By the end of the 2019-20 season, there will have been a total of 11,266 Premier League games played since 1992.
In that time, there have been some horrific kit match-ups, but only four occasions where home teams have been forced into wearing a change kit. We say ‘forced’ as the Premier League rules – in ‘normal’ seasons, with 19-20 a special case as the season overlaps with contracts ending – allow teams, in their final home or away game of a given campaign to wear the following season’s kit. Previously, this was only allowed in the last home game and sometimes sides decided to showcase the away strip.
The instances of necessary change have involved a lack of foresight on behalf of the away side and/or the officials, in each case, with two of those happening in the second Premier League season, 1993-94.
In September of that season, Newcastle United hosted Sheffield Wednesday at St James’ Park and the Owls were unprepared. That summer, they had signed a deal which marked Puma’s first foray into English football but obviously their stripes couldn’t be used and the black away strip was unsuitable, too.
For reasons unknown, they showed up with a white third shirt that had black pinstripes. When Kevin Keegan made referee Roger Dilkes aware, he initially sought for Wednesday to wear Newcastle’s blue away shirts but, as it was the first season of squad numbers, this would have been too confusing.
Instead, Newcastle facilitated the visitors by changing and it didn’t affect them as they won 4-2.
Later that season, Newcastle had to find a special third shirt for their trip to Hillsborough. A week after the Newcastle game, Wednesday found more trouble in their Coca-Cola Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers – officials still wore black in the domestic cups and so the Owls lined out in a set of old Bolton change shirts. It was only after that that Puma came up with a special yellow fourth shirt for Wednesday.
December 1993 saw the only one of the four examples where the away team wore their home kit against the hosts’ change strip (thanks to Michael Dilworth and Ian Herbert for bringing this to our attention).
In 1992-93, Manchester City had worn their purple away kit kit with yellow socks at Blackburn, but it was far from an acceptable situation. City did have a third kit for 1993-94, but it was white, and so this perfect storm caused Blackburn to have to switch.
It would be nearly another decade before the next issue and Newcastle were again involved but this time the Toon were the offenders when they travelled to play Fulham.
While they had a perfectly good black away shirt, they decided to travel with their third, which was an inverse of that, grey with black accents. Referee Barry Knight wasn’t happy with the contrast between that and Fulham’s white, however – similar to 1987, when they had a silver away kit but a special blue one-off had to be worn at Luton Town.
The way to solve the problem was that the hosts had to dig out their away strip as they went 2-0 up only to lose 3-2. Funnily enough, the previous season, Newcastle’s home shirt with change shorts had been deemed okay.
Aston Villa unwittingly gifted their claret and blue colours to West Ham United, so there was a certain irony to the 2008-09 episode that saw the Villans have to deviate from their home strip when the London side visited them.
West Ham had an all-sky blue away strip that season and brought that with them, having been given the go-ahead by the league. Officials tend not to like sleeve-clashes, however, and referee Rob Styles wasn’t pleased with the set-up.
Villa’s away was blue – similar to the Primark uniform – so the solution was for them to wear their 2007-08 white away shirts, with a blank set numbered by merchandising manager John Greenfield and his staff at a half-hour’s notice, but players didn’t have their names on the back. Emile Heskey put Villa ahead as they wore these shirts…
…but while the first half was ongoing another set was being prepared, with the logo of club partners Acorns and players’ names being affixed.
West Ham equalised in the second half and the game finished 1-1. Villa manager Martin O’Neill was unhappy with the result and the sartorial shenanigans, something he expanded on in his notes in the programme for Villa’s next home game, against Hull City:
You will be pleased to know we will be playing in our traditional claret and blue shirts tonight.
I’m sure you were surprised to see our players coming out in an all-white kit for our last home match against West Ham a couple of weeks ago, so perhaps I should explain why it happened.
Essentially, the referee was unhappy because the sleeves of West Ham’s all-blue away kit clashed with the sleeves of our shirts, and I had some sympathy with him in that respect. But the Hammers didn’t seem to have any other kit with them – and the ref was adamant the game wouldn’t go ahead unless the clash was resolved.
Reluctantly, we agreed to change, which meant we had to get our third choice white shirts from the Villa Store warehouse. The ironic thing is that the Barclays Premier League had approved West Ham’s change kit but the referee was unhappy on the day. Quite simply, something had to give, or there would have been no game.
For the sake of all the people who were at Villa Park eagerly looking forward to the action, we decided to change, even though the onus is on the away team to provide alternative colours. I have to say, though, that it was an incredible situation, and one I had never previously experienced, either as a player or a manager. It’s certainly something which should have been sorted out days in advance.