By Tom from The Shirt Union
It’s the early summer of 2004, and we’re about to embark on another glorious summer of international football. Nike have gripped the talk of the playground with their iconic ‘Olé Football’ advert. You know the one, it’s Brazil versus Portugal and a playful Figo decides it’s a good idea to nutmeg Ronaldo as the teams’ line up awaiting to take the field. Silly boy. It’s game on and the two go toe-to-toe in the tunnel and throughout the stadium showboating their skills until finally Ronaldinho finds himself on the pitch, performs his trademark ‘flip-flap’ only to be hacked out by a rather hacked off referee. I’m mesmerised.
Although my love for the Nike Total 90 2004 template started there, I didn’t actually pick up my first T90 shirt until many years later. As a 17-year old with little disposable pocket money, anything I got my hands on typically went into petrol, beer tokens and other nonsense. So here I am, double the age I was then, having now added several T90’s into my own personal shirt collection and taking a nostalgic trip into one of my favourite templates.
There are a few things which make this template instantly recognisable, but perhaps the standout element is the piping that bordered either side of the shirt’s body, symmetrically swerving around the club crest and Nike swoosh before heading over to the back of shirt. This is a staple of the T90 design, and at the time there were plenty of imitations, but no one did it better than Nike.
There were a couple of variations of this piping; some where it ran vertically to the shirt’s hem, and others where it closed in the middle of the torso. Interestingly, some clubs, like Arsenal, Basel and Steaua Bucharest, ran with both versions – one for home, the other for away.
Most shirts had this distinctive piping, however a couple didn’t, such as Manchester United’s, which can make them a little trickier spot in a line-up. Clubs and nations crests could be found either in the middle or towards the left on the chest, which of course is nothing out of the ordinary, and I can only speculate that it was club/nation preference as to the final location of these. What was consistent however, was the uncharacteristically high placement of the Nike swoosh logo to the right, which was so high it was nearly on the shoulder.
One of the other key recognisable elements for T90s was on the international stage, and those chunky, circled front numbers which dominated the body. The 7 of Figo or the 10 of Ronaldinho will be forever emblazoned in my memory.
A couple of variations of the neckline created a little diversity, but in general the style is the same – no fold, and a subtle ‘V’ which meets in the middle. The nuances lie in whether there are fully contrasting panels (e.g. Brazil home and away, Croatia away), partly contrasting panels (e.g. Valencia home, Portugal away) or a complete colour match (e.g. Netherlands home and away). Manchester United however threw the rule book out with their collar, and have this weird offset looking flick which looks more like a copy and paste error from the sleeve.
Talking of sleeves, it was common to see the flick on the right-hand sleeve, and only a handful of shirts didn’t have this detail. In addition, the shirt had the thinnest of cuffs that looked more like a border as opposed a traditional cuff. If you ever come across a long sleeve of these templates it’s a particularly odd finish to an area of the shirt which is traditionally chunky.
Probably one of the first mainstream designs that really put a focus on the player’s names with an arched panel clearly created with namesets in mind. Furthermore, a large majority of these back panels came in contrasting colours to the shirt, colour matching the piping from the from the front of the shirt (e.g. USA home and away, Dortmund home and away, Arsenal home).
The material and cut
The only downfall, and one that is often, and perhaps quite rightly highlighted, is the feel and shape of the shirt. The cut is boxy, yet strangely skinnier in the body with massive sleeves – clearly seen from any shirt laydown. Furthermore, some of the shirts have a real ‘crisp’ feel to them with a lack of stretch and give in comparison to more modern counterparts. In addition, the material isn’t very breathable, although there are some mesh-like panels which make up for this, it doesn’t quite make up for what is a rather uncomfortable fit.
Two special limited edition versions were made available on launch. These were player-spec issues of Portugal and Netherlands home shirts with Figo and van Nistelrooy namesets, complete with a desirable collector’s box.
There was also a handful of black and white, half and half versions of this shirt created in support of the ‘Stand up, Speak Up’ anti-racism campaign. Launched in 2005, these were sold in limited numbers for a handful of nations like Netherlands and Brazil, and clubs like Barcelona and Juventus.
Of course there isn’t a flat rate for these shirts across the board, and some carry more hefty price tags than others. The larger nations and clubs (Brazil, Holland, Portugal, Inter Milan, Barcelona) can typically be picked up for £20-30 on eBay if you’re patient, or slightly higher if you’re looking for instant gratification from one of the main reselling sites. At this price (and age) expect a few scuffs, cracks, bobbles and pulls. The better the condition and the closer to £50 you can expect to depart with.
Some of the smaller clubs like 1860 Munich or Lens, or smaller nations like South Korea or Mexico will command higher fees as these tend to come up less frequently – so potentially around the £40 mark here.
The Inter Milan third shirt is perhaps the most expensive of all. It’s iconic for not only taking its inspiration from the excellent Umbro version from 1997-98, worn as Ronaldo inspired the Nerazzurri to a Uefa Cup final win over Lazio.
The word ‘template’ sometimes carries negative connotations, and if I was offered the choice of a templated or bespoke design for my club, almost every time I would choose the latter option. But there are some templates that I will always have a soft spot for. Call it nostalgia, call it a great design, perhaps call it both, either way I find Nike’s Total 90 template, totally awesome.