Whether you follow a team or you’re a fan of football in general, you’re probably familiar with iconic kit designs that have dominated the back pages over the decades. A team’s strip plays a crucial role in creating and celebrating their identity, but how have football strips evolved, and what makes a best-selling kit? Here are some unbelievable facts about football strips.
1. Before giants of the modern kit design world like Nike, Adidas, and Puma came along, a UK-based brand known as Bukta was responsible for designing many of the most distinguished strips of the era. Bukta was established in Stockport, Cheshire, in 1879, and by 1884, it had evolved from a company supplying shorts for military personnel fighting in the Boer Wars to a leading supplier linked to teams like Nottingham Forest.
2. Juventus has one of the most recognisable strips in the world, but they have a British team to thank for their iconic black and white stripes. The story goes that back in 1903, Juventus were on the hunt for a new kit. One of Juventus’ founding players, John Savage, had links to Notts County, and he managed to secure a replica shirt from the English club. On receiving the striped strip, Juventus’ new identity was born. In September 2011, the Italian giants hosted a friendly against the League One (now League 2) team to mark the opening of their new stadium and commemorate the age-old relationship between the two clubs.
3. The sash strip, which features a diagonal stripe of colour across the chest, is a feature of the early days of football kits and comes from a time when players would wear cricket whites and use coloured caps or sashes to distinguish them from their opponents. Sashes and bibs are still used frequently in training to differentiate one team from another.
4. Manchester United is the most prolific shirt-seller in the world. In 2017 alone, the club sold 2.85 million replica shirts. Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona are the second and third most popular clubs respectively. The most popular requests for player names in the UK in 2018 were Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah. Globally, Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar are the most frequently requested names.
5. Numbered shirts have not been around since the dawn of time, and only became a feature of football kits in the 1930s. In the 1920s there were various experiments with numbers, but the FA Cup Final in 1933 is the earliest documented official match with numbers on the strip. To determine which numbers were worn, the two teams, Everton and Manchester City, tossed a coin and one wore numbers 1-11 and the other 12-22. After the Second World War, it became more commonplace to see shirts with numbers printed on the back.
6. There’s a great deal of debate about the best football strip ever, and most people have a favourite, with retro world cup shirts performing particularly well. According to football magazine, Four Four Two, Denmark’s 1986 home kit is the coolest strip ever made. Other popular choices include Boca Juniors’ 1981 home strip, Holland’s 1976 home kit, Lazio’s 1982/83 home kit and the England third shirt used for the 1990 World Cup. Pendle Sports has some brilliant kits available based on some of these memorable and iconic retro styles. The subject of football strips, especially historical ones, is a subject that always provokes debate. If you surveyed a group of people and asked them to name their favourite kit, you’d probably find that several teams and strips came up in conversation. Likewise, if you took a snap poll of the worst kits of all times, there would probably be a host of contenders, many of which date back to the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s when bright colours and clashing prints were par for the course.
7. Leeds United was the first club to produce replica shirts, which were designed to be sold to fans. In the 1960s, the Yorkshire club changed its colours from blue and gold to white, taking inspiration from Real Madrid, and in 1975, the first replica white shirt was available to buy. This move prompted other clubs to follow suit, and before long, selling shirts became a significant revenue stream. Nowadays, most clubs release at least two new shirts every season at an average cost of around £50 for adults and £35 for children.
Football strips have come a long way since the days of wearing sturdy leather boots and knickerbocker shorts. Today’s shirts, which feature innovative technology and eye-catching designs, are made for comfort, style, and performance, and they are a far cry from the first kits.