In the summer of 1997, Manchester United breached a new frontier with the launch of a special kit to be used only in European games, following a trend that had developed on the continent during the decade.
While adidas were strong in their native Germany at the time, elsewhere they weren’t as strong. While they were back with Marseille since 1996, they only had Newcastle United in England and Deportivo de La Coruña and Real Zaragoza in Spain, with no presence in Serie A. For the European kit, we have gone with the under-used design which featured on the change kits of Kaiserslautern and Benfica.
The real Manchester United 1996-97 away only lasted a season as it was a stop-gap due to the early retirement of the grey strip, and we like the 1996 Admiral tribute from part 1 but we’re following reality and so the 1997 Bayern Munich home is the basis for the new away here (white shorts were default but black were used more often).
For 1998-99, there were new home and third kits – the latter only ended up being worn twice. Two designs which premiered at the World Cup in France are called upon – the Yugoslavia/Romania/Argentina away for the United home and Spain’s for the third.
After winning the treble, United faced Arsenal in the 1999 Charity Shield and wore a new white and navy strip but that proved to be its only outing that season. Instead, a navy, grey (or maybe white but looking grey due to the thick fabric) and black kit was the second choice during the 1999-2000 campaign.
The real away had narrow hoops and so the best approximation is the 1999 Marseille third kit design, which itself looked to be inspired by the Wales shirt of the mid-1980s. Avoiding looking like Real Madrid (added to adidas’s portfolio in 1998) or Tottenham Hotspur (1999) is the challenge for the third kit and again we lean on Bayern, this time their 1999-2001 home.
That season was United’s last with Sharp, as Vodafone took over as sponsors for the 2000-01 campaign. Oddly, the white third from 1999-2000 was carried over and promoted to be the second kit.
In addition, there were new home and third kits, the latter, with navy again favoured for the shirt, was a rare example of a United strip with red socks. The adidas home is based on Spain’s, with a common design – again favoured by Yugosavia and Romania, as well as Germany’s away – utilised for the third.
Having changed sponsor in 2001, there was another big change in store for United at the end of 2001-02, as Nike replaced Umbro as kit-makers. The English manufacturers went out with a flourish as they launched a special reversible away/third replica shirt (players’ shirts were not reversible) in white/black and gold/black. Tottenham’s away and one-off third strips are the starting points for these, but in the reverse order.
The next instalment will pick up in 2002 and offer adidas versions of the first four seasons of Nike’s tenure. Feedback on the above is welcome, along with future requests – comment below or tweet @museumofjerseys.