Football shirt technology 1800s-1980s

The most easily identifiable piece of football kit is probably the football shirt. There was a time when players played for the jersey, but over time the commercialisation of football has, for better or worse, changed the game. Commercialisation has made footballers of the current generations very rich, but it’s also changed the very nature of the jerseys they wear on the pitch. In this blog, we’re going to look at how football shirts have changed.

The Dark Ages

Football had traditionally been played in cotton shirts with collars and lace-up collars from the start of the game until the 1950s when continental style kits came to British shores in the 1950s. These new continental shirts moved to crew necks, had short sleeves and ever shorter shorts. Scottish teams adopted these for the warmer months but kept long-sleeved shirts with a collar for the driving rain of the winter months. From the late 1950s onwards, nylon socks started replacing woollen socks.

The Swinging 60s

With grounds getting floodlights and as fabric technology moved on kits actually became more uniform, with long sleeves and single colour kits becoming popular. By the late 60s crew necks had made way for V designs with collars.

The 70s

The first major change in football shirts came as Don Revie’s Leeds signed a deal to have their shirts made by Admiral. Admiral came up with the novel idea that their designs could be copyrighted and sold as replicas to the public. The initial design was very similar to their previous kit, but with logos on it. What was revolutionary at the time was an all yellow change kit they wore at every away ground, regardless of the opposition. This is where the term “away kit” originated. The match kits were made from natural fibres with embroidered logos and the replicas were made from the cheapest synthetic materials available with transferred logos. And so, a monster was born.

Established kit makers Umbro and Bukta responded to this challenge from Admiral with their own kits with logos and branding. Hibernian became the first British team to wear a sponsor on their shirt in 1977 – which was the name of Bukta.

In Europe, Adidas launched their kits with the three stripes branding and debuted this style at the 1974 World Cup.

The 80s

As clubs started to get sponsorship deals, pressure on the Football League and TV broadcasters meant shirts with sponsors were allowed on TV by 1983. By this time shirts were increasingly made from polyester. This suited the manufacturers because these fabrics took dye well, could have complex patterns in the fabric, were lighter and less moisture absorbent and above all, were dirt cheap to produce. Pinstripes, patterns and shadow stripes all became popular, differentiating the official merchandise form cheaper copies. During this era, lots of new kit manufacturers burst onto the scene.

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