- Many thanks to Andy Tudor for his help on this and other forthcoming Birmingham content
After three years with Admiral, Birmingham City signed a new kit deal for 1996-97, joining forces with Pony, who were expanding their English portfolio – the following season would see them outfit eight clubs, a record for them.
For 96-97, Pony were going down a kind-of retro route, especially in terms of crests used, but, while the Birmingham home shirt had a collar with an inset neck, the black panelling was a completely new departure. Nevertheless, it was a not-unattractive kit, while the same could be said of the red and black change strip. Unusually, for the third or ‘cup’ option, black also played a prominent role, partnered with a bright shade of cyan.
The first mashup used by Birmingham came in the Coca-Cola Cup away to Coventry City in September, when red alternative socks were worn – the ‘cup kit’ couldn’t be used due its similarity to the Sky Blues’ home.
For the FA Cup third round, Birmingham were drawn away to Stevenage Borough, but the game was switched to St Andrew’s, albeit with Birmingham as the ‘away’ team as their non-league opponents availed of the bigger gate receipts.
With Stevenage playing in all-white, Birmingham needed change shorts and the set from the third kit were used – along with black teamwear socks, for some reason. The switch didn’t affect Trevor Francis’s side too much, though, as they won 2-0.
From there to the end of March, things reverted back to normal, but then three consecutive away games in the space of 11 days saw odd combinations for the Blues.
First was a trip to face Crystal Palace on March 29. We’ve already looked at the Eagles’ kits for this season and, with their striped home shirt clashing with all three of Birmingham’s strips, they were forced to wear the Palace third kit – making them the third English team that season to use shirts with the Romanian crest in the fabric.
Then, on April 5, they went to Oakwell to face Barnsley. Like Stevenage, their white shorts meant Birmingham needed a change option, but again the socks were switched – this time, the lighter blue third set were worn.
Three days later, they were the same below the waist but a fifth different shirt were used – this time, it was the third jerseys of hosts Oldham Athletic. While the Latics’ switch to a blue and red hooped home shirt might have been something that caught Birmingham unawares, the Lancashire side’s kit was also made by Pony, but nobody at the firm made the connection that Birmingham’s three shirts were incompatible with Oldham’s primary option.
Both Palace and Oldham exited the second tier at the end of the season – Palace were promoted while Oldham suffered a second relegation in four years. Birmingham finished the season in tenth place and for 1997-98, Pony reintroduced the ‘penguin’ style for the home kit as well as a yellow away. Thankfully, there were no issues of needing to borrow strips.