Ger-seys: A short history of Rangers’ kits from 1987 onwards – Part Two: The Nike years

In the second part of my blog looking at Rangers kit miscellany, I’m going to focus on the period 1997 to 2002, a time when the club had a lucrative 5 year kit partnership with the American firm, Nike.

1997-98

Manager –Walter Smith. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – McEwan’s Lager

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White shirts with black trim, black shorts, white socks with blue tops.

While the remuneration the club received from its existing kit contract with Adidas could barely be described as paltry, David Murray had closed a deal with Nike to produce Rangers’ kit and leisurewear in 1995, and was quick to publicise the benefits it would bring to the club at the AGM in October of that year. He wasn’t wrong (for once.) Looking to expand their share of the burgeoning European soccer replica market, and achingly fashionable, Nike offered bumper amounts of cash and cachet that the slightly rudderless mid 90s Adidas perhaps couldn’t. Despite having grown into one of the largest sportswear manufacturers in the world in the early 80s, Nike hadn’t fully diversified into football playing kit. Like their German arch rivals, they’d started off producing running shoes before realising there was capital to be made in kitting teams out from the ankles upwards as well. While their logo appeared on the sleeve of the 1979 Portland Timbers home shirt, this was simply advertising – Barbalan made the kit. Nike did however produce the club’s away kit that season; fitting, as the Timbers are their local team.

Examples of European Nike football kits are few and far between in the 80s. They made their continental debut with Sunderland’s 1983-86 outfit which was again a case of them supporting their nearest team, as they’d opened a UK head office in the Wearside town in 1982. A smattering of deals with unusual teams followed (Kuopion Palloseura, AIK Solna, Cambridge United, Beveren,) before they landed their first big contracts in 1989 with the French pair of Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. A famous ten-year tryst with Borussia Dortmund followed in 1990, but by 1996 the brand still had only a handful of kit supply contracts Europe-wide. Of the 98 teams in the big five leagues, they were the technical partners of 4 teams (by 2017, that number had reached 20.) In the mid-90s Rangers were still featuring regularly at Champions League level, so it was a good deal for both Nike and the Scottish champions.

Months of hype followed the announcement before the kits were finally revealed in the summer of 1997. And a neat set they were too. The technical term used in sewing to describe the plan that informs how a piece of clothing is assembled is the ‘pattern’, distinct from any graphical devices. Clothing is constructed by cutting cloth to match a paper or cardboard template, known as a pattern, which is then sewn together to create the garment. Both new kits were identical in terms of pattern, with only use of colour serving to differentiate. Each had a collar that was more or less identical to the previous year’s home shirt – a contrasting wing collar that was joined at the front centre of the neckline by a body-coloured triangular piece of material. Matching cuffs also appeared.

The home shirt was a slightly darker shade of royal blue than the 96-97 jersey, and Nike introduced a wide chest band in even deeper blue, topped with a narrower red line. This chest band housed the shirt sponsor (McEwan’s once more) and continued onto the underside of the sleeves and the back of the jersey, but it didn’t form a complete hoop (thankfully.) Instead a gap was left for shirt numbers. While the FA Premiership had switched that summer to a regulated font for all its clubs, the Scottish top flight teams would carry on with their own typesets for another two seasons. Rangers used the same number font that Arsenal had carried on their Nike shirts for the previous three seasons, being a standard variation of the 80s block numeral with an inset border. The home numbers were white with a red border while black with a white border featured on the away. Neither number set featured the Nike swoosh as the Arsenal kits had however. While the club wore shirt numbers and squad names in the 6 European matches, domestically they would stick to 1-11, the last time they’d do so in the Scottish top flight.

The club crest appeared on a shield as per the last couple of away kits, although this escutcheon was more elaborately shaped. Nike showed a bit of consistency here as well: a white monogram on a blue shield with a narrow red border was how the badge appeared on all shirts and shorts, regardless of colourway.

Completing the shirt were a label at the bottom left, indicating the individual shirt’s size and that it was an official replica, and a small tag on the right side seam with the monogram. This is more commonly known as a tax tab, grimly humorous in retrospect.

 

Figure 1 Rangers’ 97-99 home kit

Rangers’ kit colour palette is often described as ‘red, white, and blue’. But black has historically been a fourth colour, albeit limited to the home socks and occasionally the away kit. Here, Nike integrated all four colours into both kits in a way that hadn’t been done before. Black appeared on the home shirt in the form of two solid and speckled black bands on the edge of the collar and cuffs. The white shorts featured two full-length contiguous red and black pinstripes on each side, and the socks were black and red, of course. But you had to look at the away kit to see what Nike were trying to do.

Rangers’ recent away kits had tended to be white, red and white, or red and black. For the first time, white and black became the main colours on an RFC away jersey. The shirt was predominantly white, with a black wing collar and cuffs, all trimmed with red and white bands. From the bottom hem, interspersed broad black and narrow grey stripes reached up towards the top of the shirt. Only the greys made it, as the black stripes faded out halfway up, just below the blue McEwan’s Lager logotype; this graphic was repeated on the back. Unlike the club and sponsor’s logos, the manufacturer’s swoosh was picked out in black with a red border.

The change shorts and socks were identical to their first choice counterparts, simply with the colours rotated. Thus, the shorts were black with a red and white pinstripe, and the socks were white with blue tops. As with the home kit, the SFL shield competition patches appeared on each sleeve.

With black prominent on both kits, unusually for a fourth colour, it meant that Nike could provide the club with a fresh new home and away kit, entirely unlike the previous seasons’, and yet still retain a degree of interchangeability should it be required. The fact Rangers would only once mix and match any elements of the two kits is neither here nor there, and bloody typical of the club.

Figure 2 Rangers’ 97-98 away kit

The home kit made its debut in the exotic surroundings of the Faroe Islands, as Rangers travelled to Torshavn for a Champions League 1st qualifying round match against GI Gotu. Like France, the advertising of alcohol is banned in the Faroes, so the Gers once again turned out in kits that bore the branding of Center Parcs rather than McEwan’s Lager. This was also the first season that players were required to have their names on the backs of their shirts in Europe. The font the club used was a blocky, bold serif, quite unlike the more elegant Nike lettering that had previously adorned Arsenal’s shirts.

The 2nd qualifying round saw Rangers drawn against the blue and white striped shirts of IFK Gothenburg. For the second season in a row, a red third kit was hastily commissioned, and for the second season in a row, said red kit was worn in a hopeless European 3-0 capitulation (once more, each club wore their away kit in the home leg.) At least the Ibrox club didn’t need to worry about wearing a third kit away to Kilmarnock, as Killie had reverted to wearing white shirts. Paired with the away shorts and home socks, the red shirt (in a slightly darker shade than most of its spiritual predecessors) didn’t follow the same model as its home and away siblings, and was instead closer in form to Arsenal’s recently-released away jersey. Unlike the insert collars worn on the other shirts, the 3rd had a modified Johnny collar – two pieces of flat knit material joined in a symmetrical Y shape, which in itself formed the V of the neckline.

