Thanks to world renowned kit expert Simon ‘Shakey’ Shakeshaft for help with some of the information below.
Back in CWC3, we touched on the fact that literally every team representing a communist state in eastern Europe was wearing adidas kits by the 1980s.
The dominating presence of this most capitalist of western brands (and still we love it) must surely have been somewhat of an embarrassment to any staunch communists, since at least retrospectively it seems like an outward indicator of the eventual collapse of the system. The last side in the eastern bloc to make the switch to adidas was East Germany in 1982, and even then they had previously been wearing (unmarked) Erima kits, another West German brand which had been bought by adidas in 1976.
Many of these adidas kits were in fact produced in local eastern European factories under licence from adidas, whose own apparel production was limited at the time and often outsourced. One such instance was our highlighted country for today, Yugoslavia – but, in a sudden swerve, I can reveal that we are not focusing on their beautiful and historic adidas kits that they wore like the rest (that day will come, I’m sure). Instead, we are looking at a little-known period where they were one exception to the Pax Adi Dassler.
In political terms, the Balkan Superstate (I capitalise that since I imagine it as a WWE-like official nickname) was also an exception as the one country in eastern Europe not to be part of the Warsaw Pact (Albania also withdrew in 1968 but were originally a founding member). This was reflected in football as more than one eastern player would use away games in Yugoslavia as an opportunity to defect to the west, such as Hungary’s Lajos Kü in 1977 and East Germany’s youth coach Jörg Berger in 1979.
On the pitch, Yugoslavia were one of the earliest to adopt the three stripes with their 1974 World Cup kits manufactured under license by the company of Raymond Kopa, who we also came across in CWC3 as French kit shorts manufacturer in 1969. The adidas association would continue until the dissolution of the state in the 1990s. That is, apart from a brief interlude in 1979/80 when the kit contract would be taken over by the company of Rudi Dassler, Adi’s older brother – Puma.
Puma also had a factory in Yugoslavia at the time, with production there including basketball shoes like the Puma Clyde (which advertised the fact they were “Made in Yugoslavia”) and Puma Baskets. With such a presence in the country already, the jump to kit manufacturer maybe wasn’t too much of a leap. Adidas’s apparent oversight in losing the contract for these years is more of a mystery.
Whatever the case, Yugoslavia debuted their new gear at a June 1979 friendly at home to Italy. A sleek, minimalist shirt was used featuring a ‘wrong-facing’ Puma logo (compared with Austria from the same period, though they would also feature it later), with shorts incorporating the trademark Puma formstripe and player number.
The following year, the kit would evolve, as seen in the September 1980 World Cup qualifier against Denmark.
The shirt was now in the Austrian style, featuring a white ‘insert-V’ wing collar and white bars on the sleeves, widening nearer the neck. The shorts were similar to before, but with the number removed and a switch of leg side for the Puma logo, which was now also facing the opposite direction to the one on the shirt.
The subsequent qualifier and last game of the year away to Italy in October 1980 would see Yugoslavia’s last outing in Puma. For the Italians; part, it is hardly worth mentioning that the Azzurri were in their classic, timeless, minimalist strip of the period – made by Le Coq Sportif but, as per the conditions laid down by the Italian federation, no markings on the shirt other than the crest.
On the other hand, considering its classic timelessness, it is 100 percent worth mentioning it.
Forced to wear a change strip for the first and only time in this era, Yugoslavia returned to what was clearly the alternate shirt of the original Puma kit: white apart from the crest and Puma.
Yet another distinct pair of white shorts were also used, making that three, with the Puma now again reversed in side and direction, and nothing else.
By the following spring’s World Cup qualifier against Greece, the Yugoslavs were back in adidas, closing this obscure, but definitely noteworthy, chapter of their kit history.
Next time, we shall return to the late 1970s and again look at a side wearing a kit that has largely been forgotten, but with a feature, later made famous, that definitely has not.