By Daniel Gellatley
- We highly recommend checking Daniel’s own blog, Kitted Off
In late 2013, adidas unveiled the new home kits of its leading teams that would be showcased at the World Cup the following summer (well, technically winter – the northernmost venue in Manaus was a little over 200 miles south of the equator).
The launches sparked controversy – Argentina, Colombia, Germany and Spain weren’t looking familiar, their players were posing in shorts and socks that didn’t quite sit right with the shirt.
We’re so used to Argentina and Germany in black shorts, Colombia in the colours of their flag and Spain at least in shorts of some shade of blue – they’ve been playing fast-and-loose with their socks since 2010.
Many sources attributed this to article 35.2 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Regulations:
Each team shall inform FIFA of two different and contrasting colours (one predominately dark and one predominately light kit) for its official and reserve team kit (shirt, shorts and socks). In addition, each team shall select three contrasting colours for the goalkeepers. This information shall be sent to FIFA on the team colour form. Only these colours may be worn at the matches.
This was why those kits looked as they did…or so we, including me, thought. That paragraph was pretty much the same as the regulations for the 2010 championship – ‘pretty much’ because the only difference was the number 3 was parenthesised next to the word. However, as adidas have been Fifa partners since 1970 and will continue to be until at least 2030, they may have some insider knowledge of each team having to sport low-contrast attire.
To complement the guidelines for each of their tournaments, FIFA have a set of general regulations to be adhered to for matches under its auspices. The one we’re concerned about here would be the FIFA Equipment Regulations. Article 5.6 of the document states:
The Official Equipment and Reserve Equipment of a Member Association must be clearly distinguishable based on the principle of light and dark contrast of used Colours irrespective of the prevailing conditions, such as weather and light. Member Associations may provide additional Reserve Equipment to achieve a clear distinction and differing visibility from the Official Equipment.
These regulations came into effect in April 2010 and remained so until October 2015, thus covering the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. They were definitely enforced in South Africa, for the most part anyway, but the lack of fanfare allowed that ship to sail past virtually unnoticed.
There may be no truth to the rumour at all; there was no official mention from Adidas regarding these changes and it could may have well been them meddling with the colour schemes of its assets, just like what Nike did with its controversial Vapor range a couple of years later. Nevertheless, I started this piece wanting to look into how the participants deviated to accommodate to these supposed rules so – to namedrop the closing track of Queen’s Innuendo – the show must go on.
It would be sacrilege for the hosts to switch from blue shorts and white socks to go with their yellow jerseys but on matchdays, flexibility is tolerated. Paired with a blue change strip that came with white shorts, this allowed interchangeability given four of their seven games featured those shorts with the home kit. The remaining three saw them in their traditional look, including the Mineirazo, the 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany. but the decades of success that has come wearing yellow, blue and white means there would be no drastic change, à la the shame of 1950. On a sidenote, they were due to fall victim to the Vapor overhaul but thankfully they escaped wearing yellow shorts in its lifespan.
There was also a dark green kit for the Seleção but that never got a proper outing, only being used in training sessions.
It wasn’t the only dark ‘third’ strip to be produced for them through the decade which did not get any game time, only existing for the sake of merchandising (though one made a few cameo appearances at an U20 World Cup).
Initially slated to play the opening game against the hosts in their change strip, the Croatian FA’s request to kick off the tournament in their chequered shirts was approved, as uncharacteristic as that seems.
Because of this, Croatia played all three of their games in their iconic red-and-white jerseys – a real rarity at a major finals.
If Fifa had declined, would Croatia be in all-blue with Brazil in white shorts or would the integrity of the hosts’ home colours be maintained and the Balkan side be the one in white shorts instead? Either way, common sense prevailed.
Which of Mexico’s strips was the light or dark one came down to the shorts and socks; if they swapped places with the USA in Group G, a third kit may have been needed (or Portugal’s white change would have got an outing, seeing as how the draw panned out).
Unlike the rest of Adidas’s high-profile names, El Tri did keep their traditional colours but the socks took a compromise, with the bottom half being white. As the designated away team against Croatia, an interesting combination came to be as the change shorts were paired with the home shirt, the ‘home’ side in white socks instead of their usual blue meant Mexico’s change socks were called into action as well.
Come the Round of 16 tie against the Netherlands, a different pair of white socks were dispatched – predominantly one colour to avoid confusion with the opponents’ orange set.
Africa’s perennial team at the finals arrived with two interchangeable kits both comprising of green, red and yellow, ensuring all Group A teams had to diverge at some point against each other. Their first game saw an appearance of yellow shorts, which was not the primary choice of either kit, with matching shirt and home socks against Mexico. The home kit was worn for Cameroon’s next two games, in its default state against Croatia and with the red change socks in the final group game against the hosts.
An all-white third kit made its debut in a warm-up match against Macedonia but it was surplus to requirements come the main event.
