Cold War Classic, no. 14 – Poland v Mexico, 1978 (feat. West Germany)
By Joey Smith
If you’ve been keeping track of our progress here at the Cold War Classic, you’ll know that the only Eastern Bloc countries yet to cover at this point are Romania and Poland. And since Romanian kits have been extensively examined on this site already, it seems only fair to give the Poles their day (that’s not to say we won’t come back to Romania too).
Background – Poland
Poland rightfully boast a grand World Cup tradition, as any country who can look back upon a spot at a pre-WW2 tournament – in this case 1938, an ominous year for the nation – have a right to be proud of their classic football history. Despite a defeat to Brazil in the first round, and hence elimination after just one game, the Poles could claim the moral consolation of holding the South Americans to a 4-4 draw over 90 minutes, before eventually coming out on the wrong side in a 6-5 epic.
More importantly, their national badge of an eagle over a red field had been seen for the first time on the highest stage, representing a proud people just before some of their darkest days.
It would be 36 years before Poland again appeared at a World Cup, with the now communist state qualifying for a trip to West Germany 1974. This Germany of course was also a new entity to the one that had invaded Poland in 1939, although many Nazi sympathisers remained in positions of power.
Still, like East Germany at the same World Cup, the historical significance of the host nation can’t have been lost. But despite any hard feelings, the Polish squad turned up again in some very ‘German-style’ adidas attire.
Their first three games back in the big-time produced some incredible results: 3-2, 7-0 and 2-1 victories over Argentina, Haiti and Italy respectively. Far more excitingly for the likes of you and I, however, was the fact that three slightly different kits were used.
A long-sleeved white home shirt with white wrapover crew-neck was worn for the games against the Argentinians and Haitians, initially combined with the white shorts/red socks of the away kit before the first preference red shorts/white socks were seen versus Haiti. When facing the Italians the home kit remained, but now with the short-sleeved – or ‘warm-weather’ – version of the jersey, which featured a v-neck collar and a black trefoil.
It was not uncommon for warm and cold weather versions of the ‘same shirt’ to have slight differences like this beyond sleeve length, sometimes later even extending to finer elements of design. But then, contradictory to that trend, in the second group stage Poland wore their red away shirt twice: once with long sleeves and white shorts/red socks against Sweden, and once with short sleeves and red shorts/red socks against West Germany – both had round-necks.
Rather than a straight reversal of the home-style, the away collar was non-wraparound and white, along with the cuffs, to nicely contrast the red of the shirt, and for us the short sleeve version may the nicest Poland shirt ever. The appearance of another adidas trefoil on the chest, now with wordmark, in addition to the one on the shorts was, in theory, against tournament regulations, but a couple of sides managed to get away with it.
More wins over Sweden and Yugoslavia had put a clearly great squad within touching distance of the final, but a 1-0 defeat to the hosts meant that they had to settle for a third place victory over Brazil, again in the all-red. But amazingly, for the sixth time in seven matches Poland were playing in a different kit, as this short-sleeved top was a red-on-red v-neck with no wordmark under the higher positioned trefoil, and a smaller crest.
Poland would only have to wait four years for a shot at revenge against the West Germans for knocking them out in what was effectively a semi-final, as they were drawn to play each other in the opening fixture at World Cup 78 in Argentina. Across all six Poland matches at the tournament, the adidas ‘World Cup Dress’ template of long-sleeves with round-necks was going to be worn (this was a southern-hemisphere winter after all) providing more consistency than last time. In a competition brimming with mostly adidas, there was one other unique aspect of the Polish kit that set them apart. But we’ll get to that below.
An anti-climactic 0-0 draw was played-out against West Germany on June 1, 1978, in red-white-red away colours with a shirt extremely similar to the one worn in the 74 tie, apart from sleeve-length and another high-positioned trefoil with no wordmark. Five days later, Poland got back to winning ways in the all-red (with trefoil-less shorts, unlike the white ones) against all-white Tunisia, leaving them in a favourable position going into the last game against a poor Mexico who had been defeated 3-1 by the Tunisians and 6-0 by the Germans.
Mexico’s appearance would not be in vain however, due to their own unique kits. Actually, the previous World Cup – which had been the dawn of the branded-age at this level – had already seen a similar crazy, dream-like mashup in Australia’s Umbro-adidas strip, but this was different again.
Until 1977, Mexico’s green jerseys, with a tradition of adding flag colours to the collar and cuffs, had been unbranded and accompanied by white shorts, with a green and red stripe one each side, and green socks. Then came the inevitable switch to adidas, which would bring three stripes to the shirts, shorts and socks; trefoils on shirts and shorts; and a change to white socks.
The new white socks, which were presumably just to shake things up for aesthetic reasons, caused an unexpected knock-on effect early in the adidas-era when Mexico took on West Germany (they seem to show up a lot throughout this series, don’t they?) in Mexico City on June 14, 1977. It was the last leg of a successful Latin American tour for the Germans, having already beaten Argentina and Uruguay in their own backyards before drawing with Brazil.