Narrow horizontal bands of white inset with a narrower black stripe were present at the top of the midriff, around 300mm below, and near the bottom of the sleeves. White trim was present at the edge of the black cuffs and neckline, but not the wings of the collar itself, in contrast to Arsenal’s version. All-in-all, the jersey was almost identical to Nike’s 1998 offering for Dallas Burn, down to the colourway, with the chief difference being more horizontal stripes on the Texans’ outfit.

Figure 3 Rangers’ 97-98 3rd kit

After the Champions League elimination, Rangers dropped into the UEFA Cup where they were drawn against, seemingly inevitably, a team from a country with a ban on alcohol advertising. The Center Parcs shirt made a reappearance in the away leg against Auxerre, this time coupled with blue shorts in the same style as the home and away versions, rather ruining the interchangeable aspect of the two kits. These shorts didn’t have the club crest on them, so there’s a good chance they may have been teamwear – in photographs and video of the game, sometimes the colour of the shorts appear to match the shirts, and other times they don’t.

Figure 4 Rangers’ 97-98 low alcohol home kit

This modular nature of the kits was not something the club chose to exploit in general, although the away socks were paired with the home kit once. Oddly, said away socks weren’t used with the away kit the three times it was called upon, with the home socks (twice) and plain Nike teamwear socks (once) doing the job instead.

Goalkeeper wise, Andy Goram and his two deputies Antti Niemi and Theo Snelders had a grey and yellow jersey to choose from, each in exactly the same style, and not dissimilar to those worn by Arsenal’s contemporaneous custodians. Single colour, with a contrasting modified crew neck collar, only the arrangement of colours on the neck and cuff trim was different from one to the other (yellow and white on the yellow, blue and white on the grey.) Andy Goram wouldn’t have been Andy Goram without a wild card, and twice during the season he turned out wearing a non-crested Nike teamwear shirt against Motherwell and Dundee (ironically, this shirt was identical to one his eventual successor Stefan Klos wore that season for Borussia Dortmund.) There was no real logic to which colour shirt was worn when, and indeed both grey and yellow were used against each other Scottish Premier team, except Motherwell.

Bespoke crested and padded goalkeeper shorts were supplied, although Theo Snelders tended to prefer jogging trousers when he played, a practise he’d been indulging since 1994.

Rangers finished that season without a trophy, something that hadn’t happened for 12 years. Walter Smith had already announced his departure, and a host of the 9 in a Row heroes followed him out the door that May. McCoist, Goram, McCall, Gough, McLaren, Laudrup, and Durrant – most in their mid-30s, heading off to the stud farms of smaller teams, to pass on their experience to younger players. Other not insignificant talents departed as well; Bjorklund, van Vossen, Gattuso, Moore, Petric, and Cleland. Dick Advocaat, Rangers’ first new manager in 8 years, and the first foreign manager to boot, had a challenge on his hands.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 45
Home alternatives 3
Away 0
Away alternatives 3
Third 1
Third alternatives 0

Table 1 Rangers kit combinations, 97-98

1998-99

Manager –Dick Advocaat. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – McEwan’s Lager

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – Red shirts with navy trim, navy shorts, navy socks.

Even by this stage of the 90s, it was becoming increasingly apparent that a new season meant at least one new kit would be launched, and 1998-99 was no exception. The sadly under-utilised white strip was withdrawn, replaced by a new red and navy set, unveiled in June. A simple enough affair, it was scarlet in the main with panels at the shoulders, underarms, and sides in a colour that looked black, but which was actually very, very, very, very, very, very, very dark blue. The collar was a simple V-neck made up of a blue V inside a white V, and a small band of red and white trim appeared at the foot of the blue sleeve panel. McEwan’s Lager, entering their 12th and final season of shirt sponsorship, jazzed up their logotype; the font was much the same, but now had slight serif flourishes, and the ‘lager’ part seemed to get even smaller. The Rangers monogram appeared without a shield. The shorts and socks were both mainly navy; the former had a narrow vertical white stripe at each side and a similar horizontal one on each hem, while the latter featured a twin line of red and white just under the turnover.

Figure 5 Rangers’ 98-99 away kit

The club retained the home kit for another season, but it too received a mini-makeover, if only because following the formation of the breakaway Scottish Premier League, the handsome SFL shield competition patches were replaced with more mundane elliptical SPL ones. The shirt name and number fonts were also updated to new, sleeker versions from the Nike warehouse. Perhaps more significant though in terms of shirt numbering were the signings of left-back Arthur Numan, goalkeeper Lionel Charbonnier, and centre-back Daniel Prodan – with the Italians Lorenzo Amoruso and Sergio Porrini already installed as centre-back and right-back respectively, this meant that the entire first choice back 5, including goalie, were from foreign climes.

The old-fashioned 1-11 shirt numbering never really made a lot of sense to me, in terms of the positions they referred to. This was until I learned that football hadn’t always been played using 4-4-2 as a formation. When shirt numbering first came into use in the late 1920s, the most common formation in British football was 2-3-5. Hence, numbers were allocated to positions from goalkeeper to attackers, right to left. So the right-sided defender wore 2 and his left-back partner wore 3. Later, as football became more and more cautious, they were joined by two of the three half backs (midfielders), wearing (most of the time) 4 and 5. 6 remained a midfielder, and inside right (8), right-wing (7), and left-wing (11) dropped in beside him, with 9 and 10 taking up position as the two centre-forwards. The Rangers 9-in-a-row teams didn’t always follow this convention. 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 tended to be worn by players of the corresponding position, but 2, 5, and 7 were a bit more of a free-for-all, particularly after Gary Steven’s injury issues during the period 1992-94. For instance, Stuart McCall wore all outfield numbers apart from 11 in the two seasons 1992-93 and 1993-94, while generally operating in defensive midfield (he later completed the set by wearing 11 against Juventus in the Champions League in 1995.)

All that said, the left-sided defender had traditionally worn number 3. That was until the summer of 1998, when Dick Advocaat persuaded the Dutch international left-back Arthur Numan to follow him from PSV Eindhoven to Glasgow, and subsequently handed him the number 5 shirt, a number Rangers’ left-back wears to this day. Advocaat clearly had designs on what his charges should wear on the pitch. Different external factors can have an influence on how a football team dresses. Regulations from the national or international governing bodies, a match day referee’s judgement call, what the kit controller packs (in what was once an actual hamper, but which is now more likely to be a series of expensive flight cases.) But sometimes it comes down to the manager having strong ideas about how his or her charges should look, with the belief that aesthetics are important to success.

