- As ever, the United Kits website was an invaluable research tool
If you have more than a passing interest in football kits, you’ll be aware that Manchester United often tend to have more than one set of shorts or socks in the same colour, so as to match up with their respective kits.
For instance, in the 2019-20 season, United have appeared in ten different kit combinations across all combinations, with three types of black shorts and black socks as well two different kinds of off-white shorts.
You might look at that and think that it’s a perfect example of why modern football is rubbish, but in fact, United had more than one different set of black socks as far back as 1949, allied with red on the home set and blue on the alternative.
However, it’s only since the beginning of the first adidas era in 1980 that United have doubled up on shorts. We will look at the various instances in different parts, beginning with the 1980s.
Strictly speaking, there are more variants than we will illustrate, as the adidas logo and club crest tended to shuffle between right and left legs, but for the purposes of the article, we are focused on differences in trim colour and/or design.
Recently, we covered the fact that United’s third kit in this season featured an Umbro shirt, adidas shorts and Admiral socks and those shorts one of three types in white, all with different striping.
While United were constant throughout the decade in having white away shirts and blue for the third, the 1980-82 change top and shorts had no red on it at all – though, oddly, the home socks were used in every game where black shorts were worn.
The away shorts would still have worked well with the home shirt in our view, tied together by the white stripes, but a red-striped set was used as back-up.
Away to Sunderland in January 1981, white shorts and socks, trimmed in black, were called upon with the away shirt, but that game was their only outing. The white socks got more of an airing in 1981-82, but the shorts weren’t used at all that season.
A similar scenario, even if the addition of discreet red trim to the white shirt meant that the jerseys formed more of a set and interchangeability could have been employed.
By this stage, United and adidas had become more efficient and two strips were mixed and matched as needed, which would be case for the remainder of the decade.
However, there was an unplanned one-off instance of doubling up as plain white socks had to be purchased at short notice ahead of the league opener at home to Watford in August 1984 – see here for the full story.
Perhaps the oddest example of all of these. During 1988-89 and 1989-90, United had interchanged to good effect, but for the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace, the white shorts used – with the white shirt in the drawn game and with the red in the successful replay – had the red stripes trimmed in white with black in between the stripes.
What happened was that adidas’s ‘three stripes’ were actually applied on a single piece of cloth which was five stripes wide and the taping used on the white shorts was that which had appeared on the black shorts for the previous two seasons. It’s a similar explanation for how Liverpool’s 1988-89 third shirt has striping variances between short- and long-sleeved versions.
For 1990-91, adidas broke with tradition and used blue for the new away kit, but the white shirt was retained for a third season as a third shirt (it would also appear in 1991-92).
United’s home alternative shorts for 1990-92 were the opposite of the cup final set – i.e., black but with the stripe taping which had previously appeared on the white shorts.
The white shirt appeared with these shirts and also the new 1990 home shorts, meaning that it was used with five different shorts styles in its lifespan, three white and two black.