In the Azteca Stadium both teams were wearing ‘mismatched’ kits: Mexico used a new World Cup Dress jersey of their own featuring white-green sleeve stripes, with the pre-adidas green and red striped shorts, while West Germany had begun wearing adidas three-stripe socks with their Erima branded shirts (a practice later reversed somewhat when the Germans combined adidas shirts with Erima shorts in 1980). But the white socks on both sides were the issue – white at least white until the waterlogged pitch muddied them up for many.
Despite the fact that this was a friendly (ultimately a 2-2 draw), an authority figure ordered a sock change as there was little to distinguish them, especially thanks to the conditions hiding the trim – red (possibly) for Mexico, black for West Germany – and the home players reappeared for the second-half in the old, plain green socks. This would have made adidas now only 1/3 of the strip, except it was actually 0/3 as Mexico decided to change into clean, short-sleeve shirts while they were at it and, with clearly no short-sleeved adidas to hand, unbranded old ones were again used.
Mexico’s World Cup 78 qualification campaign came later that year, entirely in October and on home soil as the 1977 Concacaf Championship that they were hosting doubled as a system to determine the region’s only representative in Argentina the following summer. The Mexicans easily and unsurprisingly dispatched of Haiti, El Salvador, Canada, Guatemala, and Suriname over the course of 11 days, winning all five games with 20 goals scored and five conceded to claim the spot.
For these matches, full, consistent adidas kits were introduced, most-becoming of a tournament. The ensemble consisted of a v-neck, short-sleeved shirt with delightful red-white sleeve stripes, shorts with green-red-green stripes matched by those on the socks, and trefoil with wordmark on both shirts and shorts.
Mexico’s World Cup began disastrously on June 2, 1978, with a shock 3-1 defeat to Tunisia, who, as the ‘home’ side, wore red-white-red. To prevent both a black-and-white-TV clash and red-green clash, aka ‘colour-blind clash’, the Mexicans had to kick off their campaign in a new white and red away kit, with a bold, vertical red and green stripes down the centre of the shirt, which was a departure from the classic maroon and navy seen in previous years.
The country’s coat of arms was reintroduced to the crest, as seen on home soil at World Cup 70, but more intriguing was the brand logo that appeared on the chest and shorts: not adidas but Levi’s, as in the jeans. In fact you would have never guessed that adidas had anything to do with the strip at all if it wasn’t for the three stripes on the socks, which were suspiciously thick compared to others and featured an additional Levi’s label underneath, as the red shorts only featured two white stripes with green in the middle.
The next game, against none other than West Germany – now all in Erima – gave the home kit its World Cup debut. Things get interesting again here as even though the West Germans were the ‘home’ side, they switched their white socks out for the away greens, pre-emptively avoiding the sock-clash seen in Mexico City a year earlier (this look probably irks some, but again is one of all our all-time favourite World Cup mash-ups).
The Mexican home kit, while also Levi’s-branded, at least looked more like adidas, as gorgeous red-white-green-white-red stripes adorned the sleeves, but for some reason the shorts had again reverted back to the pre-adidas two-stripe style. The jersey was a sort of combination of the cold weather and warm weather variants from 1977, as a v-neck with long sleeves gave it another unique aspect at this tournament (most were round-neck while a handful had v-neck/turnover collars).
The Match – Poland vs Mexico, June 10, 1978
In the grand scheme of things, Poland-Mexico in Round 1 Group 2 was a fairly inconsequential affair, with the former all but-guaranteed progression while the latter would be going home. In terms of kits and kit oddities, however, it was the stand-out game.
For the first time in five matches, Poland were able to wear their full home colours in a World Cup finals fixture. But what made the 1978 shirts special was a patch on the left sleeve, added at the behest of the Polish government and allowed by FIFA, to raise awareness and funds for the Centrum Zdrowia Dziecka, children’s hospital recently opened in Warsaw.
With the Polish players automatically made beacons of hope for future generations through the patch, which was big news in Poland at the time, across from them stood an XI unknowingly representing a very different cause: capitalism. The Mexican shirts had not actually been produced or licensed by Levi’s, as many assumed, but were 100% adidas with what was basically ad-space making it the first sponsored kit in World Cup history (a select group soon to include Brazil via that crest).
Poland’s white-red-white meant Mexico were forced to change socks once again, and in doing so damned the short-lived white-sock era once and for all. For their last match at the tournament, the vintage green socks look returned, (with thick red-white-red stripes), suggesting that these were ‘home alternates’ rather than made for the white and red away kit.
Poland won the game 3-1 and the tournament went on and someone eventually became champions (you can look up more details elsewhere), but kit history had been made. History repeated itself as the Poles’ last match was once again against the Brazilians, this time in a losing 3-1 effort, when one last combination, white-red-red, was used.
Mexico soon re-emerged wearing Pony of all brands for a couple of years, with green-white-green revived as first preference, before commencing a longer adidas partnership. The poor performances of 1978 continued as they missed out on World Cup 82 to El Salvador and Honduras, but during the meantime red socks were introduced – a look now recognised around the globe as it has been seen in every Mexican World Cup finals appearance since.