An early example is Herbert Chapman adding white sleeves to the Arsenal jersey and blue hoops to the socks, ostensibly because he felt this made the players more distinctive to their teammates. Similarly, Real Madrid’s dominance of European football in the early 60s in their pristine all-white kit inspired Liverpool and, allegedly, Leeds United to change their kits in tribute to the Spanish team. It’s difficult to pick through apocryphal anecdotes nearly 60 years on, but it seems that Bill Shankly at Liverpool felt that a single colour kit had the useful psychological effect of making players look bigger and more intimidating to the opposition. Hence the Anfield club ditched their white shorts and socks for an all-red kit in 1965. Leeds had already gone one step further, abandoning their previous gold and yellow shirts for all-white in 1960. Interestingly, while this change is often said to have been instigated by Don Revie, he didn’t actually become manager of Leeds until six months after the team had adopted all-white.

It soon became apparent that Advocaat wouldn’t stop at tinkering with the team numbers. He also didn’t approve of Rangers’ predominantly black socks. The team began to sport white socks more and more frequently, initially in Europe but increasingly commonly domestically, the chief reason given being that it made it easier for the players to pick each other out. From 1987 to 1998, Rangers’ mixing and matching of kit elements was limited. Non-standard shorts were worn twice. It was more common to change socks, but we’re still talking about maybe less than a dozen occasions in eleven seasons. With Dick Advocaat in charge, kit controller Jimmy Bell’s life was about to get a whole lot more complicated.

Indeed, while the previous season had seen alternative socks and shorts worn on several occasions, under the Little General the sight of non-standard kit suddenly became commonplace, rising from 12% of matches in 97-98, to 24% in 98-99, and 35% and 43% in his final two full seasons. But it wasn’t just socks that the Dutchman fixated on. He was known to believe that V necks were better for footballers (not sure I disagree with this personally,) and it’s probably not a coincidence that the 7 Rangers shirts released during his tenure all featured necklines of that format.

The goalkeepers would tend not to wear V-necks under Advocaat though. In his first season, custodians Niemi, Charbonnier, and mid-season acquisition Stefan Klos would tend to wear the grey and yellow jerseys from the previous season. A red version of the template made an appearance in 8 or so games, and Lionel Charbonnier wore what appears to be a generic black Nike template jersey against Dundee United in October, with the McEwan’s Lager logo gauchely printed on.

In August of 1998, Rangers wore short numbers for the first time, in the matches against PAOK in the UEFA Cup. Bafflingly, they decided to slap white numbers with a thin border on the white shorts, rendering them almost unintelligible. They did this for the remaining 7 European games that season, and the match away to Haka the following season, before switching to a more sensible contrast colour. They would continue to wear numbered shorts in European competition, but would prefer un-numbered variants domestically until the 2010-11 season, perhaps because short numbers in Scotland are historically associated with Celtic.

With the SPL and UEFA (for matches in competitions proper) now both mandating squad numbers and shirt names, from 1998 onwards it would become more unusual for Rangers to wear unnamed 1-11 shirts, but it happened from time to time, 2012-2014 being something of an outlier. That said, there was still room for quirks. In the two matches against Shelbourne, some Rangers players wore numbers that didn’t correspond with the numbers they’d wear the rest of the season – Barry Ferguson wearing 8, and van Bronkhorst 12 for instance. Equally, in both the League and Scottish Cup finals, Rangers wore named 1-11 shirts, with some players adopting numbers they wouldn’t normally. This was despite their opposition in both matches wearing their usual squad numbers.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 39
Home alternatives 8
Away 3
Away alternatives 5
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 0

Table 2 Rangers kit combinations, 98-99

1999-00

Manager –Dick Advocaat. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – NTL

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White, navy, and sky blue shirts, navy shorts, navy socks.

Third – Red shirts with navy trim, navy shorts, navy socks.

While the design of football shirts had shown no reluctance to go to strange new places, and innovations in artificial fabrics had appeared in the 50s, the actual construction of shirts was slow to change; even in the early 2000s many shirts (collars aside) were tailored in much the same way as their antecedents of the Victorian era. For many decades, football jerseys had essentially followed the pattern of a long sleeved t-shirt – loosely speaking, two rectangles of material sewn together with holes for the head and arms. A further two rectangles formed each sleeve; seamed lengthways to form tubes, these were attached to the body at the arm holes – properly called armsyces. As early as 1991, Adidas and Umbro had both launched shirts that were essentially two t-shaped pieces of material sewn together, but generally things didn’t change much in terms of how kits were put together. As the shadow-striped fabric of the eighties and bright graphics of nineties gave way to the noughties however, kit fashion began to change.

The football industry of 2017 is a world away from that of 1987. Elite players are mostly fitter, drink less alcohol, and have more closely-monitored diets. Fashion has also changed. Umbro had courted ridicule when their new kit for Spurs, launched ahead of the 1991 FA Cup Final, featured a longer, more generously cut short. Within 15 years however, this Knickerbocker throwback style was ubiquitous. At the same time, the players’ jerseys had started to get tighter and more form fitting – some of the lesser brands’ efforts in the 90s actually did look like the players were wearing brightly coloured bin bags.

But sporting advantage and technology is also more important than even in football apparel. The average human regulates its temperature by perspiring, releasing liquid from the sweat glands throughout the body. When this sweat reaches the surface of the skin, it undergoes a process known as evaporative cooling; the most high-energy molecules are transferred to the surrounding environment, becoming water vapour. This conversion requires heat (in the thermodynamic sense,) leaving behind a cooler liquid, skin, and blood, which then recirculates back to the heart.

In theory, this should help us keep cool during exercise, but factors often get in the way. Humid weather prevents sweat from evaporating, which is why 30 degrees with high humidity feels a lot less bearable than 30 degree arid heat. Humans didn’t necessarily evolve to wear clothing either, and different fabrics impede our ability to cool ourselves by trapping water vapour close to our bodies. However, some (mostly artificial) fibres have the ability to draw vapour away from the body using a process known as capillary action, or wicking. Wicking facilitates the passing of moisture through the fabric to the outside of the garment, where it is able to evaporate more efficiently. This is supposed to keep athletes cooler, or warmer, depending on the weather, but ultimately it’s all about keeping body temperatures regulated. An early version of this sort of thinking was England’s Aertex shirts, worn in the Mexican heat of the 1970 World Cup.

