old who in the mid-1990s sent his efforts to a professional club, who were so impressed by his designs they ended up using his design as their home kit for two seasons?
Studying fashion design at A-level, Scunthorpe-based Peter Williams sent his creations to various clubs including Darlington, who were then in Division 3 (League 2 in today’s money), and led him into a career in which he worked on kits for Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and others.
Here, Peter tells is how he became Quakers’ kit designer:
Can we assume you designed football kits as a kid?
I did, yes. It was around 1983 that I first began to take an interest in football on the TV, I would have been about ten years old. I started to notice the different designs and styling that individual brands were using in their club kits and I began to create my own very crude designs.
What were your influences and favourite kits at the time?
I remember being particularly fond of the Le Coq Sportif Everton shirts but Umbro were the top brand for me throughout the 1980s, with my favourite being their split chest-stripe design used by Watford, Newcastle (away) and Dundee that I’m aware of off. I’ve always liked interchangeable home and away kits and no more than three colours as a rule! I wasn’t very up to date fashion-wise and my first replica shirt was the Scunthorpe United Hobott claret-and-blue-striped home shirt in 1988 – a real belter!
You sent designs to clubs when you were 19, had it been something you had tried in previous years too? And can you remember which clubs other than Darlington you sent designs to, and what their reaction was?
Yes, I left school in 1990 and ended up doing fashion design at A-level, purely out of my interest in football kits and sportswear. I can remember sending designs to a few clubs and brands but, apart from receiving the odd thank-you letter and a couple of meetings with Scunthorpe, Darlington were the only club that were interested in using anything.
Why Darlington? Did you do a design for them specifically, or did the design then come first and you then had to find a club that could wear a white/black kit?
A bit of both really, I think. A design would pop into my head and I’d imagine what clubs colour schemes it would work with. The first one I sent to Darlington was actually a very striking diagonal zig-zag design with a lot of black in the shirt (you can just about see it in the newspaper cutting). They loved that and asked for more designs as I recall.
Why stripes for Darlington? It was not a design they had had since the 1800s.
As it was almost 30 years ago, I’m not sure why I suggested stripes. It was obvious from their recent kit history that as a club, they were open to modern design and there was scope to have more than just a plain white shirt.
Why blue as the accent colour? To tie in with the sponsor logo, or because they had blue in their previous kit?
It was simply due to the blue in the previous kit.
Was it just the shirt you did, or the shorts too?
Just the shirt design was used. The shorts I put with it were black with the shirt stripes used as a cuff on the legs (you can see my full kit in the newspaper cutting too).
How much input did Darlington have with the final design? Did they amend your initial design in any way?
As well as using their own design for the shorts, the stripe configuration was changed slightly too. The main stripe in my original was actually half-black and half-blue, which they interpreted/changed to be black with only a narrow blue centre stripe. The original may have contained too much blue for someone’s liking!
You must have been very proud to see them wear it in the flesh. What are your memories of the first game of the season when they played Rochdale at Feethams?
Yes, I was very proud. To have my ideas used by such an established club like Darlington was amazing and helped my confidence no end. I was lucky enough to be given a free ticket and I was taken out on the pitch and introduced to the fans who, given that they’d just been informed I was a Scunny fan, were very kind and appreciative.
I’d stayed over with relatives in Thornaby the previous night and we’d made a quick visit to Feethams just as a guy was locking the ground up. He asked what we were doing and after telling him I’d designed the new shirt he took me into the dressing room where the kit was hanging up ready for the match. That was pretty special – if only I had a camera with me! The guy locking the ground up turned out to be Billy McEwan!
And as you’re from Scunthorpe, did you go to Glanford Park later that season Darlington were given a 3-0 hiding?!
Alas not, I was living in Bournemouth by then as I’d started a HND in sports and leisurewear design. My little brother was probably a ballboy for the game, though!
What did you get in return from Darlington, money? A free shirt? Or a booby prize such as a season ticket?!
I was very generously given £100 which would have gone towards upcoming college equipment…or cider.
Was designing Darlington’s away kit ever mentioned?
No, they did their own thing with the away.
Did designing Darlington’s shirt help get your placement at Reebok?
It definitely did. When I arrived at Reebok in 1994, the director of product development said he’d seen the Darlington shirt and had liked it. So, when my CV got to him it would have helped a great deal I’m sure. My job was mainly creating range boards using the designers’ drawings, magic markers and photocopier – they didn’t use CAD at all then.
I was asked to come up with concepts for Villa and Bolton but not being very commercially aware, most were a bit far out for the time. They did use a repeat pattern I designed on the Bolton home shorts 1995-97, though.
You say that you went on work on kit development at a manufacturer in Stourbridge and worked on a few shirts, what more can you tell us – which other clubs?
Well, once I’d finished my HND in ’95 I had a freelance spell for Alanward Sports, designing concepts for Leicester, Oxford and Scunthorpe. They used one of mine for the v-neck 1996-98 Leicester kits that seemed to go down pretty well.
Struggling to find a job with a brand, I went for a factory floor job at ARC Sports in Stourbridge. Luckily, they were a Reebok supplier and it turned out I’d previously worked under their new product development manager in 1994, during a placement at RH Lowe in Congleton (a manufacturer for Adidas, Asics and Ribero), who had remembered me favourably.
They didn’t have an opening in product development just then, but I took a job in the warehouse. I hoped to be in the right place at the right time for an opening in product development and surprisingly, only a month later I was working upstairs in product development.
My first ever task was working out collar, neck rib and cuff sizes for the first Reebok Liverpool shirts – I was happy as a pig in you-know-what. We manufactured kit for brands such as Pony (Spurs and West Ham), Reebok (Villa, Bolton, Liverpool), Patrick (WBA), Puma (Leeds, Derby, Wolves) Nike (KNVB, Dortmund, Glasgow Rangers).
The job was mainly to develop designs produced by the customers’ own designers, but I had a few little design jobs along the way but nothing that would be of much interest…even to kit nerds! I left the job and industry in 1999 and have only designed kits as a hobby since.
What are your thoughts on the Darlington kits that have followed in the years since? Their 1995-96 kit (broad black and white hoops) is regarded by fans as one of the best ever, but some have a fondness for yours from 1993-95.
That’s nice to hear! I loved the hooped one too. In fact, I submitted a few designs in 1995 for the next Darlington kits, one of which was hooped. Mine was narrower than what they went with though – more like Queens Park.