My wife and I moved house last year, and now, when I have reason to actually travel to the office, my route takes me round the outskirts of Castlemilk, arguably the most ‘Glasgow’ of the city’s 1950s new districts. There are the instantly recognisable Glasgow Corporation lamp-posts, with integrated telephone wire brackets, the six in a block flats next to overgrown gapsites, the strangely idiomatic abandoned church.
I grew up just outside the city towards the end of the 20th century, not far from where I live now. My interactions with Glasgow proper weren’t all that frequent, but I remember being able to see the distant glow of Hampden’s floodlights from my gran’s flat (all four of Glasgow’s main football grounds were old-fashioned oval grounds, until the year I was born). My dad was a freelance news photographer, and he occasionally took me with him to jobs on the south side, where I acquired some more fuzzy impressions and vivid memories.
To the younger me, it seemed Glasgow had a particularly well-defined character, having been gradually established over a period of maybe four or five decades in the middle of the century. Cities have their vernacular architecture, such as the examples mentioned above regarding Castlemilk, but there are countless factors that blend together to give a place its identity.
There’s a great book to be written about Glasgow in the 20th century (assuming it hasn’t been already,) a city rising high as part of the British Empire before falling prey to de-industrialisation and decline. There was expansion from the original town and absorption of surrounding boroughs, the Bruce plan, two World Wars, slum clearances, new towns, eventual decline, and the rising spectre of the Glasgow effect. The culture and customs of the city changed as well, with Irish Catholic and Protestant immigrants being joined by large numbers of Italians, Chinese, and Asians.
In the 21st century though, the city’s idiosyncrasies are fading away like the receding memory of a recently woken-from dream. How does any city retain a historical and local identity while existing within the global village? For me, Glasgow and its fortunes also define modern Scottish identity, which in itself is a struggle to reconcile globalisation with notions of tradition. Scotland seems to certainly struggle working out what place roaming in the gloaming, bagpipes, kilts, and tartan have in a modern society.
To Scots, tartan is either a dated aberration or a proud national symbol. For generations, wearing your clan tartan to weddings and formal gatherings was seen as de rigueur, but even this most Scottish of traditions has been undermined in recent years. Increasingly, bridegrooms are now selecting a tartan for their wedding day based on how well it fits with the overall colour scheme, rather than for any genealogical reason. There have also been academic claims that the very concept of clan tartans is a relatively recent ‘invented tradition’, but I would argue most traditions have to start somewhere. In any case, Scots have been wearing tartan clothing for around 500 years, and the two have become linked like so many national costumes and customs worldwide.
This schism of whether tartan should be a national symbol or not manifests itself quite often in the playing kit of Scotland’s national sporting teams. Of course, the supporters of the Scotland national football team are known as ‘the Tartan Army’, which arose from fans’ predilection for wearing kilts on away trips (along with replica shirts, adidas Sambas, and tam o’shanters/C U Jimmy wigs.)
There aren’t many Scottish kit manufacturers in operation, so when the country’s representatives have bespoke kits made for them, it’s mostly by manufacturers from foreign climes. And a lot of the time when said manufacturers are looking for inspiration, they seem to reach for a tin of tartan paint. In their defence, it’s understandable; if you were designing an article of clothing to be worn by a country’s national team, and that country had an existing textile device, wouldn’t you want to incorporate it?
Strangely, tartan hasn’t featured on the kits of the Scottish national football as often as you might think…
1988 home (Umbro)
In the early to mid 1980s, Umbro’s kits were fairly generic and understated, while still being very innovative technically. A vintage might consist of three design elements which could be mixed and matched to give a semblance of individuality. Consider that Scotland’s 1982 and 1985 home kits are almost identical to those worn by Rangers and Celtic around the same time.
Towards the end of the decade though, Umbro were beginning to produce more bespoke designs and Scotland were an early beneficiary; their 1988 home kit is generally considered a design classic among kit aficiondoes. It was also the first Scotland kit, to my knowledge, to contain tartan. A small strip, specially designed for the SFA according to John Devlin, made up the inlay of the collar’s unusually long placket (a wonderful word).
