In the summer of 1992, my father told me that Manchester United would no longer have three adidas stripes down their arms.
Given that the previous year had ushered in the adidas Equipment era and brasher, unsubtle placings of the brand’s identity, I guessed all possible permutations before he revealed that, instead of three stripes, they would have the double-diamond.
As a football fan of only two years’ standing, this was the first instance of a major team changing manufacturer that I had experienced and, ignorant of Umbro’s Manchester origins and history with the club, it felt ‘wrong’.
Of course, for United, the change was to coincide with the beginning of an era of great success. The home kit was ranked 35th in the Football Attic’s 50 Greatest Football Shirts Ever pool, the away continued the blue theme that adidas introduced in 1990 and the goalkeeper shirt was at the vanguard of the 1990s ‘more is more’ approach.
Throughout the 1980s, with white change kits, United had had a blue third option and, after the launch of the blue ‘Madchester’ strip in 1990, the previous 1988-90 away was retained as a third for two seasons.
However, there was no Umbro third kit as part of the big launch and at Aston Villa – where white had been used for the previous two seasons – the blue shirts and shorts were worn with plain black socks in the Coca-Cola Cup in October and the league in November.
At the beginning of February, though, there was a new addition to the canon. My local newspaper, the Evening Echo in Cork, carried this article, written by Noel Spillane, on February 5:
Manchester United stepped back in time yesterday with the official launch of their new playing strip which will be worn in the club’s FA Cup campaign this season.
The new kit, based on the original gear worn by Newton Heath LYR in the 1800s is green and yellow in colour and becomes the club’s third kit.
“Every team in the Premier League is obliged to have three sets of playing gear this season under a new FA ruling and that’s why we have come up with the original Newton Heath strip,” said Mr Edward Freedman from Old Trafford today.
“It’s a throwback to the days when the club was known as ‘the Heathens’ in the days before Manchester United came into existence. It’s a link with the club’s distant past and the initial reaction among our supporters has been very favourable.”
The new playing kit will be used for the first time next week when Manchester United play Sheffield United in their FA Cup fifth-round tie and there are plans to use it again in the league match against Crystal Palace later in the month.
“It’s going to be part of our FA Cup campaign this season and, hopefully, it will prove to be lucky for us and take us all the way to Wembley’s twin towers in May,” added Mr Freedman.
It was certainly distinctive and the laces – common among Umbro kits that season – added to the vintage aesthetic, even if the stylised ‘MUFC’ motif on the shorts did not.
Mr Freedman’s comments about the FA ruling on third kits appears curious – United had been one of, if not the, first teams to have one so it wasn’t a completely new departure. In addition, Arsenal and Liverpool are two examples that immediately spring to mind of teams that only had two strips that season.
As well, the notion that green and yellow or gold were Newton Heath’s original colours is something of a misconception, albeit a popular one. According to the inestimable United Kits, white shirt with a blue cord was the first ‘uniform’, with green and gold possibly first used in 1880-81 – though ‘quartered’ was the term used, rather than the modern ‘halved’.
Unfortunately for United, the FA Cup clash at Bramall Lane ended in a 2-1 defeat, as the Premier League opener in August had. Due to the high levels of green on the kit, the navy change goalkeeper shirt was called into action, too.
The third strip was worn again in the Palace game, though that ended up being postponed until late April, with the 3-0 victory important in United’s charge towards a first league title in 26 years. That would prove to be the only Premier League game in which the kit was worn.
In May of 1993, United played Aston Villa at Windsor Park in honour of former Irish League secretary Mervyn Brown and used the third kit. But, perhaps surprisingly for such a well-regarded outfit – 12th in that Football Attic poll – it would only clock up seven competitive appearances in total.
For 1993-94, United had a new black away kit but, with that colour still not allowed to be worn by teams in the domestic cups or in Europe, the third acted as the away for competitions other than the Premiership. It was used away to Kispest Honvéd in the Champions Leauge while in the League Cup, it was worn against Stoke City and the final defeat to Aston Villa.
Another FA Cup trip to Sheffield United ended in victory this time and ii the fifth round, United were away to Wimbledon, who couldn’t wear their navy home strip. The Dons opted for red instead and the 3-0 win provided one of the most memorable outings for the third kit.
Nearly three decades on, it is still fondly remembered, with the green and gold colours adopted by United fans who wished to show disapproval for the Glazer regime. Unfortunately for them, such connotations are perhaps part of the reason why the colour-scheme has not been seen since.