Given that I am an Arsenal supporter who likes it when teams wore change kits that employed the same palette as the home, it probably won’t be surprised to learn that I spent a not-inconsiderable chunk of the early 1990s designing Gunners strips that were primarily white with red trim.
At the time, it didn’t really occur to me that the Tottenham rivalry was a barrier to a white second kit – and, to be honest, it’s still not really an excuse that I buy as the secondary colour of a shirt can make a lot of difference. It’s something that I discuss with co-presenters Les Motherby and Gavin Hope on the current edition of The Football Kit Podcast (click on the logo to listen).
In any case, Arsenal have since dipped their toe into the water regarding white strips – or rather, back in, as the colour featured a lot prior to the mid-1960s – though, disappointingly, it has been paired with the historically-erroneous redcurrant rather than red. However, a fix of sorts existed in the 1990s as three European countries wore kits that were essentially reversals of the 1990-92, 1992-94 and 1994-96 Arsenal home strips – though, perhaps oddly, the sequencing didn’t match up with the club’s wearing of the opposite.
In June 1992, Scotland’s last friendly before the European Championship in Sweden saw them take on Norway in Oslo and the home side, who had worn Hummel up to then, were premiering a new adidas change strip. It was a meeting of two adidas generations – the general make-up was a white-bodied version of the new Arsenal home outfit that had been revealed but not yet worn but with a trefoil rather than the adidas Equipment logo and three stripes down the arms.
Worn with white shorts and socks against Scotland, it would be seen with red (older style, shorter) shorts and the navy home socks when the Norwegian team travelled to face the Netherlands during their successful USA 94 qualifying campaign.
Two months prior to that, Czechoslovakia – who had been wearing an unusual but not unappealing design since the 1990 World Cup – donned a kit that was new to them but the style itself was not new as Arsenal had been using it for the past two seasons. In fact, the name assigned to the design in the adidas catalogue was ‘Arsenal’. The Czechs did, however, have the longer shorts that were becoming more popular.
The alternative shirt had just one outing, away to Cyprus in the team’s first international of 1993 – by that stage, Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist and the name of the competing ‘country’ for the rest of the World Cup qualifiers before permanently splitting was the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks.
Unlike Norway, the RCS away shirt had contrasting red sleeves, which might explain why it was only used against the blue of Cyprus. Later in the campaign, another offering with Arsenal associations – a blue and white version of the ‘bruised banana’ was worn against Belgium and Wales.
Following the break-up of the USSR, Russia briefly wore a white-with-blue-sleeves version of the adidas ‘Arsenal’ teamwear before switching to Reebok. They continued to be peripatetic in terms of shirt layout though, and that continued upon signing a deal with Nike at the beginning of 1997.
In their first match of the year, in the Carlsberg Cup against Yugoslavia in Hong Kong in February, they wore a catalogue version of the 1994-96 Arsenal home shirt (whereas the fabric pattern on Arsenal’s was specific to them, the generic type differed – Paris Saint-Germain used this as an emergency third shirt in 1996-97) with red shorts and socks. Three days later, a blue edition of that kit was worn against Switzerland. The crest used on these shirts was like that which had appeared on the Reebok kits, but, while a generic football was on the badge previously, the Nike shirts strangely featured a ball clearly based on the adidas Tango.
Then, in March, they faced Yugoslavia again, a friendly in Belgrade and the cycle was completed as they appeared in white shirts with red half-sleeves, white shorts and white socks. At the end of that month, away to Cyprus, the same shirts were partnered with blue shorts and red socks.
A ‘proper’ new shirt, featuring the new crest, was launched in time for their next game, a qualifier against Luxembourg (and they would also wear it in another friendly against Yugoslavia, in St Petersburg – meaning three games against the same country in the one year and different shirts in each).
With bigger countries now more likely to have their own specialised designs and major clubs like Arsenal given home kits that don’t make it into the teamwear brochures, this phenomenon is not likely to occur again. Still, we’ll keep an eye out, just in case.