Probably the kit-related query that I have to field most often relates to a curious Republic of Ireland shirt in a style similar to that worn by West Germany/Germany from 1988-92 (right).
Obviously, Ireland never wore it at senior level, so often the question is whether an underage side used it. While I could never categorically say that that hadn’t happened, I didn’t think it had been the case.
The most common theory heard is that it was all set to be the kit for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, only for Jack Charlton to put his foot down just beforehand and demand the plainer shirt that was used as, supposedly, he had a deal with some chain of shops (Penneys, the Irish version of Primark, is the one cited most often) and their ‘Ireland shirts’ resembled what was actually worn.
It’s not unknown for a national team manager to make decisions regarding kit – Colombia’s José Pekerman demanded that white shorts and socks be used rather than the patriotic blue and red to aid visibility – and the notion of Charlton having such influence is not totally unbelievable. The story I was told by someone close to Three Stripe International – the Cork-based firm producing the kit for adidas – was that this was all a ruse: the plan was to show the shirt in the spring of 1990 so that counterfeiters would produce their own only for the real thing to then upscuttle the pirates. Again, an element of logic to it, but the large numbers of replicas that are seen would undermine such a story. The lack of the Opel sponsorship – present on all replicas from 1986 until the launch of the current Ireland kits – and use of the older shamrock crest add to the uncertainty of it all.
The real story involves some counterfeiting but, while it’s a little bit more prosaic, it’s nevertheless an interesting tale of how different the kit world was 32 years ago.
Nowadays, kit launches – or perhaps we should say ‘shirt launches’, as players or models rarely tend to don the shorts and socks for publicity pictures anymore – are a big deal. This past week saw a lot of attention given to the new adidas change strips for the delayed Euro 2020, even though the designs themselves of a similar ilk to what we’ve seen on the 2020-21 club shirts and the initial leaks were more than a year ago.
Contrast that with April 4, 1989, when readers of The Cork Examiner were given a preview of what was apparently the new Republic of Ireland home shirt (left). In the relatively short lifespan of the deal between adidas and the Football Association of Ireland, which began in 1986, this would be the third different design used on the pitch.
The first one, which had a plain white v-neck and cuffs along with the adidas striping down the arms, had three different iterations. In 1986, it had the traditional shamrock crest before the newer FAI roundel (which had actually made a brief debut in the 1970s) – was added in 1987. Then, in a friendly game against Israel at the end of that year, the neck and cuffs had orange trim. When Ireland returned to action in early 1988 as they prepared for the European Championship, they were in an all-new top which which retained the same orange trim and had mesh arm panels. As well as all of those, the initial Opel announcement had been publicised with a picture of the team in an early 1980s adidas style that was never worn in an international (below right).
Reaction to the change was mixed, with a snippet in the Sunday Independent on April 9 saying that “the new design in a bit of an eyesore and has one longing for a return to something more simple”. The game against Spain was scheduled for April 26 but, prior to that, news emerged that the FAI had halted plans for the new strip. On April 15 – which would prove to be the day of the Hillsborough disaster – the Irish Press reported that “The Republic’s new jersey, as unveiled to the public by manufacturers adidas, has been thrown out by the FAI for its commercial design. Jack Charlton’s men will now wear the European Championship shirts until a solution can be reached between both parties.”
Ireland, wearing the 1988 kit, beat Spain 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Michel, a result which kept the team on track to reach the World Cup. However, relations between the FAI and Three Stripe International/adidas had become frosty. In the Irish Press on April 28, it was written that the firm was going “to review its sponsorship because of a disagreement about a new style jersey”.
The jersey, which features a set of lightning stripes emblazoned on a green background, was recently launched by adidas and intended for use in Wednesday night’s game against Spain, but this was without the agreement of the FAI which has the final say, and who have now rejected the jerseys.
Adidas managing director, Michael O’Connell, said he was disappointed that the FAI should see things so finally, and said his company had gone to great lengths to have new styles registered to prevent them losing out to pirated black market versions.
The FAI’s general secretary, Dr Tony O’Neill, yesterday maintained that the decision was because the Association felt that the green jersey was the image with which the Irish team is most associated.
It is felt, however, that the adidas launch, pre-empting a decision by the FAI, may well have been a factor in the council’s decision to throw out the new-style jersey.
The end of April would see that design on show at a game in Dublin though as Cork City took on Derry City in the FAI Cup final at Dalymount Park wearing a version in their colours of white, green and red.
While they would lose after a replay as Derry won a domestic treble, the shirt would go on to become iconic – later in the year, O’Connell would say that, while adidas sold 400 Cork City shirts in 1988, in 1989 they sold 3,500. It regularly appeared in sportswear adverts in the British footballing press as well as the music video for Prettiest Eyes by The Beautiful South.
Even so, the FAI were not for turning and another report, in the Sunday Independent on May 7, elaborated on the differing opinions between them and Three Stripe International.
The new strip was rejected by the FAI Council at a meeting ten days after adidas had circulated all the national newspapers with details – including photographs – of the new strip, which had a chest band similar to that worn by Cork City in last week’s Harp Lager FAI Cup final.
Adidas and the FAI are now offering different reasons for the non-appearance of the new strip against the Spaniards. Adidas boss Michael O’Connell says the team’s new outfit was withdrawn as a result of “a joint decision by ourselves and the FAI” and that said decision came about because “the design had already been pirated by a Dublin-based company that can sell it cheaper than us because they don’t have to pay royalties.”
But the FAI, according to its general secretary, Dr Tony O’Neill, had a different reason for rejecting the proposed new strip.
“The FAI,” O’Neill says, “turned down the new strip because it was released and launched on to the market without any consultation with us by adidas. We were just told that there was going to be a new strip and that was that.”
Dr O’Neill also confirmed that there will not now be any new strip for the international team before the completion of the World Cup qualifying matches.
There the matter rested and Ireland secured qualification to a first World Cup, but Three Stripe were left with a lot of replicas of a shirt that technically didn’t exist. The solution, seemingly, was to put the old crest – which couldn’t be trademarked and therefore meant no royalties had to be paid – on the home and away versions and sell them as ‘supporters’ shirts’. Various job-lots were also apparently sold to amateur teams.
Any rift that existed between the parties was healed, though, and on April 13, 1990, just over a year after the reveal of the shirt that wasn’t, the new kits for the World Cup were launched. Essentially, the design combined elements of the previous two shirts and added an arrowhead motif to the fabric.
In June, just before the squad flew to Italy, it was announced that the contract between the FAI and adidas had been extended for another four years. Helping to strengthen their bond was the fact that, since the new shirts had become available, more than 20,000 had been sold, with that number increasing further after a successful showing in Italy, reaching the quarter-finals.