As sporting success increasingly depends on ever decreasing margins of superiority, sportswear manufacturers spend more and more time on developing fabrics that wick moisture ever more efficiently, seemingly at the expense of any design work. It would appear, and the burgeoning compression layer market would seem to back this up, that football shirts have got tighter to the wearer’s body over the last 20 years in order to maximise wicking. And this is where the assembly of football shirts started to get more complex and sophisticated as the big manufacturers modified their patterns to allow for the introduction of more wicking technology in special panels at the side of the midriff, and gussets under the arms, and to help make their shirts more closely fit players’ bodies. Manchester United’s 1997 European shirt had featured breathable panels under the arms, and in the summer of 1999, this innovative sweat-airing technology reached Ibrox when Rangers new home and away kits were launched.

The new home kit discarded the complicated six-colour scheme of its predecessor, and utilised a simple blue and white colourway (socks excepted. Mostly.) Under Advocaat’s mandate, it featured a V-neck collar, with a contrasting white V inset. While the shirt ostensibly followed the traditional football shirt pattern, it had breathable panels on the underside of the sleeves, as well as gussets under the armpit, this subtly different body-coloured material demarcated by contrasting white piping.

The back was equally complex. At the top of the body was a yoke, again outlined with white piping. This continued onto the sleeves, marking the seam between the breathable material of the underside of the sleeve and the standard material of the topside, as per the front. There were also 2 further small pieces of piped trim at the bottom of each sleeve. While the previous Nike shirt had had 8 seams, I reckon this shirt would have had 13. That sounds complicated, but from a distance, its monotone simplicity made it a very elegant shirt indeed, and 2 Champions League group stages in its 2 year lifespan mean it’s regarded as something of a classic.

The monogram (sans shield), Nike swoosh, and sponsor logo were all picked out neatly in white. McEwan’s Lager had departed as sponsor, to be replaced by the Cable TV provider NTL. Their logo was stylised as ntl: in lower case, large friendly letters. The ‘t’ and ‘l’ appeared in outline only. Perhaps my only grievance with the shirt was that the Rangers crest was a little undersized.

The shorts were equally understated – white with a blue pinstripe at each side and the club badge and manufacturer’s logo also rendered in blue. The socks were virtually identical as the previous iteration, black with red tops and the Nike swoosh in white. There was a change to the shirt numbers and letters, with the SPL having commissioned a bespoke letterset that all clubs were mandated to wear. It was a pleasant sans-serif font, with enough individuality to be instantly recognisable. Each character had a significant border, and the numbers had the SPL logo at the top. Unusually, despite being a sans-serif font, the u’s had small serif tails.

Additionally, as Advocaat had led the club to the treble in 1998-99, the team were entitled to wear the golden SPL ‘Champions’ competition patch. The league had switched to a rectangular shape, with every other club wearing blue patches.

Figure 6 Rangers’ 99-01 home kit

There’s much debate in football kit design circles about the wisdom of clubs having an away or third kit that is broadly the same colour as the home kit. On the face of it, this defeats the purpose of a ‘change’ kit,’ yet as ever there’s more to it than that. I mentioned in part 1 how the human eye focusses on light wavelengths differently, with the result that dominant colours in striped shirts look slightly different from a distance, e.g. Celtic’s green hoops are the dominant element of their shirts, yet from a distance the overall kit passes for white. That’s why historically Hibs and Celtic always wore their home kits in ties between the two. Similarly, Rangers had a blue-and-white striped away kit in the 60s. This would appear a pastille blue, or even white from a distance, and would have caused no uncomfortable clash against the dark blue of Dundee, for instance.

The modern era has taken things too far, as usual. There seems to be a drive at both UEFA and FIFA to ensure that teams play in contrasting tones, even if the colours aren’t similar, to better help individuals with difficulties perceiving colours. Where an alternative kit might then be useful in a shade of the same colour far darker or lighter than that used on the first choice, more and more often we’re seeing 2, or even 3 sets of kits that are tonally similar. Nike are particularly bad for this. The point of a change kit is that it’s supposed to provide an alternative when there’s a clash of colours, or tones. A change kit that doesn’t do this is egregiously pointless, no matter how nicely detailed. And you know what Morris said about uselessness…

Nike’s new away kit for Rangers was, essentially, blue. True, it was a combination of white, navy blue, and sky blue, but it was fundamentally blue, and not really distinctive enough to wear against Kilmarnock or St Johnstone. As such, it was only worn competitively twice, against the all-red of Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Its uselessness belied how smart it was. The lower half of the shirt was sky blue, the top half (a separate yoke) white, with a thick navy band stretching from one sleeve across the chest to the other, straight along the top and concavely curved at the bottom. The monogram appeared in navy, and the Nike swoosh in sky bordered with navy, against the white part, with the NTL logo in navy on the sky blue section. The Advocaatian collar appeared in a Johnny collar format, a blue knit section folded over a white V with navy trim.

The shorts were plain navy with white badges, and their short cut (another mandate from Advocaat) was starting to look archaic at a time when shorts were generally getting baggier and baggier. The socks too were navy, with a broad and narrow sky bands just below the turnover.

Figure 7 Rangers’ 99-00 away kit

Presciently, the club had retained the previous season’s red away shirt, updating the sponsor to NTL’s logotype. The matching navy shorts, with the white trim, were consigned to the goalkeeper’s kit hamper as the team wore the navy set from the away kit whenever they sported the red shirts. The navy socks originally introduced with the red kit were worn once, against Kilmarnock in May, while a plain navy set turned up in the previous trip to Rugby Park in October. Otherwise plain white socks were used.

Figure 8 Rangers’ 99-00 3rd kit

As well as their hand-me-down outfield shorts, the goalkeepers also received some new shirts from Nike. You’ll be surprised to learn these were a standard template, in different colourways – white, orange, black. Again, the keepers didn’t get V necks, their jerseys having polo necks instead. The chest band, straighter than the away kit, was blue in all cases. The shirts also had elaborate padding on the shoulders, in the shape of a large diamond and triangle, something you don’t see as much these days.

The white shirt was used most often, with the orange its most frequent deputy, but in a league match against Celtic November, Lionel Charbonnier wore the 3rd kit, for reasons unknown. Intriguingly, when Rangers played Parma in a Champions League qualifier, Gianluigi Buffon wore one of Rangers’ orange goalkeeper shirts, the logos from a Parma shirt stuck over the Rangers equivalents, and with his name and number on the back in the SPL font. It’s not entirely clear why he repeated Theo Snelders’ trick from three seasons earlier, but in contemporary photographs of the match night, he appeared to be wearing a yellow and blue jersey in the warm up. Perhaps the referee felt it was too similar to Parma’s outfield jersey, and demanded he change it?

