What makes a great football shirt? (Unfortunately the answer isn’t just ‘anything that’s not Norwich 1992-94’.)
Is it what it looks like? Who wore it? Whether a team won stuff in it? Whether it makes you smile? Misty-eyed? Well, it’s all of those things and yet maybe even none of them; for football shirts are a completely subjective entity, and largely difficult to evaluate. And yet, we can still all agree on many of the beauties out there.
In The Football Shirts Book, Neal Heard (find him on Instagram here, Twitter here) sets out to rejoice about more than mere design. “I find it’s more about sharing memories with people,” he says. “I like the fact that around the globe you can wear a shirt and someone will stop you to ask the immortal question: ‘Where’d you get that?'”
Well, quite. Good luck getting your grubby hands on the sought-after selections below – picked by Neal, ranked by FFTA – but just go ahead and admire them anyway. Talk to us (@FFTArabia) about them at #FFTAGreatShirts and we’ll get some conversation going on Twitter.
50. Gamba Osaka, home (1996-97)
J League exuberance: the crescendo of lightning bolts – aptly enough descending into Panasonic’s logo over the chest – is simply electrifying.
49. USA, away (1994)
Best modelled by Alexi Lalas – a flame-haired, wizard-bearded giant for whom a cameo as part of the Night’s Watch is surely still on the cards. This none-more-American kit featured faux denim and massive stars, and was like nothing that had ever been seen before.
48. Greenbank U10s (2006)
Back in 2006, a group of under-10 cherubs from Lincoln petitioned Lemmy to let them wear the rocker’s famous Motorhead logo on their shirt – and the warty metal maestro agreed, adding: “Kick everything really hard.” Eventually he met the team, while the tots gave the ‘sign of the horns’. Winner.
47. Scotland, home (1978)
Archie Gemmill chipped the Dutch keeper at World Cup ‘78 to score one of the tournament’s most beautiful goals ever – and he looked the part in a great Umbro design, with the logo dotted all along the sleeves.
46. Blyth Spartans, home (1993-94)
The Geordie genius of Viz is arguably the North East’s greatest contribution to British culture – and its sponsorship of Northumberland upstarts Blyth was entirely fitting, as well as looking great.
45. Milan, home (1989-90)
Few better teams, few better shirts: say ‘Milan’ to a fan of a certain age and they can’t help but picture Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten posing in this Umbro cracker, high on their own brilliance.
44. PSG, home (1993-94)
Sometimes more is more: a wild collision of thickening-then-thinning stripes, bold colours and in-yer-mush sponsors logos, this Parisian party somehow works.
43. Newport County, home (2004-05)
Ah, the golden years of Welsh comedy rap. Newport-based hip hop collective Goldie Lookin Chain became kit sponsors for the side’s FAW Premier Cup run, and slapped a massive GLC on the actual shirt.
42. Barcelona, home (1982-89)
Another club with very few bad shirts in its back catalogue thanks to an irresistible colour combo and simple execution, their high point was perhaps the decade in which local Barça brand Meyba – better known for swimwear – made the jersey.
41. Colorado Caribou, home (1978)
The NASL always toyed with the boundaries of acceptability – it’s the American way – and none more than this Caribou top. It featured a tassled ‘rodeo fringe’ around the midriff, making former Wrexham midfielder Brian Tinnion and the rest of the Denver side – founded and disbanded in the same year – look like demented line dancers. Coyote ugly but somehow marvellous.
40. Fiorentina, home (1992-93)
It was a tough year on the pitch – La Viola were relegated from Serie A – and also for Lotto’s design department, when it was pointed out that their shirt was covered in bloody swastikas. They pleaded it was an accident, but it was withdrawn, quick-sharp, just in case.
39. Madureira Sporting Club (2013)
Brazilian minnows Madureira slapped ’60s Argentine troublemaker Che Guevara on their shirt not just in the hope of selling it to students: it marked 50 years since the club visited Che’s old stamping ground of Cuba and met the beret-wearing Marxist insurgent after one of their games.
38. Tampico Madero (1980-82)
Behold our new crustacean overlords! The Mexican Tamaulipas region is well known for its jaibas seafood, with nippy claw logos plastered all over the place, from buses to benches. So it was only natural that the team – nicknamed the Brave Crabs – would take matters to the next level.
37. Belgium (1984)
Part shirt, part pack of a playing card, this Argyle reference is a 1980s football casual dresser’s wet dream, and one of the most original international jerseys ever. Adidas at its creative best.
36. Tampa Bay Rowdies (1978-81)
One of the short-lived NASL’s finest efforts: a great green and white colour scheme, and a font you’d associate more with a rock ’n’ roll poster.
35. Atalanta, away (1991-93)
A love-it-or-hate-it affair, but we’re in the former camp. Some art school football shirts look dreadful, but this pen-flecked attempt – classic early ’90s stuff – was pretty swish.
34. France (1982)
Alright France, we give in: your shirts are simply le bomb. The deep blue, central stripes and proud cockerel make this one something to crow about – especially as a great Bleus side wore it as they thrilled in the ’82 World Cup.
33. CCCP (1970)
The Soviet Union’s big red machine trampled its way to the quarter-finals of Mexico ’70, where they were eventually immobilised by Uruguay. But they did it looking menacingly sharp in this simplistic number, complemented by the all-black goalkeeper kit of Lev Yashin. Terrifying.
32. New York Cosmos (1979)
Designed by Ralph Lauren, and further proof that the Cosmos were barely about football at all; more peacocking around Studio 54 with Warhol and Bowie. Still, the logo was outstanding, and with Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Neeskens all in the side, they could play a bit too.
31. Brazil (1986)
There’s never been a ropey Brazil shirt, but this one, donned by Socrates, Zico, Josimar, Falcao and chums, is – for us – the definitive Seleção selection.
30. Gremio, home (1989-90)
A Brazilian classic colour combo, enhanced further by the sewn-on manufacturers logo and curly fizzy pop logo sponsorship.
29. Roma, home (1981-82)
Another side that rarely put out poor kits – that colour combo and wolf imagery can’t fail – Roma’s apex came this year with its most stylish exponent, Falcao (despite his curly Phil Neal mullet), apparently having a hand in the design.
28. Nigeria, home (1994)
The Super Eagles topped their group at USA ’94 with this African print-patterned adidas number, only to deny the world a fifth game in it by losing to eventual finalists Italy in the last 16. If only more teams would incorporate local influences into their shirts like this.
27. Nagoya Grampus Eight, home (1994-95)
J League shirts have always been heavily influenced by Japan’s unique artistic and design tradition, and this one – famously modelled by Gary Lineker for a couple of terms at the end of his career – was a smasher.
26. Marseille, home (1971/72)
A groundbreaker. This was the first shirt to have something we now take for granted: a brand logo and a sponsor. It looked darned dapper, too.