The theory of adidas being in the loop with Fifa can be thrown out of the window because Spain’s home kit wasn’t deemed light enough by the governing body, with their change being all-black.
A rare sight on football’s biggest stage – a third kit – in all-white was hastily produced for their opener with the Netherlands as FIFA insisted the Dutch (as the designated away team) should be in blue.
The reigning world champions wore three kits in as many games as they became the second of three consecutive title holders to fall at the first hurdle.
What do we expect of the Dutch? Orange shirt is a given but what’s below the torso changes with the seasons.
This time, it was the turn of the white shorts and orange socks for the KNVB’s 125th anniversary, complete with the throwback lion rampant crest which has remained since.
As with to 2006, all-orange was the preferred home choice but it seemed to be borne out of necessity. The white shorts did eventually come out to play, in the semi-finals against Argentina, and rightly so. It could have been possible that either side were required to fully change, avoiding a light-v-light matchup but for a tie with such a pedigree on the biggest stage, I’d rather not think about it.
A purported throwback to their maiden appearance in 1974 (as new shirts were worn for that tournament), Nike produced a shirt with a v-insert collar and brought back white socks for the Socceroos. Finished off with dark green shorts, the American firm shunned these apparent contrast guidelines. Yellow shorts were called upon for their opening tie against Chile but green ones were used against the Netherlands and Spain – both in their change strips – causing a greater clash in both instances.
On the surface, and taking into consideration what’s been mentioned in the first two paragraphs, you could say it was uneventful campaign for Colombia on the kit front.
Alas, the white socks they wore for the World Cup were plainer than the navy-and-yellow-topped pair used during their mini tour of the Low Countries in November 2013. If it was the result of more tinkering from the authorities, Germany coped with their white socks having red-and-black tops, donning them a couple of times against teams in all-red. The original pair weren’t seen again as the new socks were kept on post Brazil.
Colombia’s away shorts and socks with the home shirt would have made for a more traditional-looking mashup, but such an opportunity did not arise.
The Three Lions’ home shorts had been alternating between navy and white with each new kit launch since 2007, with the latter conveniently getting its time in the sun for another World Cup.
A request to play in red against Uruguay was declined due to a supposed clash with the match officials’ uniform, who were in yellow on the day.
A more plausible reason would be with Uruguay’s goalkeeper being clad in orange all tournament, even though black was on standby for their custodians. Too much administrative work for FIFA to deal with, I guess.
The four-time champions were another to apparently fall foul to these guidelines, all three appearances coming in all-blue despite the home being launched with white shorts. Then again, their opponents were all in white but they didn’t need to adapt.
The Alpine state likes to keep things simple, red and white kits with components that can be seamlessly swapped around and this was exactly the case.
The red kit was the only one called upon but only once in its proper layout. Red shorts were used from their second game until their exit in the next round.
Unlike their neighbours to the north, Ecuador stayed true to their colours. Although it may seem they had nothing to shout about, it got relatively lively against the Swiss as they were forced to ditch their white shorts of the change kit for the blue pair from the home.
What other choice did they have? Force the opposition to play the entire tournament in all-red; wear their home outfit as well but break the tricolour by bringing out the reserve white socks, or follow the under-20s’ lead on their big stage and use the blue set?
Another one in Nike’s portfolio sticking to their guns, France came to the tournament packing their tricolour kit but it never got a full outing.
Only appearing twice in five games, the dark blue home shirt was worn with the matching change shorts on both occasions – a look that became the default for when they hosted the European Championships two years later. The home shorts did see the light of day with an all-white ensemble against Ecuador, in another fine showcase of interchangeability.
As with their opponents, it took until the semi-finals for things to get exciting for Argentina. After going through the whole competition so far with no deviant, black shorts were reunited with the iconic stripes but with matching socks too – a combination reminiscent of decades gone by albeit with darker stockings this time.
Fifa’s mandate to combat clashing components was honoured for sure, but that’s been the case since 1998, barring a few exceptions. I don’t think anyone had problems telling apart the players in Ecuador’s games against Honduras and France but ideally, yellow vs white clashes should be discouraged I think. All in all, this furore was most likely caused by someone interpreting Fifa’s regulations their way and drawing parallels to the new Adidas kits, whipping up mass hysteria in the process.
Skip forward one year, to the Women’s World Cup in Canada, some of these principles were discarded. Some teams were back looking normal and more controversially, two-tone socks were all the rage for adidas with Nike also giving the USA a similar design, which could have made judging close offside calls a nightmare. If miscoloured ankle tape was forbidden in 2010 for that reason, how was this permitted on a mass scale – by one of their partners no less – five years later?
Discretion falls to multiple Fifa officials who are all (debatably) human at the end of the day. They each have their own thoughts on proceedings, hence why these inconsistencies occur, as anti-climactic as that sounds.