The 1996-97 season was a huge one for Rangers. Winning the Scottish Premier Division title again made it nine in a row, thus equalling the record set by Celtic in the 1970s. It would also be the club’s fifth and last season in adidas kit with a new arrangement having been entered into with Nike, who were continuing an expansion into European football.
Personally, I was never entirely fond of the two outfield kits that Adidas produced for Rangers that season, but the goalkeeper strips were very snazzy. The de facto first choice was a white jersey with black roll neck, blue-red-blue shoulder stripes, and white club monogram in a red shield in the centre of the shirt, and was the first time Rangers had had a dedicated white goalkeeper shirt. It was originally paired with black shorts with white side inserts, which housed repeated blue-red-blue stripes, and was complemented with the white away socks.
The alternative was very different to the understated white jersey, but was almost identical to the goalkeeper shirt Newcastle’s custodians would wear that season. Both comprised a black roll neck, with black raglan sleeves outlined with white Adidas stripes, but the body was where the action was. A red to yellow sunset-effect gradient rose from the bottom hem of each jersey, with a club specific silhouette superimposed over the top. Newcastle’s would probably not fly these days as it was a cityscape taken from their sponsor’s logo. Rangers’ meanwhile featured a view of the club’s listed main stand facade. The Gers’ version however didn’t appear to have bespoke shorts, being partnered with the black goalkeeper shorts for the kit launch.
In the previous four seasons with Adidas, Rangers had managed to use at least nine different goalie jerseys, and that’s not including the two that were launched for the 1993-94 season and never worn. This was probably because the club’s first-choice goalkeeper during that period was Andy Goram, and while he wore a lot of different combinations, if he found something he liked, he would stick with it.
As such, he turned out in the white jersey in at least 27 of his 39 games that season. Interestingly, though, he did switch from the black shorts to wearing the outfield home shorts with the white jersey around Christmas time. The all-white variant was also preferred by emergency loan signing Andy Dibble, while first-choice second-choice Theo Snelders customarily wore black jogging trousers – which were made by Lotto. In contrast, Goram apparently didn’t care for the ‘Ibrox’ shirt, as he never wore it in a competitive game. Dibble and Snelders did though, twice each, Snelders with his joggers and Dibble with home and away outfield shorts.
The official two jersey choices were worn in 37 of Rangers’ 52 (71 percent) matches that season. Seven choices remain unknown due to lack of records, but it’s the remaining eight games where some fascinating football kit archeology awaits us.
Andy Goram had been wearing some increasingly idiosyncratic apparel for both club and country during this period, and his first curveball came 12 games into the season. In fairness, the club and adidas didn’t help much by introducing a white goalkeeper kit and white away kit. With Goram loath to wear the alternate jersey for some reason, he and kit man Jimmy Bell would have to come up with some alternate solutions in the event of a clash. It was a good thing then that few teams play in white.
So, away to the blue-and-white striped Kilmarnock and with his white shirt ruled out and obviously eschewing the sunrise jersey, he dragged the 1992-93 yellow Adidas Equipment shirt out of retirement – the fourth season in which it would appear in. Intriguingly, this jersey didn’t have SFL competition patches, but did have what appears to be black electrical tape covering a logo on the right sleeve. The Starball was worn on the left sleeve when Rangers played in the Champions League in 1992-93, so was this shirt prepared for the campaigns in 1995-96 and 1996-97?
Having broken his weirdness duck for the season, he continued it in the very next game, at home to the white-shirted Auxerre in the Champions League, where he turned out in an all-black adidas outfit. There is a lack of clear images of what this kit actually is, but I suspect it’s the 1993-94 era goalkeeper kit the club launched but never wore, with its white Adidas equipment bars removed. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
The next kit oddity came again in the Champions League, courtesy of Theo Snelders, and it’s a doozy. Against Ajax in Amsterdam, Snelders – deputising for the injured Goram – for some reason wore a yellow Umbro jersey, its collar logo covered with black tape, and McEwan’s Lager transferred on to the chest. Then, at half-time, he changed into the sunrise jersey!
I’ve been reflecting on this for three years, and I’m still not entirely sure what happened here. Presumably the yellow Umbro jersey was an Ajax training shirt that was quickly re-purposed when the referee decided whatever goalkeeper shirts Rangers brought with them were unsuitable…but why allow Snelders to change at half-time? I suspect the Dutch goalkeeper was superstitious and after conceding two goals wanted to change, but it didn’t do him much good as he let in another two goals in the second half.
Perhaps questions surrounding Snelders’ superstition or otherwise are answered by the fact that in the ‘return’ leg against Ajax at Ibrox, he turned out wearing the previous season’s ‘Predator’ template jersey, in grey and blue. Again, it wouldn’t actually stop Ajax scoring goals, and they came away from Glasgow with a 1-0 win.
By the time of the next Champions League encounter, away to Auxerre, Andy Goram was back in nets for Rangers, but the strange goalkeeping couture continued. The yellow Umbro jersey reappeared, this time with the number 1 on the back, and with the McEwan’s Lager logo steamed off (presumably) to comply with French alcohol advertising regulations – the outfielders were in a special edition of the normal shirt. This meant that, in six Champions League group-stage games, Rangers goalkeepers had worn five different jerseys, and on only three occasions were they the current-season garments.
With the European adventure over for another season, the club returned to domestic action, but so too did weird kit selections. Against Dunfermline in the league in December, Goram brought the 1994 purple and grey Predator kit, one of his favourites, out of cold storage. And in the very next game, against Kilmarnock, the yellow Umbro jersey was back, with sponsor re-applied.
It would make a further appearance the next month, again against Kilmarnock, totalling 4 for the season. Not bad for an emergency effort…if that’s what it was. While it does seem more logical that it was a jersey borrowed from Ajax, the fact it was seemingly made up with different numbers and worn by Goram in games that his preferred white jersey was unsuitable suggests an alternate theory; perhaps this shirt was acquired from the Scotland camp. The national team did occasionally train in teamwear-style kit during this period. It’s a slightly outlandish proposition, but you can never be too sure where Andy Goram and Jimmy Bell were involved.
After January, the kit strangeness began to calm down. Goram settled for an all-white version of his kit, which he would wear in ten of his last 13 appearances of the season. Andy Dibble would also wear the all-white kit in most of his games as an emergency loan signing, including the game against Dundee United in May when Rangers clinched the league, and with it that accolade of none championships in a row. Since then, that all-white Adidas goalkeeper kit has gone on to become legendary, and inspired a club tradition – one of the options available to Allan McGregor this season is white.