1994 home (Umbro)
Tartan was ditched for the next home kit, released in 1991, but returned with a vengeance in 1994. Several Scottish club sides had turned out in tartan around the time so it was probably inevitable the national side would at some point. And it was a heck of a kit. The body was the epicentre of the navy, green, and purple tartan, while the otherwise plain navy raglan sleeves sported nice Umbro taping. The shorts were tartan as well, while the socks were plain navy with woven Umbro taping around the turnover. For the first time, the national first choice kit would be predominantly navy.
It’s a kit I’ve never been able to tell if I like or not, and that’s not necessarily due to the tartan. Umbro’s design process of the time fascinates me as I find it difficult to understand where it came from. It’s a kind of urban utilitarianism combined with an absurd amorphism? Look at the proportions of the Johnny collar, and how dark it was! Umbro seemed to be rebelling against their dayglo, painfully hip kits of 90-92, choosing more subdued colours and skewing their own designs. On the other hand, player shirts were starting to look more like training wear and drill tops. This was a very 1994 aesthetic.
That collar just messes with my brain, man. It’s like it has no purpose to look like that. It’s form doesn’t follow function. It’s a non-collar. It’s a deconstruction of a collar. What is a collar anyway? You don’t know what it was like man, you supported an international team with a Lotto kit.
1998 home (Umbro)
After 1996, tartan had a break before returning for the 1998 World Cup shirt.
Seemingly inspired by the 1988 jersey, its use was a little less subtle; tartan appeared on the wing collar’s placket, the shield housing the association’s crest, and the cuffs. This tartan isn’t quite the same as the one used on the 1994 shirt, but both are similar to a tartan registered against the Scottish Football Association at the Scottish Government Registry of Tartans.
2013 home (adidas)
After that, it was 13 years before tartan was used on Scottish national football kit. A long period of not qualifying for tournament finals appeared to coincide with a lengthy period wearing Italian designs that strayed away from traditional ideas of what a Scotland kit should be.
The national side wore kits that comprised navy shorts and/or socks on various occasions between 2000 and 2009, and it wasn’t until adidas took over as technical supplier that Scotland’s strips have mostly returned to the modern archetype of navy shirts, white shorts, and red socks.
Mostly, because three of the six adidas kits have eschewed this model. There is much controversy and debate about just what Fifa’s kit regulations of 2014 mandated in terms of international kit colour schemes, and contrasting first- and second-choice colourways, but a large number of international strips were launched that were as close to single-colour outfits as possible. Scotland’s were no different; the away was all white, so the home was all dark. This was largely accomplished by making the shorts navy and the red socks as deep a red as possible.
I’m not a Scotland fan that clings to the archetype of navy shirts-white shorts-red socks, so this alternate colour scheme didn’t bother me much. I did love this particular adidas template, with its lovely lines, cut, and the trim tape at the sides and across the back. Adidas apparently band their partnerships, with categories A and B gaining more customised kits and the rest essentially choosing from catalogue designs. This was almost certainly a category B design, if the subtle references to Scottish culture were anything to go by. Unlike most teams using this template, the tape elements consisted of a seemingly bespoke tartan, and on the back of the shirt a stylised representation of the spider from the Robert the Bruce fable also appeared, to signify the perseverance of continuing to attempt to qualify for a major tournament.
2015 home (adidas)
By 2015 however, and with Scotland having not qualified for Euro 2016, the nation was downgraded to a category C side by adidas. This meant that future kits by adidas wouldn’t have any real bespoke design. And so while the 2015 home shirt had what was reported to be a tartan graphic on the front, this was in fact a generic device pattern that was also used on the Ukraine and Bosnia & Herzegovina shirts of the same era. Still, while it may have been a generic design, the semiotics were intact.
Scotland’s contract with adidas runs until 2022, and a new set of strips is due at the end of this year. That said, trying to forecast anything in the time of Covid-19 is fairly pointless, so might a new strip be launched in time for the rescheduled Euro 2020 finals, an international tournament for which Scotland have finally qualified? Will the new kit have some tartan element? Will Euro 21 even go ahead? The association between Scotland and tartan doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon, however.