By Quentin from Referee Kit History
Being a referee as well as a kit enthusiast, the annual spring and summer professional kit release frenzy carries an extra dimension for me – tracking the kits match officials are going to wear in the new season.
While brands generally resist the temptation to release new referee kits every single year—a stark contrast with player and goalkeeper apparel—2022-23 sees new releases for officials in four of the ‘big five’ European leagues, plus many others. Over the last 30 years or so, since the colour-wheel started spinning for referee kits, here are some of my favourites: five different kit brands, in five different competitions.
Premier League, 1992-94 (Umbro)
The catalyst for coloured referee kits, English referees broke with tradition in 1992 for the start of the FA Premier League, as it was then known, by donning teal instead of the ubiquitous black.
Creative yet not over-the-top in its striping pattern—unlike some of Umbro’s later offerings in the 90s—the kit features a smart pinstripe design and marked the occasion of the new league rather well.
Not counting the instances of referees wearing red in World Cup matches involving Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s – which was more out of necessity than style – this kit was among the first to deliberately redefine the ‘look’ of the referee, which in itself deserves a place in this list.
Uefa Euro 2020 (Macron)
If 1992 was the unofficial start of the referee kit as a piece of fashion, then Uefa Euro 2020 showed how far we’ve come, with a full-on kit reveal photoshoot featuring four of the officials for the tournament.
The kit itself wasn’t too much different from the Macron set that had been used in Uefa competitions for the previous two seasons, but added a subtle and very classy flourish on the body of the shirt in the form of a shadow graphic of the European continent.
I’ve gone for the pink shirt as my pick of the bunch, both for its novelty as a referee colour and as the kit of choice for Björn Kuipers in the final.
Fifa World Cup 2014 (adidas)
The 2014 World Cup was the first in which referees had five colours available – and was also the first time green was an option. Adidas designed a beautiful set of kits for the tournament, landing on an exceptional colour palette that featured navy blue as the base colour for the shorts and socks, with red as the primary accent.
Appropriately titled ‘Samba Green’, this vibrant colour is my favourite of the set, and very fitting for a Brazilian World Cup.
Plus, as someone who owns the adidas 2014 kits, I can tell you it looks just as sharp on the local pitch as it did on Howard Webb in Belo Horizonte.
Eredivisie, 2018-20 (Nike)
One of the main themes of this top-five list is that the referee kits selected were all aesthetically very appropriate for the competition or tournament in which they were used. There’s surely no better example, though, than the Nike kit worn by Eredivisie officials in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
Orange shirt, black shorts, orange socks; the KNVB logo on the chest and shorts. Could you have a more fitting kit for referees in the Netherlands?
Sadly, the KNVB decided to pass on the orange for the subsequent two seasons – though it was indeed available – replacing it with a much less satisfying volt yellow option. Sigh.
Serie A, 2017-19 (Diadora)
I can’t make up a top-five fashion list without including something that the Italians wear. Sure enough, Serie A referees have been blessed with a range of styles over the years – most recently by Legea, but principally by Diadora – that never lack in creativity.
I’ve gone for the 2018-19 set, which, as it turned out, was Diadora’s last for Serie A officials. A wavy flourish in the form of a stylized chest band, a repeating pattern on the shorts, and the classy Diadora mark to finish it off.
The yellow and pink versions of this kit are eye-catching in their own right. However, as this is the fifth of my top five – it’s fitting we end where it all started for referees: the traditional all-black.