- Apologies for the delay in providing the next instalment in this great series, the fault is all mine and not the excellent Joey Smith’s. Check out his wonderful blog, Pyro On The Pitch, and find on Twitter here. If you missed the previous articles – these are Part 1 and Part 2. Over to Joey.
Last time around, we saw a Croatian shirt that is undoubtedly an invaluable artifact to its country’s football history, but was arguably antiquated in terms of style when it was worn in 1990.
This time we’re focusing on a seemingly inconsequential game, but one that featured a shirt which was light years ahead of its time in the style charts and how it actually might have changed the world.
A World Cup qualifier in Paris on October 10, 1972 between France and the Soviet Union was one of 12 meetings in total between the two before the latter would cease to exist. At a time when diplomatic relations were strained between east and west, such friendly sporting relationships must have only strengthened ties between peoples divided by competing political systems, with sport acting as a lingua franca to remind humanity of it’s common ground.
No matter your skin colour, religious background, social class or ideology, worldwide appreciation for a good old game of ball showed us that at the end of the day we were all the same (that is, a weird, mostly hairless, over-evolved primate thing with a universal fascination for this possibly esoteric activity).
But our match in question may also have been important for spreading really excellent fashion. The French were already well ahead of the curve domestically in kit terms, with mind-blowingly some French clubs already featuring manufacturers logos on their kits as early as 1966, as seen by that year’s cup winners Strasbourg:
This was originally related to a specific cup deal with Le Coq Sportiff (and later in the 70s, adidas), but would soon spread to independent club deals also. By the 1969-70 season, shirt sponsorship had also started to appear (seen here on the shirts of Olympic Marseille), a practice which had already been already legalised in Europe by Denmark and Austria, but was incorporated many years ahead of most countries.
Like with cup branding, cup specific sponsorship was also brought in for many years, and from 1970-71, frontal numbers were used on shirts in the Coupe de France until 1980-81. Numbers on the front of jerseys had already appeared in the United States at least (in accordance to the style of their other ‘sports uniforms’), but this amalgamation of innovative features made the French scene stand out as some sort of wonderful dystopian future compared to the rest of Europe at the time.
This fascinating period in French club football shirts deserves a more in depth look, which will hopefully happen at a later date. But for now, it sets the scene for what was happening in France in that era, as strange new boundaries were being pushed (possibly enabled under the influence of psychedelic chemicals popular at the time). The forward thinking had spread to the French national team by 1969, when the brand of Kopa (a sportswear line owned by French legend Raymond Kopa) appeared on the team’s shorts.
This must have been among the first of its kind for a national team strip, and by 1970 Le Coq Sportif had taken over and continued the shorts branding. The material used in LCS’s French shirts also seemed ahead of its contemporaries.
The neck and the cuffs later evolved to a ‘fuller’ style.
Then a v-neck was adopted in 1971/72.
In 1972, months after unveiling its soon-to-be-revered trefoil at the 1972 Munich Olympics, adidas took over as the French team’s kit manufacturer. The first French adidas shirt saw use against Greece in September of that year, and I say ‘shirt’, not ‘kit’, as the shorts at this time were still made by LCS (a move also pulled by Germany in the early 80s but with Erima shorts).
The kit was innovative in several ways which would have been commendable on their own. Soon-to-be-common white adidas stripes ran along the shoulder (not all the way down the sleeve), with the middle sections blue and red to form the French flag. This was matched under the arms, down the sides of the shirt.
A new fancy numbering font was in use, which featured the tiny printing branding of Somms, a style also used by several French club sides. And again, the material itself seemed eons ahead of the heavier shirts still common at the time.
Meanwhile, the Soviets, were still several years away from their wave of truly iconic national team shirts. Certain clubs such as Dynamo Kyiv and Spartak Moscow were already known for their own trademark styles and traits, which were arguably more beautiful than some of the commercialised French club shirts.
But in general, the club scene was far behind the French in terms of trends. The famous ‘CCCP’ on the national team shirts had at least always made them stand out, in a era of badges and not much else for most national sides in Europe. The minimal and tidy 1966 era USSR kit can be classed as an early highlight.
But by the time of our game in 1972, the visiting Soviets were back to wearing something more like their 1950s shirts, as big collars and plunging necklines came back into fashion replacing the sleek suaveness of the 60s. There was nothing wrong with it, just not particularly stylish.
And now we come back to the hosts. To start with, as we are also fans of kit accoutrements here at CWC, we must look at the French warm-up tops.
Featuring ‘France’ in a similar funky font as the new numbers, and with a large, white trefoil, it honestly wouldn’t look out of place on any high street today (it’s 2017 at the time of writing for any of you future folk scratching your chip implants).
When the French tops eventually came off, the faces of the USSR players must have gone as red as their old fuddy-duddy 1950s style shirts to see what the hosts had on in comparison (this would have particularly been true of the younger, hipper Soviet players).
France were not in their usual blue, but were in a polished white change shirt, with blue, red and blue stripes down the long sleeves. Most likely inspired again from the domestic scene, numbers were featured on the front of the shirt. These numbers, like on the back, also featured the Somms mark, which may even also qualify as sponsorship as well as numbering. A subtle wrapover collar completed the cool look, and again, LCS shorts were in use, adding to the other worldliness of the whole ensemble.
With the addition of a modern adidas logo, and perhaps a reduction in size of the crest, I would have no problem buying it for a shirt of the modern age. With the Soviet’s 50s-style shirts in comparison, it’s fair to say that the two look over 40 years apart.
And, while no trefoil would appear just yet on the outfield shirts, the yellow goalkeeper shirt in fact would include the famous logo and wordmark, perhaps making its first appearance on an international kit, or at least close.
This means that there is a possibility that this was both the first time the adidas logo appeared on a shirt AS WELL AS frontal numbers, talk about historic! If anyone has any examples of either pre-dating this, please get in touch.
Frontal numbers on international shirts would not become the norm for another couple of decades – Euro 92 was the first major finals to mandate them – and the French were so far ahead of the curve that they gave up on the idea soon afterwards.
But, by the 1974 World Cup two years later, the rest of the world had started to catch up in style terms and it would soon be standard for countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain to be decked out in quality adidas-marked kits, among other brands.
In fact, by the 1980s in eastern Europe, literally every country appeared in lovely adidas football kits. Psychological motivation for this can perhaps be dated back to games like the aforementioned visit of the USSR to Paris, when it would have been an understatement to say that the French certainly looked (and presumably felt) like the more professional and up to date squad.
With the advancement of material production technology, let alone style, a need to compete even at this level eventually led to many communist country’s teams donning the logo of one of the most western, capitalist companies there was and becoming fabulous.
Which may have raised the uncomfortable question, “if communism is so great, can we not produce our own quality range of sports gear?”. Nobody could answer this and shortly after the Cold War would end.
You connect the dots.