Rangers’ second season of using squad numbers full-time didn’t result in too many oddities. There were a few changes, most often players moving to smaller or preferred numbers – Lorenzo Amoruso went from 3 to 4, Craig Moore from 38 to 3, Rod Wallace from 16 to 10, Tony Vidmar from 25 to 14, and Stefan Klos from 19 to 1. Conversely, a number of players took higher numbers, always a sign that they’re straying towards the cold – Lionel Charbonnier went from 1 – 22, Gordon Durie from 9 to 24, Gabriel Amato from 10 to 15, Ian Ferguson from 14 – 26, and Derek McInnes from 17 – 27.

Nameless 1-11 shirts were used in the two Champions League qualifying matches against Haka, and in the Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen, Rangers once again wore 1-11 with shirt names. Incidentally, only 3 substitutes were allowed in the Scottish Cup at the time. In the final Aberdeen gambled on selecting three outfield players, and inevitably their goalkeeper Jim Leighton suffered a severe facial injury only a few minutes into the game. The Dons sent on the 5’11” striker Robbie Winters to play in nets, wearing the number 23 shirt of goalkeeper Ryan Esson (who wasn’t in the matchday squad.) Winters managed to keep Rangers at bay for 30 odd minutes, but the Ibrox club eventually knocked in 4 goals against him to win the Scottish Cup for the second season in a row.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 32
Home alternatives 12
Away 2
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 9

Table 3 Rangers kit combinations, 99-00

2000-01

Manager –Dick Advocaat. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – NTL

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White shirts, white shorts, white socks.

Third – Red shirts, red shorts, red socks.

Close season means letting the grass grow back, resting weary players’ legs, and introducing yet another new kit. Not the home kit, which enjoyed a stay of execution for another year, and retaining the league title meant the ‘Champions’ competition sleeve patches also remained. Instead, feeling that a white and blue away shirt was pointless, the club decided that they needed a new white strip. Once again, Dick Advocaat seemed to have quite an input into the design process, as it was all-white, had a V-neck and skimpy shorts, and had the Dutch flag emblazoned across its front. Well, kind of. It certainly had a narrow red and blue horizontal bands on the chest, separated by a good 20mm of white space, in which sat the blue NTL logo. The collar was identical to the home shirt, but with a red contrast V inset, and there were narrow red cuffs on the sleeves as well. The Rangers monogram and Nike swoosh were in a very contrasting dark blue.

The most interesting aspect of this shirt was the construction pattern. Football shirts tended to have armsyces that were more or less vertical, meeting the shoulder seams roughly where the shoulder joint would be on its wearer. However, an alternative method was to use a diagonal, or arcing armsyce that connected directly to the collar. Adidas had used this type of seam in the early 80s, and it’s probably most recognised from its intermittent appearance on Arsenal kits from 1988 onwards.

It had appeared on a couple of Rangers goalie shirts, but this would be the first time it would appear on an outfield shirt. And it wasn’t just as simple as that. The back and sleeves were of a different material, with bands of alternating thick and thin horizontal shadowstripes. The body’s side seams were actually a few hundred millimetres further onto the front of the shirt than they would normally be, forming a lazy ‘s’ shape, as they meandered from the bottom hem to meet up with the armsyce on its way to the collar. The sleeves came in two parts, a plain material underarm section joined to a shadow-striped overarm part. This seam formed another loose ‘s’ as it moved up the arm before running parallel to the armsyce, connecting at the collar a few millimetres above the shoulder seam. Completing this overly complicated assembly was a hemline that dipped down at the front and back like a 1920s shirt tail.

It was partnered with a pair of white shorts with a thin band of red trim at the hem, and a pair of white socks with a narrow red band in the centre of the turnover.

Figure 9 Rangers’ 00-01 away kit

Perhaps mindful of the fact that a white away kit seemed to result in having to commission a third kit, the club commissioned a deep red third kit. The shirt was a real departure for the club, featuring a lace-up wing col…nope, it was a V-neck again, this time with some black edging, repeated on the sleeve hems. Like the away shirt, the sleeve was constructed of an underarm and overarm segment, this time the seam being demarcated with black piping. Other than that, the pattern was a more traditional version than its sibling.

The logos were white, and it was paired with red shorts with black pin stripes at the sides, and plain red socks. However, as Rangers had entered an era where mixing and matching of kit elements was now fair game, the full third kit would never be worn in the two years it was in use. The red shirt was normally worn with white shorts, and the home and away socks would also be called into action, alongside the proper red socks.

Figure 10 Rangers’ 00-02 3rd kit alternate, worn vs. Hibernian in October 2000


Figure 11 Rangers’ 00-02 3rd kit alternative, worn vs. Kilmarnock in August 2000 and January 2002.

The red shorts were worn with the away kit once as well. While the full white set would mostly be used when Rangers needed to change, a pair of dark blue Nike shorts were substituted away to Dundee in September, which given Dundee were also wearing dark blue shorts, didn’t make a lick of sense. In terms of alternate kits, Rangers mostly avoided any gratuitous changes, although they did wear the red shirt away to Hibernian.

Figure 12 Rangers’ 00-01 away alternative, worn vs. Dundee in September 2000.

Stefan Klos was once again the club’s first choice goalkeeper, and he and his deputies Mark Brown and Jesper Christiansen had a new set of jerseys to choose from. The most commonly used was a deceptively complex affair in teal. The front of the shirt featured a grid of miniscule loops set on a slightly darker background, with arcing armsyces curving in to meet a black polo neck collar. Black panels were present at the sides and under the arms, with the loops motif continuing onto the topside of the sleeves, where it became more intermittent.

The top half of the back of the shirt was black, and the bottom half body coloured. It’s hard to tell from photographs, but I suspect the tiny loops on the shirt were tacky, designed to help the ball adhere to the keeper’s jersey. While the teal shirt was preferred by Klos, there were also versions in dark grey and black, light grey, and yellow.

Figure 13 Rangers’ 00-01 1st choice goalkeeper shirt

The third full season of squad numbers had been the most settled yet, with only a couple of moves. Tony Vidmar switched back to 25 and Billy Dodds cascaded down from 47 to the 16 shirt vacated by Colin Hendry. Tugay Kermioglu did the same, moving from 26 to 17. Conversely, Sergio Porrini moved from 2 – 21 (new signing Fernando Rickson taking the number 2 shirt,) and Darius Adamczuk from 17 – 28, while Marco Negri and Lionel Charbonnier continued their slow egress from the club, dropping from 21 – 35, and 22 – 30 respectively.

