By David Reynolds
As a fan of proper long-sleeved shirts, Papa Bouba Diop has a lot to answer for, in my opinion.
I can remember watching Match of the Day in season 2004-05 and watching Fulham playing in a rather attractive Puma kit, with one white sleeve and one black – however, one Fulham player had the lower part of his sleeve as black on the white side, which confused me.
Upon closer inspection, Diop was wearing something I’d never seen before, a long-sleeved baselayer under a short-sleeved shirt. I’m not suggesting that Diop was the very first player in the UK to do this, however he was the first I’d seen doing so. Within around 12 months, the trend had well and truly caught on elsewhere.
Oddly, Diop wore both white and black baselayers with this kit and the next Fulham home strip:
It was in 2005-06 that I noticed players from my own club – Hibernian – had started to wear baselayers under their short-sleeved shirts. There were nevertheless still a few who preferred a proper long-sleeved shirt. During this period, it would appear that the players supplied their own baselayers to be worn as it was all a bit of a mish-mash. As covered in a previous article by Museum of Jerseys, during the 2007 League Cup final Hibs players wore a number of different-looking outfits: a couple had white baselayers, another had a navy baselayer, one wore regular long sleeves and another cut his long-sleeved shirt short (notable as the long sleeve shirt had a bizarre underarm stripe not present on short-sleeved versions) with the rest in regular short sleeves.
Fast-forward a few years and many clubs and/or brands had completely eschewed the long-sleeved shirt in supplying short-sleeved shirts for their players completely and just supplying baselayers on demand to those who wished to cover their lower arms.
Again, with my area of expertise being my own club, Hibernian, they did dabble with this approach. From 2008-13, no Hibernian outfield player wore a regular long-sleeved shirt, even though every kit worn during this period was retailed with both long- and short-sleeve options. Whether this was for ease or a financial reason, only short sleeves were supplied to the playing squad. The club did have a couple of players who are known to have a penchant for a long-sleeved shirt, like Scott Robertson and Leigh Griffiths, but they were not able to wear their preferred shirt type.
This practice came to an end in 2013 when Hibs partnered with Nike – well, Just Sport Pro – and for the 2013-14 season, players were able to use long-sleeved shirts, with Scott Robertson being one of the first to do so that season. The Hibernian and Nike/Just Sport Pro deal ran until the end of 2016-17 season, with the remaining seasons having one of the two kits available in long sleeves. For 2014-15, you could get the home in long sleeves but not the away while in 2015-16 and 2016-17 it was the other way round, with only the away available in long sleeves.
In 2017, Hibernian partnered with Macron and every kit they have supplied has been produced in both sleeve lengths, with the exception of the 2018-19 third kit. Despite the availability of both lengths, the majority of players who chose to have long sleeves opted to do so in the form of a baselayer under short sleeves. The notable exceptions were Jamie Maclaren, Florian Kamberi and Scott Allan, who flew the flag for proper long sleeves on a regular basis, with others choosing to do so less often.
After that digression to Hibernian, I want to get back to the focus of the article, which was the decline of the long-sleeved shirt and the rise of the baselayer in the last decade and a half. As more and more clubs and/or brands are dispensing with long-sleeved shirts, there are some inconsistencies in their application in terms of colours and one contradiction comes to mind from the current season.
Several clubs who have been supplied Puma shirts by their UK licensee Genesis Sports, are choosing to interpret how base layers should look differently. The rules as set out in the guidance supplied by the governing bodies state that the colour of the baselayer should match that of the sleeve of a regular long-sleeved shirt. Barcelona were caught out by this in 2013-14 – they started the season wearing blue baselayers, however, the long-sleeve version of the shirt had the sleeve fade to grenadine and therefore grenadine baselayers were required.
Bringing this back to Puma in 2019-20, Barnsley, Plymouth Argyle and Oxford United are three of the clubs using the template with a large contrast cuff at the end of the sleeve. The difficulty here, is that there is no long-sleeve versions of the shirt manufactured to draw comparison from and, as a result, the clubs have taken different approaches to the baselayers used.
