In my ‘real’ job as a sports journalist (incredibly, I have to earn money elsewhere as nobody wants to pay me to draw kits), I often find them to provide the most interesting interviews, regardless of which code they may be playing.
In a team sport, they are the individuals. The mistakes are more magnified than anyone else on the pitch (apart from the referee, of course, who is never right, it seems). There is a pressure attached which is more akin to that experienced by an individual sportsman or woman, like a golfer or tennis player.
An attacker can miss 12 chances in a game but if he gets the 13th and it happens to be the matchwinner, he is golden. Unfortunately, an error by a netminder will almost always lead to a concession and, no matter how many saves he makes before or after, it can’t be undone.
Unsurprisingly, goalkeeper kits are also a big interest, as evidenced by the series on adidas strips. While templates are often unfairly given a bad name, I do like seeing how a kit can look in different colours and a club’s goalkeeper shirts usually follow the same pattern.
Perhaps counter-intuitively though, we do feel that there are too many goalkeeper shirts about nowadays.
Around the millennium, someone in power somewhere decided that the two goalkeepers in a game should wear different colours. It seems like overkill here – to the best of my knowledge, there are no instances of anybody confusing a keeper up for a later corner with his opposite number.
The main upshot of this is that most top-level teams now have three options – a perusal of the Premier League kit-tracker gives an idea. It means that the thrill of seeing a goalkeeper in an alternative shirt to his usual one, caused by a clash with the opposition, is largely gone.
In the current landscape, there is still the capacity to surprise though, if a team uses four different colours for GK shirts in the one season – or six in Chelsea’s case in 2019-20. Arsenal have ticked that box on seven occasions (to the best of our knowledge), but it might surprise you to learn that it’s a phenomenon which is 38 years old.
Arsenal’s legendary goalkeeper of the late 1960s and 1970s Bob Wilson did occasionally wear blue – most notably in the 1969 League Cup final defeat to Swindon Town – but, by and large, green was the only colour used by Arsenal and most of the other clubs in the Football League.
The launch of a green and navy away kit in 1982 provided the need for alternatives for George Wood and Pat Jennings when red wasn’t worn. Blue was the most common option, but Wood wore red away to Leeds and Ipswich Town – not the first time the colour was used by an Arsenal keeper, as George Swindin wore it in the 1950 FA Cup final. Away to Middlesbrough in the cup, Jennings wore white with red trim, with the navy shorts making for a Tottenhamesque look.
Arsenal returned to yellow away kits in 1983 and so only rare games against teams in green saw a deviation by goalkeepers, with blue favoured.
In 1992, the new Premier League decreed that referees would wear green instead of their usual black, forcing goalkeepers around the country to change (more overkill, as again the potential for confusion was minimal – and nowadays there are plenty of Premier League examples of a goalkeeper wearing the same colour shirt as the match officials).
Arsenal opted for blue as the first-choice for goalkeepers and though green was marketed as the ‘away’, it was only really used in the cups, where officials still wore black.
As a result, grey became the de facto second choice, but both that and the blue were deemed to clash at Blackburn Rovers early in the season, meaning David Seaman wore red as Arsenal played in their ‘bruised banana’ away kit.
Arsenal played Sheffield Wednesday in both domestic cup finals, and Seaman wore green in both, with special embroidery for each game while he had also taken to removing the collars from the shirts.
As someone with an interest in Gaelic games, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that there is a liking here for goalkeeper shirts which feature the same palette as the corresponding outfield kit.
Arsenal did that in 1998-99, with the club’s official merchandise catalogue indicating that the red home socks would be worn by Seaman and Alex Manninger. As far as we are aware, that never happened and instead the away socks, a darker navy than the shirt and shorts and with yellow trim, were used. In one pre-season friendly, Seaman did wear navy shorts and the red socks, but with the yellow 1997-98 goalkeeper shirt, giving a Colombia-like effect.
As in the previous two seasons – when the main goalkeeper shirt had been yellow – orange was the back-up colour, but Arsenal’s first foray into the Champions League meant that two other shirts were seen, each only once.
The yellow was used in the first group game, away to RC Lens. The French side wore their navy change kit and UEFA must have decided that the orange was too close to the red and white Arsenal kit.
Then, in the return against Lens at Wembley, Arsenal wore a one-off navy third kit as their home and away both clashed with Lens’ red and yellow stripes, meaning Seaman wore green. This shirt differed from the other three in that it didn’t have the ‘braces’ style.
In their first few years with Nike, Arsenal had bespoke outfield and goalkeeper designs, but by the early 2000s they were being given template styles.
This design was seen at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan and, as best we recall, the grey and yellow was the first-choice and the only one retailed.
Oddly, the black was sometimes worn with the navy away kit while Seaman wore the yellow when he made his wonder-save against Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-final while his team-mates were in gold.
The orange was worn by him as he captained Arsenal to victory over Southampton in the cup final, his last game for the club. Previously, it had appeared with the O2 logo in white.
Grey was the main shirt worn – annoyingly, the darker grey shorts matched nothing else, and Manuel Almunia would take to wearing that shirt with the black shorts later in the season.
Like two seasons previous, the choices were sometimes strange as the two-tone blue was worn with the royal blue away kit, most notably when Arsenal lost 2-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford, ending their 49-game unbeaten run.
Not a horrific clash, but surely avoidable – referee Mike Riley wore green and United keeper Roy Carroll was in grey – so perhaps the yellow and black options weren’t available at the time. This theory is given credence by the fact that Almunia wore yellow when Arsenal went back to Old Trafford in the league cup in December.
Note also how Lehmann cut much of the neck off his shirts. The difference can clearly be seen in this picture from the 2006 Champions League final, as Almunia prepares to replace Robert Pires after Lehmann has been sent off.
Again, grey was described as the first choice, but it received far less game-time than the aqua shirt. And, once more, not all choices were logical – Lukasz Fabianski wore the pink as Arsenal played in red at Wolves.
The black shirt, as worn by the emerging Wojciech Szczęsny when Arsenal beat Barcelona in the Champions League, had the same sleeves as the grey shirt rather than having the design contrast.
Jens Lehmann re-signed as short-term cover when Fabianski and Szczęsny were injured and was named as substitute to Almunia for the away game with Blackpool. When Almunia became injured in the warm-up, Lehmann played one last game in the aqua kit, at 41 becoming Arsenal’s oldest Premier League player – Arsenal’s outfielders wore the yellow away rather than the blue 2009-10 away which had seemingly been retained as a third shirt.
The most recent instance, occurring in Arsenal’s last season with Nike. Black was the nominal first choice – Szczęsny, by now the main goalkeeper, preferred to wear short sleeves with a baselayer underneath. That meant that the panels on the lower arm were absent – they would have matched the luminous yellow Nike logos.
When Arsenal launched a new yellow away kit in the summer of 2013, they gave it a unique font for cup competitions, different to the cup font on the home kit. As a result, the goalkeeper kit would match up, as when Fabianski wore purple as Arsenal played in yellow when they went to West Brom in the league cup.
The grey kit was only worn against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, a game where Szczęsny was sent off. Fabianski’s last game was in the green against Hull City in the FA Cup final as Arsenal ended a nine-year wait for a trophy.
A yellow version was available on eBay a few years ago. Whether it was a rejected sample or an actual option available in the kit-room, we’ll never know. If the latter was the case, it represents a missed opportunity for five different coloured goalkeeper shirts.
In 2019-20, Arsenal’s first season back with adidas, Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martinez wore dark green, lime green and blue, but a fourth option seems unlikely, if and when action resumes.