Oddly, new signing Ronald de Boer had his name displayed on his shirt as ‘R. de Boer’ – the fore initial normally being a distinguisher for those players who might share a surname. This was only the third season in his 12 year career he’d played for a team where his twin Frank wasn’t also in the squad, so perhaps this was just a superstition on his part. Conversely, Barry Ferguson shed the ‘B’ from his jersey. The name Ferguson is unusually strongly linked with football in Scotland – aside from the Alex Ferguson dynasty, Rangers had at least 2 Fergies, mostly unrelated, in their squad from 1983 through to 2000, save the 1986-87 season when there was just Derek. They’ve been a bit more thin on the ground recently though.

Once again, Rangers wore unnamed, 1-11 shirts in the Champions League qualifiers, but unusually also in a pair of Scottish Cup matches, in rounds 3 and 4, against Brechin and Ross County.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 28
Home alternatives 19
Away 4
Away alternatives 2
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 3

Table 4 Rangers kit combinations, 00-01

2001-02

Manager –Dick Advocaat (until 12th December 2001.) Alex McLeish (from 13th December 2001.) Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – NTL

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White shirts, navy shorts, white socks.

Third – Red shirts with navy trim, red shorts, red socks.

An article published in the Sunday Mail in April 2001 had quoted a club spokesman saying that, as a result of Rangers wanting to do something different with the supply of player and replica kit, the club were considering exercising a five year break clause in the Nike deal. As such, 2001-02 would transpire to be the American manufacturer’s last season kitting out the Ibrox team. Coincidentally or not, the new Nike home and away kits launched in the summer of 2001 were underwhelming to me, although it’s worth pointing out that this might be the start of Nike’s descent into utilitarian templates. In a piece published on the Classic Football Shirts blog in September 2017, Nike designer Drake Ramberg noted that 1996 had been around the time that Nike ‘refocused on designing for the athlete’, rather than continuing with the like of the more elaborate designs they’d previously produced for Dortmund and PSG.

I’m not sure if relationships between the parties had soured as a result of Rangers breaking the contract, but the new designs seemed perfunctory and barely much of a change to the preceding season’s strips. Mind you, I sometimes think the same about the last two Adidas kits, but perhaps that’s just a result of looking back 20 years. A story did emerge in February 2002 where a design student, Kerry Hamilton, claimed to have designed the kits while on work experience. Nike, for their part denied these claims, although they did acknowledge that Miss Hamilton had some input to the socks, but more on that later.

The shirt itself was blue, as usual, but the presence of large red panels under the arms and red wedges at the sides of the body caused consternation among those fans that don’t like too much red on the Rangers shirt. White piping outlined these panels, joining up with the arcing armsyces, and continuing on to the collar, which was…are you sure you’re ready for this revelation? Okay. Definitely? Right, it was a V-neck.

You told me you were ready!

The collar was, for the most part white, apart from where it intersected with a small red triangular insert at the base of the V, after which it switched to body-colour blue. White tape trimmed the bottom of the sleeves. The back was subtly different, with no piping marking the shoulder seams. The piping outlining the red side panels carried round onto the back, eventually sloping down to meet the hem, but like the seams, there was no piping on the edge of the insert that joined the main body, which was also straighter than its forward fellow.

The monogram, Nike swoosh and NTL sponsor were exactly as they appeared on the previous home kit. As Rangers had failed to win the league in 2000-01, the SPL competition patches were back to standard blue versions, and the shirt numbers and names appeared in the mandated font. Well, apart from the two domestic cup finals where they would wear a different font, with squad numbers that were allocated to the matchday squads, rather than the squad numbers registered with the SPL.

The shorts were the standard white, and as plain as you can get, with no piping or pinstripes. The socks were a bit more contentious. While Rangers had previously not shied away from using sock colours other than the historical black and red, the announcement that the team would wear red socks with black tops during the forthcoming season was met worth consternation, and the club quickly backtracked.

Figure 14 Rangers’ 01-02 home kit, as per launch

That’s the story I vaguely remember at the time, and Denis Hurley asked if I’d be covering it in this piece. While I’ve found a photograph of the kit launch with Barry Ferguson sporting said red socks, I can’t find anything from the club that acknowledges the red socks were a mistake. They were certainly only worn in one competitive match – oddly against Celtic at home in the league in September.

Instead, Advocaat continued his sock putsch, with Rangers wearing the now familiar alternative white and blue stockings with the home shirt and shorts in 65% of games under his command. Conversely, when the childhood Rangers fan Alex McLeish was appointed as Rangers’ new manager in December, the team returned to wearing mostly black and red socks with the home kit, doing so on 88% of occasions.

The black & red and the white & blue socks were actually slightly different to the sets used in 1997-99 and 1999-00 (which were virtually identical to one another,) having the monogram on the shin and a Nike swoosh on the turnover. Conversely, the away socks and the red & black socks worn by Ferguson in June also had the monogram on the shin, but the Nike logo on the back of the sock.

But wait. It’s not as simple as that in the Rangers sock department. It never is. Whatever the reason for the club ditching the red stockings, they needed to come up with an alternative. They wore white & blue socks away against Aberdeen, and at home against Maribor, before the black & red ones appeared against Livingston at Ibrox in August. But they were the 99-01 iterations, if not the 97-99 ones. They were worn in three matches before the proper new set arrived. When the red & black socks were finally given an outing, against Celtic, they were different to the ones modelled by Ferguson in June, adopting the model of monogram on shin and Nike swoosh on turnover as used on the black & red and blue & white socks. Coupled with the away and third socks, this meant the team wore six different sets that season. A lot, but they’d manage to outdo themselves in this respect a few years down the line.

Figure 15 Rangers 01-02 home kit (black sock version)


Figure 16 Rangers’ 01-02 home kit (white sock version)

The new away kit, the eleventh in 12 seasons, was so similar to the one it replaced, it begged the question why the club even bothered. It was once again white, with red trim tape at the cuffs. The sleeves themselves were constructed of the now common underside and topside arm sections method, with a thin navy band offset from the cuff on the topside part.

Nike were among the first sportswear manufacturers to do away with collars themselves and simply have a hem at the neckline. And this was the case here, with red tape trimming the neckline. There was a small section of collar at the back of the shirt though, trimmed at the top in the red of the neckline, and at the bottom in navy, repeating the motif from the sleeves. The blue used for the trim, logos, crest, and shorts was notably darker than both the home kit and the previous away kit, but the overall effect was so similar to the previous shirt, one wonders why they bothered changing it, revenue generation aside. The shorts also had a red dart on each side, and the badges were picked out in white.

