When Fila took over from Pony as West Ham United’s kit-makers in 1999, they made the brave (or foolish, depending on your stance) decision not to with a classic traditional look straight out of the box.
Rather than a crew-necked shirt with sky blue sleeves and white shorts and socks, instead the American firm’s first offering was in some ways an evolution of the last kit made by their predecessors Pony, with claret socks and panelling rather than sleeves.
One area which did not change was the shorts – while claret or blue had often been used as alternatives, white was sacred at the time. It would take until 2014 for the club to try sky-blue shorts as the first-choice option for the home kit, while 2019 saw them pilot claret shirts and shorts – something which has returned for 2023-24.
Equally, the change kit was nice in and of itself – white shirts with navy sleeves and shorts, accented by claret – but the absence of any sky blue elements left the Hammers in a pickle during their European campaign.
Having entered the Intertoto Cup, they secured a qualification spot for the Uefa Cup and the first-round draw paired them with Croatian side NK Osijek. Nowadays, Osijek wear royal blue and white hoops with blue shorts but back then they favoured all-white – a re-badged 1997-99 England shirt – and so for both legs West Ham were clad in the navy shorts of the away kit.
Incidentally, shorts numbers had not yet become mandatory in the Premiership but were required for Europe – the versions used there and on the shirts were devoid of the Premier League logo.
The unusual look didn’t affect West Ham too much as they won 3-0 at home and 3-1 away but, by the time of their visit to Leeds United at the end of October, Fila had provided special claret alternative shorts.
While the blue trim on these did mismatch the white piping on the shirts, overall it made for a more recognisable look for the club.