- Ireland Soccer Shirts, run by Eddie O’Mahony, is an invaluable resource
The Republic of Ireland were always likely to stand out in Group 6 of the European qualifying section for the 1986 World Cup.
Placed with the USSR, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland, only Ireland’s presence prevented a complete red-and-white affair. However, as Ireland changed kit for all four of their away games, 16 of the 20 fixtures in the group featured a side in red at home to a team in white. With each of their opponents donning away kits in Dublin, the other four ties were green v white. Incredibly, though, each of the eight games featured a unique shirt style for Ireland, and even then there were further variations within matches.
They began with a home game against the USSR in September of 1984 and while Mickey Walsh’s second-half goal would give them victory, it was one of just two games they would win. The game was the last competitive outing for what is regarded as the ‘classic’ O’Neills Ireland kit, featuring alternating gold and white pinstripes – inspired by adidas’s France style – and three-stripe collar motif. The Soviets had the adidas pinstripe style, with their Communist crest covering the German kit-maker’s logo on the shirt, though it was visible on the shorts.
In this game, Mark Lawrenson wore a long-sleeved shirt with a v-neck, but it wasn’t simply the case that short-sleeved shirts had collars and long-sleeved ones had v-necks. Liam Brady began the game in short sleeves but changed to long and his had a collar.
Ireland’s next game was away to Norway in October and a white version of the pinstripes was used. Unlike the usual strip, though, they also featured on the sleeves and the back of the shirt. The socks were reminiscent of the Le Coq Sportif style.
Ireland lost in Oslo 1-0 and a month later they would also suffer defeat in Scandanavia, going down 3-0 to Denmark.
This was the more usual style, with the raglan sleeves not featuring the pinstripes. The shorts had three white stripes rather than two white and one gold, while the socks were plain. The shield housing the shamrocks on the crest was also removed.
Denmark’s Hummel kit was the same style as Norway’s but with white sleeves and navy trim.
It would be a full six months before the next qualifier, though Ireland did play friendlies in between and there were more variations.
In February 1985, world champions Italy visited Dalymount Park and, with the potential for blue and green to be confused under the floodlights, Ireland wore green shorts with the home shirts. While all-green had been worn in games away to France in the 1970s, this was the first time Ireland appeared in that kit combination in a home game.
Ireland also played Israel and England that spring, with the pinstriped home shirts used but with a v-neck, like the long-sleeved shirt used by Lawrenson against the USSR in 1984.
The Norway game at Lansdowne Road on May 1 saw Ireland play in a kit unlike any seen before or since. Seeking a change in fortunes – they had had four losses and a draw in all games since beaten the Soviet Union – the FAI asked O’Neills to come up with something different, and the manufacturers did that.
A gold band across the chest called to mind the style favoured by Kerry, the most successful county in Gaelic football. Ironically, at the time, Kerry were the only county playing Gaelic games who didn’t wear O’Neills as they had a deal with adidas, but strict GAA rules prevented their logo from being shown (see how it’s taped over on the subs’ tops here).
The narrower stripes added to the somewhat-continental look, while the gold socks – similar to style used in Oslo – were another new departure. The crest had been briefly used in 1983 on the pinstriped shirt. In and of itself, it wasn’t a bad kit at all, but it failed to inspire a turnaround in fortunes and it was retired after the 0-0 draw.
The pinstripes returned for one last time against Spain in Flower Lodge in Cork at the end of May and then, at the start of June, a simpler kit was worn for the 3-0 qualifier win against Switzerland in Dublin.
Stylistically, it was quite similar to the new adidas kit that Liverpool had worn for the first time in the ill-fated European Cup final against Juventus at Heysel in Brussels, and it retained the newer neck style and crest from the shirt against Norway.
The two-bar sock style was the same as that which O’Neills gave to their Gaelic games teams, while the right sleeve featured something very unusual – a rare example of sponsorship on an international shirt in a competitive game. It’s not easy to discern, but there was a logo on the right sleeve, that of Bord Fáilte, the Irish tourist board (now known as Fáilte Ireland – ‘fáilte’ is the Irish for ‘welcome’). It had previously featured on off-pitch gear and the fact that it was a shamrock might have meant that Ireland avoided censure, but its inclusion was an isolated incident.
The Swiss were the only visitors to Ireland during the campaign to wear red shorts as opposed to white and in, the next game, the return fixture in Bern, they were in a reversal.
Ireland almost were, but the previous shamrock crest returned while the neck style was the same as on the green strip.
In Moscow in October, we almost had the only example of the same kit being worn twice in the campaign, but there had to be one change and it was on the shoulder stripes, with the inclusion of one gold between the two green.
The home side were now wearing the same design as Switzerland and their 2-0 win officially confirmed that Ireland wouldn’t qualify.
There was, however, one game remaining, at home to Denmark in November and they slumphed to a 4-1 loss in Eoin Hand’s last game in charge.
Again, the Ireland kit was almost the same, but this time the newer shirt style had the shamrocks on it, albeit in white rather than on a shield. Denmark had begun the campaign with a change kit which was a reversal of their first-choice kit, but with too much red on that, they had come up with a new design, similar to Tottenham Hotspur’s home shirt.
Along with the USSR, the Danes were headed for Mexico, where they would wow the world. Ireland’s next game would be a friendly at home to Wales in March 1986 and it would prove to be a watershed for the country.