Figure 17 Rangers’ 01-02 away kit

The red 3rd kit appeared twice in its second season, against Dynamo Moscow in the UEFA Cup, and at Kilmarnock in the league. Clubs nowadays are expected to wear competition patches for up to five different contests, and it makes me wonder how kit controllers manage this – do they have multiple sets of shirts, all with the different patches on, or do they have to painstakingly swap them over from match to match? Perhaps a bit of both? There were a number of games in the 2001-02 season Rangers turned out in shirts that didn’t have any patches; most of these were in cup games, but the red shirt was patchless in the game against Kilmarnock mentioned above, as they had been against Dynamo.

Stefan Klos had been a little injury prone in his previous two full seasons, missing 35% then 16% of games respectively, but he managed to start 57 of the 59 games in 01-02. Allan McGregor deputised in three games, including one substitute appearance. Klos preferred to wear his grey and black shirt he’d retained from the previous season, but he had two new jerseys to choose from. Each was a different colourway of a new template that wasn’t massively different from the year before’s – the sky blue one in particular was almost identical from the front, but lacked the large black panels on the back and under the arms. That being said, the 00-01 version appeared in the UEFA Cup match against Paris Saint-Germain for reasons that remain Rangers-y. Allan McGregor also wore this shirt on his two starts for the club.

Figure 18 Rangers’ 01-02 goalkeeper shirt

You often hear the phrase ‘classic line-up’ used in relation to rock bands, when a certain cohort of individuals is associated with the group’s greatest critical and commercial successes. So it goes with football as well, and while Dick Advocaat hadn’t been in charge nearly as long as his predecessor, but you could argue that 1999 had been as much of a zenith for the club as, say, 1993, winning the treble and beating Parma and PSV twice. But then something seemed to go wrong. From a treble in his first season, he managed the double in his second, then no domestic trophies and a European collapse in his third.

The summer of 2001 saw a number of the players that had been stalwarts for the club for the previous 3 or 4 years move on. Albertz, Porrini, Wallace, van Bronkhorst, Tugay and Allan Johnston all left during the summer, and Claudio Reyna and Kenny Miller followed in December. The players that replaced them were solid enough, but perhaps a little past their best. After years of being spendthrifts, the club were starting to cut their cloth.

A new look squad meant some number changes. Neil McCann and Tore Andre Flo moved from 18 – 11 and 22 – 9, with Michael Mols switching from 9 to 10. Similarly, Andrei Kanchelskis vacated the number 7 shirt for the veteran Argentine superstar Claudio Cannigia, taking 17 instead. While the club failed to win the league for the second season in a row, they did win the League and Scottish Cups. As was now traditional, they switched to 1-11 numbering, with names, but this season they took things a stage further by using a font that wasn’t the standard SPL one, instead pulling the old Nike numbers from 98-99 out of retirement for one last shot at glory.

Having moved from manager to director of football in December, Dick Advocaat would depart the club entirely that November. Nike would precede him out the door, leaving a fair legacy – 7 domestic trophies in 5 seasons, and four decent runs in Europe. Perhaps with the noises coming out of the boardroom at the time, many of us at thought that Rangers might be going on to bigger and better things; surely none of us could have guessed what was to come.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 30
Home alternatives 19
Away 5
Away alternatives 3
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 2

Table 5 Rangers kit combinations, 01-02

When I first posted part one of this series, I hadn’t expected it to be so warmly received. It didn’t ‘bang’ or ‘do numbers’ (I believe that’s what the kids say,) but those people that are interested in such things said some kind things. I then realised that if I was going to write more on Rangers’ kits, and present it to kit aficionados, it’d have to be far more comprehensive than the mostly half-remembered ramblings from 20 years past that the first part was.

From 1987-1997, I owned at least one of the kits Rangers would wear each season – often two. Barring three seasons, I’ve managed the same since 2002. Conversely, I never owned any of the Nike merchandise. Not a scrap. It wasn’t because their playing and training wear didn’t appeal to me; on the contrary, I thought they turned out some really nice stuff. This was just a period of my life when I wasn’t as interested in football as I had been. Other interests had taken hold. For instance, in the first season of the Nike kits I was saving my student bursary to buy my first guitar. CDs were more expensive then, relatively speaking, and there was the odd driving lesson as well.

From 1997 onwards, I think I went through a bit of a pretentious stage where I felt a middle-class intellectual that I clearly was shouldn’t really be having to do anything with such a working-class endeavour like football. This was a patently ridiculous notion of course, but it seemed to hold for a little while. In 2000, I started university, a fairly large polytechnic in a small city some 300 miles away. That 300 miles was significant because it meant the university was in England, a country that historically has only ever shown any interest in Scottish football when it’s to make money out of it, or to mock it. This was pre-widespread PC ownership, and certainly before the introduction of the smartphone, so my opportunities to keep abreast of goings on at Rangers became somewhat limited, despite my interest in the game becoming renewed.

As a result, I don’t have a great anecdotal recollection of the Rangers kits from 1997 to 2005, when I moved back to Glasgow. I’ve had to do a fair amount of research for this piece, and that was both easier in some respects and far more difficult in others. As the 90s had progressed, BBC Scotland’s Sportscene and STV’s Scotsport were carrying highlights of more and more games in Scotland; up until 1992 at least, only a couple of the weekend’s matches had TV cameras at them. Much of this footage can now be found in poor quality clips uploaded to YouTube, but it all helps. A similar case is true with print coverage – full-colour newspapers became common in the 1990s, and the development of high-end digital single lens reflex cameras and associated information communication technology meant that images could be zipped from pitchside to website in a matter of…well, 20 minutes. If you could get a connection. It was still early days. A lot of these pictures have since been uploaded to various picture archive websites, if you put in the mileage looking for them. It all means there were fewer places for strange combinations and unusual one-off kits to hide. You just have to know where to look.

Once again, Denis Hurley from Museum of Jerseys has gone above and beyond in providing illustrations. While his graphics for the first piece were a later addition, this time round has been more of a collaboration, as we’ve bounced ideas, shared research pictures, and come to consensus about exactly what bloody socks Rangers were wearing on a particular day.

Thanks also go to Stewart Brown for the reference pictures of the 97-99 home shirt.


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Soccermetrics and Scottish Football – a follow up

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about the rise of soccermetrics in Scottish football, and how I wasn’t sure how much value they added. To be honest, my tone was a bit snarky. I’d like to say it wasn’t deliberate, but I think I’d snapped a bit after reading yet another tweet shared onto my timeline about how stats ‘proved’ Barrie McKay and James Tavernier were Rangers’ best players, and I went off a bit, at the wrong targets. I should have been criticising the credulity of people that were displaying their confirmation bias rather than the guys who spend a lot of time analysing data, and I apologise for that.

