This month marked the 20th anniversary of the first league appearance of one of the most controversial Celtic home shirts of modern times.
Obviously, a club that has ‘the Hoops’ as one of its nicknames holds that identifier dear, but in 2001, changing kit-design sensibilities meant that Umbro tried to mix things up.
However, as can be seen from the news report on the right, dated January 18, the initial controversy arose from the fact that a leak had meant the first sighting of the shirts wasn’t in Celtic View, the official club magazine, as intended.
At a time when the internet wasn’t yet ubiquitous, a launch on the club website didn’t cause immediate waves. However, after that and the friendly against Tampa Bay Mutiny, word spread about what was seen by many Celtic fans as an abomination.
With white panels on the sides of the torso and the under-arms, the shirt was seen as sacrilegious, as it ‘broke’ the sacred hoops. While I can recall a lot of debate at the time, the search for contemporary news items has produced scant results. However, Irish local paper The Dundalk Democrat did have an item in the middle of February which mentioned a protest.
The ‘Hands off the Hoops’ movement is also mentioned in this Guardian piece from April, though by the stage the shirts had seen competitive action.
Though it’s unusual for a kit to be changed mid-season, Celtic did launch a new away strip during the 1988-89 campaign. Though the intended first league outing couldn’t happen on March 17 as Celtic ended up reaching the League Cup final on March 18 – beating Kilmarnock – the home game against Dundee on April 4 saw the new strip make its Parkhead debut.
A 1-0 win kept them on course for a first league title in three years, with the title clinched a week later against St Mirren before a Scottish Cup final win over Hibernian secured the treble.
The league was retained the following season while in 2002-03 Celtic were only denied three in a row on goal difference, losing out to Rangers by a goal. That season also saw them reach the Uefa Cup final, falling to Porto on a 3-2 scoreline after extra time. The fact that the club enjoyed good fortunes in the shirt is a factor in the fans’ ire being eroded, according to Jay from Design Football, who is a Celtic supporter:
The Celtic 2001-03 Home shirt is perhaps best described as a potential controversy. It without question upset many – Celtic shirts have hoops, not horizontal stripes – but the ire provoked was tempered by the shirt’s association with success.
Indeed, when fans bemoan the shirts bestowed upon the club by subsequent technical partners, Umbro’s name is often brought up as a yardstick. For sure, an, “Aye, but they broke the hoops,” will follow, but New Balance did so on the sleeves of two successive releases and Umbro had credit in the bank. They even followed the blip with an all-time classic – debuted in the aforementioned showpiece in Seville.