Great one-offs – Scotland, 1991

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By Jay Mansfield

In November 2020, Scotland secured their place in the finals of Euro 20/21 with a penalty shoot-out victory over Serbia. When (or if) it comes around, it will be their first finals appearance in 23 long and painful years. Scotland’s last appearance at a major tournament came at the France World Cup of 1998, and capped a decade where Scotland qualified for 80 percent of the finals of  international tournaments they entered, only missing out on USA 94. 

Some of the pitfalls that have befallen Scotland in the intervening decades have been of their own making, but some have been due to football becoming far more globalised and commercialised. The club game has changed almost beyond recognition, particularly where our favourite topic of kits are concerned, but the international flavour still clings to some older traditions. 

For instance, while clubs have spent the last 30 years increasing the volume and frequency with which new kits are released, international teams still, by-and-large, cling to what increasingly seems a quaint practice of releasing new strips on a two-year cycle. That’s probably only because an international ‘season’, the qualifying period for major tournaments, lasts just under two years and not because of any altruism towards replica kit buyers (I say two years, England seem to release a new kit every six months).

It’s become commonplace that new kits are released in the autumn immediately preceding tournament finals, but that wasn’t always the case. From the 1970s until the 90s, Scotland operated on a roughly three-year cycle, with the first new set of the nineties being released in March 1991, and both home and away kits swerved away from tradition. The home kit had longer, baggier shorts that predated the famous Spurs FA Cup Final efforts by a couple of months, as well as navy rather than red socks. But it’s the away kit we’re interested in here. 

Find a scanned copy of an Argos catalogue from 1990 and you’ll be struck by how zanily bright and colourful everything was. It was the spirit of the age, and football kits were no different. The 1990 World Cup (and Andre Agassi) showed that kits with bold graphics and flamboyant colours would be popular with the masses. So, while the Scots’ new home kit was Presbyterian in its understated sombreness, the away kit was more like a Hogmanay fireworks display.

Many football kit developments over the years have been down to technological developments, and the extravagant new away kit benefitted from the recent development of ‘batwing’ shirt assembley. This is when a t-shirt consists of two pieces of material, literally in the shape of a ‘t’, sewn together. The sleeves are integrated, rather than sewn to the body; this has the benefit that graphics can be printed on the shirt front that carry on to the sleeves. This was famously used by adidas for the flag ribbon on the West Germany 1988-91 shirt. 

Scotland doesn’t have a tricolour flag, nor do we have any real settled change kit colours, so not only did Umbro give us an otherwise white polo-neck shirt with a strange graphic (Lava? Lightning storm in a forest? Cat eating Turkish delight?) sloping diagonally across the chest, they rendered it in the colours of purple and not-quite-red,not-quite-pink. In fairness, these colours were fairly close to those utilised for away strips in the late 1970s and early 80s, but it was still a bold choice. You either loved it or you hated it, and 11-year-old me loved it. I asked for it for my Christmas that year. 

However, while international football might have two-year seasons, as you’re competing in randomly drawn tournaments during those two years, you don’t play the same opponents all the time. And in the early 1990s, there wasn’t as much consideration towards teams changing in the event of a tone clash, or wearing a new kit just to publicise it. As such, while Scotland had been drawn against three other blue teams in qualifying for the 1990 World Cup, and two in 1994, there was only one blue opponent in Euro 92 qualification. 

That team was San Marino, whom Scotland played in their very next game after debuting the home kit, in Serravelle on May Day 1991 in the micro-country’s first ever qualifying tournament. Scotland changed into their away strip to mint a tradition of 2-0 wins away to the Sammarinese, but this kit qualifies for Great One-Offs on two grounds. Not only was the shirt never worn again by the senior side, colour-inverted white alternate shorts were worn instead of the standard purple issue. By the next time Scotland travelled to a similarly-hued opponent two years later, they’d replaced the garish white, pink and purple shirt with a garish pink and purple shirt.

That all said, the 1991 away kit was prepared for action at Euro 92. While the Scots didn’t need it against the orange of the Netherlands, the white of Germany, and the red of the CIS, in an alternate universe, it could have been required for a clash against France. 

With Euro 2020 being rescheduled to the summer of 2021, it puts the international kit release schedule a little out of whack, but it appears likely Scotland will retain the current away kit until 2022; unlike its ancestor, it will almost certainly be worn more than once.

1 comment on “Great one-offs – Scotland, 1991

  1. Jordi

    Thats one of the best international shirts from the 90s, being a teenager i loved it then, bit after some years i forgot about it, then a tríp to hampden for scotland vs spain in 2010 or 11 reminded me about this masterpiece, and some years after that i was lucky enough to find one of my size while visiting old trafford for a champions league game with barça.

    I keep it like a treasure:-)


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