The chances are that, if you asked most Republic of Ireland supporters how many times the infamous orange away kit was worn, they would say once – against Macedonia, in April 1997.
It’s an occasion that has gone down in Irish footballing lore for the wrong reasons – a 3-2 defeat in Skopje dented hopes of qualifying for the World Cup, with Jason McAteer’s red card for a kung-fu kick adding insult to injury. For a few years afterwards, the worst player in Ireland training sessions would be ‘rewarded’ with a yellow goalkeeper jersey bearing the legend, ‘I had a Macedonia’.
Macedonia had a white home strip trimmed in red, so Ireland would have had to change to green shorts at most to alleviate any perceived clash. This was a kit crime in the lack of a need to wear it, while there were some who were uncomfortable with the fact that the orange on the Ireland flag represented Unionism.
Speaking last year, Jonathan Courtenay of Umbro Ireland took the blame/credit for the idea to deviate from the usual white change strips – as well as revealing that some of the shirts had been stolen in a raid on the factory.
We wanted to do something different, and that had never been done before. My view on it is, whatever political connotations or whatever else, I don’t really look too deeply into that. My simple answer is, it’s a third of the flag, and orange is a very cool colour.
We’ve under-utilised it over the years, it stands out and looks great. All you have to do is to look at Holland fans at any major competition.
After Skopje, that seemed to be that, with the shirt apparently added to the longish list of one-offs in the country’s kit history – though, somehow, two replica versions were produced. However, a friendly against Mexico at Lansdowne Road in May 1998 saw the strip called upon again as the visitors wore green shirts.
This time, there were no numbers on the front of the shirts or shorts and white socks were worn, despite the fact that Mexico were also in white socks. Judging from pre-Macedonia publicity photos of Stephen Geoghegan – a striker with Shelbourne in the League of Ireland, who was called up to the squad but not capped – the white socks were the default and the black set used in Skopje were alternates.
The orange kit was followed by a black strip which was never used by the senior team and the next time Ireland changed, against South Africa in New Jersey in June 2000, white had returned as the second-choice colour.