When Manchester United reached the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Barcelona, it was still somewhat commonplace for both teams to change kit if a colour-clash occurred.
It was the third time in six years that Barça were involved in such a game, after the 1986 European Cup final against Steaua Bucharest and Sampdoria in the Cup Winners’ Cup decider in 1989 (they would again meet the Italian side in the 1992 European Cup final and again both would change).
Their change-kit approach was constant throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, with only the colour altered – first yellow and then a twin-pronged approach. With light blue favoured for the game in Rotterdam, it meant United couldn’t wear their own second kit.
The previous white away strip was used that season as a third shirt against Pécsi Mecsek earlier in the competition and also at Aston Villa in the league (thanks to United Kits, as always). As it was a final, a new set of shirts would have been produced with special inscriptions and even if they hadn’t planned on doing so, the prohibition on shirt sponsorship for European deciders made it necessary.
So it was that, instead of a shirt style which was three years old, adidas came up with what was essentially a white version of the home shirt released the previous summer, though without the zig-zags running through the fabric.
The home shorts were used as well as one-off socks (the 1988-90 away socks had been used as the home alternatives). Oddly, the shirts featured Football League patches on the sleeves.
That season, United’s home shirts had a traditional numbering style but the away had a new blocky adidas font, featuring the trefoil and three-stripe motif. For the final, a plain variation of the newer type was used – three years later, Arsenal would win the Cup Winners’ Cup with similar numbering, but featuring the three stripes.
Two Mark Hughes goals gave United victory and commemorative replica shirts were produced, with the words ‘European Cup Winners’ Cup’ above the crest, whereas the match-worn examples didn’t have ‘European’, while ‘Winners’ replaced ‘1991’ below the badge.
Despite going on sale, it didn’t become the official third shirt, though. In 1991-92, at Villa and West Ham, the older away shirt was once again worn, giving it four years of service.