Barnsley, with a large white cuff at the end of a red sleeve, have chosen a red baselayer – in my eyes, this is the ‘correct’ interpretation as, if there was to be a long-sleeve version of the shirt made, it would have either a red band in the middle of the sleeve or, alternatively, the cuff would drop the bottom of the sleeve. Rotherham United have the same style but with a white sleeve and red cuff and they have a similar approach, using a white baselayer.
Both Oxford United and Plymouth Argyle have taken a different interpretation. Like Rotherham, the Oxford shirt has a contrasting sleeve colour in navy. In my eyes, logic would dictate that the base layers used would be navy to create a look like Rotherham but Oxford have decided to go with yellow baselayers. As a self-confessed pedant, I am not a fan of this. I do think, though, that it gives a better aesthetic than the approach that Plymouth have taken. Their shirt this year is a basic, but pleasant, affair – a bottle-green shirt with white cuffs, but, somewhat surprisingly, the shirts have been paired with white baselayers which shows that the Plymouth interpretation is that the long-sleeved version of the shirt would be much like the Barcelona shirt of 2013 as opposed to the Arsenal shirts of 2010 or 2012. In 2010-11, the red at the end of the Gunners’ sleeves was treated as a cuff; on the 2012-14 shirt, the red and navy were considered stripes and remained in the same spot on the long-sleeved version.
Things would be made a lot easier if manufacturers would supply both types of shirts, but it appears that, if you are a smaller club supplied by a large manufacturer, that won’t be happening any time soon. Puma licensees aren’t by any means alone in not supplying clubs or nations with long-sleeve shirts. Puma introduced Evoknit as their main technology in 2018 and long-sleeved shirts have been thin on the ground since then.
Adidas stopped supplying their tier 2 teams with long sleeves in around 2015, including the likes of Scotland (who were relegated from tier 1), Wales, Northern Ireland and club sides like Ipswich, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and West Bromwich Albion. This initially resulted with in-house attempts at creating long-sleeved shirts by Ipswich and WBA for the likes of Brett Pitman and Joleon Lescott respectively. Ipswich took the sleeves from a Stripes 15 teamwear shirt and stitched them on, while West Brom added plain white fabric and transposed the cuffs of the short-sleeved shirts to the wrist (compare the ‘long-sleeved’ shirt (6) with the baselayer (8) below).
Adidas have also now withdrawn long-sleeve options for some of their tier 1 clubs, meaning even Cristiano Ronaldo can’t get his favoured long-sleeved shirts at Juventus. Arsenal, the last great bastion of long-sleeved shirts, don’t provide their players with that option anymore, either.
If you look at the newest teamwear catalogue, many shirts have in small print the words, “Combine with Alphaskin for long-sleeve option”. In 2017, adidas further streamlined their premium kit levels, meaning even the likes of Ajax, Benfica, Olympique Lyonnais and Rapid Vienna were downgraded to tier 2. In a simplistic look at adidas’s streamlining – in 2012, they supplied Scotland with six different versions of their home and away shirts, Formotion in both sleeve lengths (loose-fitting player version), Techfit in both sleeve lengths (tight-fitting player version), and Climacool in both sleeve lengths (replica for retail purchase); by 2015, short-sleeve Climacool for both player and fan was the only option.
Nike are similarly stingy when it comes to supplying their top sides with long-sleeve options. Chelsea do not supply their players ‘Vapor’ shirts in long sleeve, and likewise Inter Milan can’t offer long-sleeves aficionado Romelu Lukaku his preferred type of shirt. If your club is a smaller one supplied by Nike or their licensees, it depends on the luck of the draw as to whether your clubs shirt is available in the catalogue as a long-sleeve option, an option that is becoming rarer with each passing year.
Its not all doom and gloom. The lucky few like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have contracts with the big manufacturers and get both shirt types. Macron, Umbro and Hummel are not only doing fantastic work on the design front for their clubs, but also are willing to supply both sleeve lengths to their partner clubs.
Hopefully, the likes of Scott Allan at Hibs, Olivier Ntcham at Celtic, Ryan Kent at Rangers, Sam Clucas at Stoke and Jordy de Wijs at Hull City stay strong and maintain the demand for the production of both sleeve lengths and we can only hope that this helps create a renaissance for the humble long-sleeved shirt.