By Phil Bowers
Goalkeepers are different, so they say – sometimes, though, they have to be a little more different. Gone are the days when green or yellow were enough, or when Italy’s silver shirt or Lev Yashin’s black outfit were considered severe deviations from the norm.
As kits have become more complicated over the years, and as a result the rules around them have reflected that. So in the last 20 years or so, as goalkeeper kits have used many colours that are regularly used in outfield strips, the rules have dictated that goalies have to change their shirts more frequently.
Take a look at the EFL’s website for the order in which kit clashes have to be resolved to see the goalkeeper’s lot in life – especially if you’re playing away from home:
The order of precedence when determining kit colours for any fixture is as follows:
– Home club outfield
– Away club outfield
– Home goalkeeper
– Away goalkeeper
– Match officials
So, goalkeepers sometimes have to be the ones wearing unique and one-off kits, that are often never seen again. Because of their bespoke nature, they also never normally end up being mass produced for sale. The most famous recent example was Liverpool’s match against Barcelona in last season’s Champions League, where Alisson wore what was described as an ‘alloy coloured’ (i.e. silver) jersey as his black, pink and green shirts were deemed to clash with the officials and Barça’s kit on the night.
As with many others that we’ll soon find out about, Liverpool made it quite clear that this strip would NOT be available in the club shop or to purchase online, and indeed, it was never seen again despite it not clashing with any other kits Liverpool would come up against, and being hugely popular because of Liverpool’s performance that night in beating the Spanish giants.
Alloy, or silver, or grey, or whatever you want to call it, seems to be one of the go-to colours when kit designers and manufacturers need to produce something they are confident won’t clash. Macron had the same policy as New Balance did with Liverpool in 2018, as Jack Butland was prevented from wearing his dark green or light blue strip when Stoke City went to Sheffield Wednesday in September 2018. The dark green home design was judged to be too similar to the referee’s outfit, and the blue clashed with both Wednesday’s predominantly blue home strip, and their sky blue home goalkeeper jersey, so Butland wore and all silver design, that again, was not worn again, or made available to buy.
Stoke though, fell victim to another clash some years before, on their way to the FA Cup Final in 2011. Living and working in the city, and being a goalkeeping geek, when putting this piece together, I’d had a vague memory of Thomas Sorensen being made to wear a one off, but couldn’t remember when, when I asked him on Twitter, he came back straight away..
The clash here was with Stoke’s yellow and black goalkeeper strips both deemed unsuitable – the black because it clashed with Sorensen’s opposite number Marcus Hahnemann, and the yellow because of it’s similarity to Wolves’ outfield kit. Therefore, Sorensen wore a sky blue and white affair – available as an outfield teamwear option – that must have been a good omen, as he saved a penalty and ensured Stoke’s progression to the next round.
When I posed the question about one-off goalkeeper kits on Twitter, it wasn’t just Thomas Sorensen who replied – plenty of people got in touch to show how widespread this is. Plenty of clubs have often needed to deck out their custodian in something never seen before or since, to comply with a rulebook, or on some occasions, a particularly stringent referee (more on that later). Tom Nash highlighted Sasa Ilic’s yellow and black strip from the infamous 1998 play off final between Sunderland and Charlton that was never worn again after that game (and the ‘regular’ Le Coq Sportif template was lime green and purple)
Matthew Hague pointed out this Barnsley kit that was only worn once and never put into mass production:
And Boro Retro gave me an insight into the psychedelic world of Middlesbrough goalkeeper kits with this one off from the 90s:
And even one of the most famous goalkeepers of all time, it turned out, had a special shirt commissioned because he didn’t like the pens that the club had produced for them. During Peter Schmiechel’s days at Aston Villa, he refused to wear the grey Diadora design – he only donned it once, against Varteks in the Uefa Cup) and when the blue version (which he apparently was happy to wear) clashed, he wore a specially made, not-for-sale, yellow and green kits.
Goalkeepers, it turns out, tend to keep track of clashes and on occasion,have been known to anticipate them. Port Vale’s Scott Brown has had two different coloured versions of the same Errea template this season, in blue/turquoise and red/orange.
In December, Vale were due to visit Crawley, who’s kits are also made by Errea. Their home keeper strip is the same as the blue template, so that was out, and the home team’s outfield kit was all red, and would have clashed with the change keeper jersey. Scott pointed this put and a special yellow kit was made for him.
This also got an airing in the home game against Leyton Orient later in the season, as the referee felt the blue clashed with his black outfit, and the red with Orient’s strip.
The advent of teamwear for the major brands has made it easier to produce alternate kits for goalkeepers. In 2018-19, Kepa wore the Nike Gardien template in grey for several games last season, when his yellow or green outfit clashed, and again, this was a non-retail item.
While this shirt wasn’t available as a Chelsea one, it was the same shirt as both Wolfsburg and the New Zealand national team had as their official “home” goalkeeper strip, and was readily available to buy.
So the question then struck me as to WHY shirts like these aren’t available for people to buy. I’m fortunate enough to work as a journalist, so I had a chat with a few kit men and merchandise managers I’ve come across over the years, and most told me the same thing: they’re niche items.
Home or away outfield shirts will always sell in great numbers, while goalkeeper shirts tend not to. Stores will inevitably stock up on fewer goalkeeper strips than outfield ones, particularly in adult sizes, so if there isn’t much call for the regularly worn ones, most manufacturers and clubs don’t see the point in making available a one off for mass production.
For the collector though, there are ways to pick up these little gems. As a Port Vale fan, I’ve been lucky enough to get a few of the club’s one off shirts over the years, mainly when they were heading for the back of a cupboard somewhere never to be seen again. The club’s 2003 goalkeeper kit was made by Vandanel and came in green, and that was it, as it wasn’t thought that there would need to be a change shirt. When Plymouth Argyle rolled into town though, the club’s kitman spotted a problem, so a blue version was made – and after all that, Argyle ended up playing in orange, and won 5-1. It’s not always a good omen, then…