By David Breach
- David’s input has proven invaluable on a number of occasions already – see here for previous content – and he’s back with a very interesting story
- Thanks to Southampton fan John Middleton for photos to support this article
The inspiration behind shirt designs comes from a wide variety of sources. The publicity supporting Manchester United’s green and yellow halved shirts in 1992 seemed to persuade many club historians to blow the dust off old photos, with historical kits from yesteryear being used to inspire the designs of shirts in more modern times. It perhaps reached its peak during the 2018 World Cup.
Some kit designs honour other clubs – such as Juventus’ stripes paying constant tribute to Notts County and Leeds United’s change to all-white in 1961 being inspired by Real Madrid. More recent trends have seen sponsors themselves sparking the design of the club shirt, such as the mind-blowing kits of La Hoya Lorca, CD Lugo and Bedale, while many feel a nadir was reached when both Chelsea and Everton used their shirts to pay tribute to the architecture of their stadiums in 2019-20.
Potentially the riskiest tribute would be a shirt inspired by a current player or manager – what might seem like the ultimate honour could quickly see everyone with egg on their face should that person leave the club in controversial circumstances. That’s the fate almost faced by Southampton in the 2001-02 season.
At the start of 2001, Southampton offered fans the opportunity to vote for the following season’s kit from a shortlist of five designs. Three of those utilised the traditional red and white stripes, while one featured red and white quarters. With the club about to move to St Mary’s, these four choices would prove a fitting link between the old stadium and the new, with the latter a historical nod to the shirts first worn at The Dell 103 years previously.
And the fifth choice? That mirrored the red and white shirts used by Monaco and was put in the mix as tribute to the then manager, former Monaco midfielder Glenn Hoddle. That itself was strange for Saints fans – Hoddle had only been boss for a little over a year.
As during his tenure as England boss, Hoddle was respected by the fans and his style of football appreciated, but he failed to fully engage and bond with the supporters. He was liked without ever being universally loved despite his guiding of the club to safety when first taking over, and then cementing the team well away from the relegation zone during the first half of the 2000-01 season. This was in stark contrast to the constant fear of relegation Saints’ fan faced in the 1990s, and the general feeling was that the club would prosper under his stewardship. Respected as he was, though, he was certainly not loved to the level of being honoured in such a prestigious way.
All five kits were mocked up and paraded around The Dell, with an historic Monaco shirt having its badge and sponsor removed to help give fans an idea of how it would look once fully Southampton-ised. It was widely jeered and ridiculed, but despite this, it received a remarkably high number of votes.
Fans could vote for their favoured kit design online, but such systems were still in their infancy at the time. With none of today’s controls that would stop voting irregularities, fans of fierce South Coast rivals Portsmouth saw an opportunity to rile their neighbours. A guerrilla campaign saw lots of Pompey fans vote for the vilified Monaco kit, and the coverage it garnered on Sky television’s Soccer AM football programme inspired fans of other clubs to follow suit. It meant there was a very real possibility that the Monaco kit would win the vote.
Had the committee approved the shirt design, the club would’ve found itself in a difficult situation. Spurs, the club most associated with Hoddle, were struggling under George Graham in the 2000-01 season and their fans demanded a new manager, with Hoddle’s name featuring prominently. Despite constant denials that he was interested or even considering the role, Hoddle was announced as Spurs’ manager at the end of March 2001. With the kit vote ending in mid-March so as to allow time for its manufacturing for use in the final game of the league season, this would’ve meant Saints finishing the season and playing the next one in a kit that honoured the manager of a Premier League rival.
As it was, the shirt wasn’t chosen, with rumours that the board made a common-sense decision to ignore all votes for the Monaco kit. It meant option 1 was used by the Saints in 2001-02, and the kit worn when a genuine club legend, Matthew Le Tissier, scored the last ever competitive goal at the ground, a winner against Arsenal six weeks after Hoddle left.
The quartered shirt was not forgotten about and was worn for Southampton’s actual last game at The Dell, a friendly against Brighton & Hove Albion a few days after the league season finished.
Since then, Saints have used their shirt to honour their history a few times. They’ve twice paid tribute to the club’s first ever kit through the use of sashes which were worn by the club before moving to The Dell in 1898. Meanwhile, the iconic kit used during the 1980-85 glory period was the inspiration behind Under Armour’s 2017-18 offering.
As yet, though, there have been no kits inspired by the many managers put in place after Hoddle’s departure – although the love felt for Ralph Hassenhutl when Saints temporarily topped the Premier League table on November 6 could get the Under Armour designers’ creative minds ruminating.