By David Breach
- Thanks to Southampton fans Paul Beazley and Nick Grace for additional information to support this article
How does tradition start? As Tevye in the eponymous Fiddler on the Roof explains: “I’ll tell you – I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is…”
When Pony started supplying football kits to Southampton at the start of the 1993-94 season, tradition certainly wasn’t top of their agenda during the design process: a huge red tick reflecting the manufacturer’s logo adorned the top half of the kit, while stripes were replaced by asymmetric red blocks with angled tips. For the away, the same style was used, with two shades of blue replacing red and white.
Blue had been Southampton’s principal away colour since 1980. Despite the popularity of both the 1980-85 blue Patrick away kit and Admiral’s blue flame shirt of the early 90s, the colour sits uncomfortably with many Saints fans due to its association with traditional rivals Portsmouth.
Upon the release of the blue Pony away kit, there were many complaints that it didn’t use the ‘traditional’ yellow and blue away kit colours. The pairing, with yellow the dominant colour, is extremely popular and linked forever with the club’s greatest moment, the 1976 FA Cup when Saints wore yellow and blue when beating Manchester United.
During the Summer of 2021, many Saints’ fans were complaining about the club’s transfer policy and the Board’s lack of investment and direction. One of the few things the club has done right in 2021 is releasing a kit featuring the ‘traditional’ away colours, with only Hummel’s fetish for providing extra big collars criticised. Still, the majority of fans have praised it.
The lack of an away shirt featuring the ‘traditional’ yellow with blue trim seems to have been a constant gripe for Saints’ fans during the past forty years. Previous to this year’s Hummel release, it’s sometimes featured as a third kit, with both Hummel during their first reign as manufacturer and Admiral producing popular yellow shirts, while the club played in a club-manufactured yellow and blue kit in the 2003 FA Cup final. It too proved immensely popular with fans, but the style has not often featured as the more regularly worn nominated away kit.
But back to Pony. Given the dislike of their initial kit pairing, and given the need for the Board to win supporters over after a season of fan protests, one wonders if the decision to launch a yellow and blue shirt during the summer of 1994 was as much diplomatic as it was commercial.
This new offering proved popular – though it was by no means a design classic. Black pinstripes on the blue sleeves gave it an almost clownish look, while the rather crowded placement of the badge, logo and sponsor in the centre looked too busy. The use of red for the Pony logo and the black background of the sponsor really didn’t help aesthetics either.
Quite frankly, the shirt’s popularity was probably based on the colours rather than the design. Pony could have released any design in yellow with blue trim and Saints’ fans would have likely snapped it up, due to its return to ‘tradition’. The shirts proved so popular that a lorry full of them was hijacked outside a warehouse in Blackburn, and the shirts could be bought in the less salubrious pubs of Southampton before it was officially launched.
The shirt was never officially acknowledged as a third kit, only ever as a ‘leisure’ shirt. The Premier League had requested clubs at that time to only have two kits, though many teams had to use a third option – with special mention to Sheffield Wednesday for needing four kits in 1993–94.
During 1993-94, the nominated home and away kits had done their job effectively. With no Crystal Palace in the Premier League, there was no need to diverge from the mainly red or mainly blue options. However, for the 1994-95 season, Palace were back in the top flight and so Saints wouldn’t be able to wear either of the two nominated kits. So, at Selhurst Park in November 1994, the yellow Pony leisure shirt made its bow as an official kit in a drab 0-0 draw. Only the shirt was memorable.
There were rumours that the shirt would be the de facto away kit in the cup competitions during 1994-95, though this never came to light. An away League Cup game against the blue and white striped Huddersfield Town would’ve given the shirt an opportunity for an airing, but Saints played in their usual home kit. The Crystal Palace game in 1994 would therefore prove the popular shirt’s only outing and a rare example of the ‘traditional’ away colours being used by Saints in that era; a yellow and blue striped kit used for three seasons from 1995-96 not really fitting the spirit of a mainly yellow shirt favoured by the fans.
So why the quote marks around ‘traditional’ and ‘tradition’? Yellow and blue had only ever been used for about eight or nine years in the 1970s. In the early days, Saints would wear plain white shirts when there was a kit clash, as they did in a losing cause against Sheffield United in both the FA Cup final and its replay in 1902.
In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Southampton would borrow the old gold and black colours of the Royal Hampshire Regiment when there was a kit clash – and it’s open to discussion whether they actually used the Regiment’s own kit or just replicated their colours.
At the request of Lawrie McMenemy, who was appointed manager in 1973, the old gold and black morphed into yellow and blue, and those colours were used for the rest of the decade. It’s worth remembering that when Saints fans ask, demand and plead for a traditional yellow and blue away kit, as they do every season, it isn’t actually that traditional. However, like all traditions, Saints in yellow with blue trim really does give us fans a sense of knowing exactly who he (or she) is.