That said, I still think it’s important to critique, audit, and monitor soccermetrics to ensure their validity. I’m a big fan of looking at football as objectively as possible, as humans are terrible at processing stimuli – we’re far too emotional. Conversely, sometimes we can get a little too objective, and little bit of interpretation of data is often helpful. It’s getting the balance right that’s the trick. A lot of Rangers supporters were, and still are, fans of James Tavernier and Barrie McKay, and would regularly retweet posts from metrics accounts that highlighted when they had high Expected Assist (xA) scores, which seemed to me the type of confirmation bias rampant on social media. I have to be open here – I’m not a massive fan of either player, despite recognising each is talented, and so I convinced myself that there was an issue with the xA model.

For most of the 2016-17season, both Tavernier and McKay had far higher xA than actual assists. McKay ended the season with 0.15 assists per 90, and Tavernier 0.20. In context, there were 8 Rangers players who assisted more regularly, and four who racked up 2nd assists more frequently. Combining goals per 90 and assists per 90 for the entire squad, McKay was ranked 10th, and Tavenier was ranked 12th. This discrepancy between expected and actual assists was often put down to the paucity of the strikers who were receiving the key passes, although I maintain that by rights, if Tavernier and McKay were more creative than the rest of the team, they should have had more assists per 90 than the rest of the team, regardless of who was playing up front. Funnily enough, four strikers that Rangers offloaded during the summer have had impressive starts at their new teams, at comparable levels of the game (although sustaining early form over the course of the season is always hard.)

Player

Goals per 90 2016-17

Goals per 90 2017-18 (to date)

Joe Dodoo

0.44

2.05

Joe Garner

0.33

1.00

Michael O’Halloran

0.00

1.20

Martyn Waghorn

0.33

1.14

 

In the summer of 2017, new Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha made a few changes to the Rangers squad. Most pertinently to this post, Barrie McKay left to join former manager Mark Warburton at Nottingham Forest, and Daniel Candeias was signed from Benfica. The Portuguese midfielder has had an immediate impact, contributing 1 goal, 3 assists, and 4 secondary assists after 8 games in all competitions, and has hopefully ameliorated fears that the departure of McKay would make Rangers less creative (McKay managed 6 goals, 12 assists, and 10 secondary assists in 46 games in all competitions last season.)

Candieas isn’t a straight replacement for McKay though, given the Scotsman played on the left at Ibrox, and the Portuguese works on the right. Pedro Caixinha not only changed much of the playing squad over the summer, he tweaked the formation as well, from the nominal 4-3-3 favoured by Warburton (realistically more like a 2-3-5) to something more akin to a traditional 4-4-2 (although operating more like a 2-5-3.) Under Mark Warburton’s stewardship, Rangers tended to line up with a slightly asymmetrical formation, with Barrie McKay and Lee Wallace teaming up on the left and Tavernier tending to mostly have the right flank to himself for the best part of 2 seasons. There’s some data to back this up – the Rangers Report’s Controlled Zone Entries metric measured Tavernier’s tendency to get forward from right-back. This season Rangers have lined up with Wallace and Windass on the left, and Candeias in front of Tavernier on the right. The Englishman’s xA figures appear to have dropped off this season, which is consistent with having an out-and-out right midfielder playing in front of him, and limiting his chances to get into the final third. It should be noted that his goals per 90 and assists per 90 are actually up on last season at this stage, and his xA (at least before the international break) is more tolerably closer to his actual assist figure.

This does raise a little doubt in my mind again about expected assists models. Why was Tavernier’s xA and xG so high for most of last season, despite his actual A and G scores being lower? Was it due to the paucity of the strikers, who are now netting regularly elsewhere? I think this is down to an issue of quantity. Expected Goals and Expected Assists are designed to attempt to measure the degree of difficulty of an attempt on goal, something a lot of us would like to know. But when you start aggregating xA and xG over the course of a season, you begin to lose a bit of that hard-earned granularity. As you can probably tell, I’m still a little bit sceptical about xG and xA, as I think they can be decontextualized by aggregation. I like that the Backpass Rule factors in the number of attempts that have generated the xG figure – for me at least, this makes the figure far more intuitive, and I’d be interested to see the same thing done regularly for xA.

For example, we know that James Tavernier scored 1 league goal last season despite taking 45 shots, meaning that of those Rangers players that scored a goal, he had the worst conversion rate. The average xG figure per shot seems to average about 0.2, so Tavernier could easily have reached 5.4 xG over the course of the season just from his 27 shots off target. I suspect something similar happened with his xA tally – it was bolstered by aggregation of lots of poor quality passes. While Tavernier’s xG+xA seems to have dropped off a little, Rangers’ goals-per-game has increased, from 1.47 last season to 2.2 this season, so the team’s not showing any signs of a downturn in creativity. Of course, it’s early days yet as only 5 league games have been played, and perhaps Alfredo Morelos’ 1.35 goals per 90 stat shows he is a better striker than last season’s crop. Of course, I could have written this entire piece to try and justify what is primarily me subjectively not rating a pair of footballers. But I do think the data lends credence to my theory here, even as much as it lends itself to other people’s contrary opinion.

Ger-seys: A short history of Rangers’ kits from 1987 onwards

I first became interested in football in 1989, and my fascination with the aesthetics of the game closely followed. I’d always been interested in construction, having a father who had been an apprentice architect and a huge collection of Lego, so becoming intrigued by sports stadia was straight forward. Football kits were a different kettle of fish as to this day I still have almost no interest in fashion in general. I remember my primary 6 class being set a challenge. What the challenge actually was I forget, but my response was to design the football kit of the future. My concept was much like a standard football kit, but had an integral long sleeve and long leg wetsuit-like dry layer and a built-in watch, to add comfort. Looking back now, I’d managed to pre-empt the base layer and wearable tech era we now find ourselves in. It wasn’t deliberate at all.

I started drawing football shirts on a regular basis, and even invented my own league, populated evenly by real and fictional teams. For the real teams, I’d try to recreate their newly released kits (with my not especially stellar freehand drawing skills,) and for the fictional teams I’d design my own. I’d use both existing sportswear companies and my own fictional brand (used for the future concept mentioned above,) Venture. I had intended to make sportswear design my career, and even got as far as studying graphic design in college before I made a bit of a left turn into photography (and eventually ending up in supply chain management,) but I am still fascinated by the design of football kits.

I recently stumbled across the blog Museum of Jerseys, which has a cracking feature entitled ‘Midweek Mashup’ which looks at examples of where football teams have had to swap part of their kit for another colour, causing some odd mismatch in the process. Historically, sport teams of all codes have had two kits – their usual apparel, and a change outfit, which traditionally was of a contrasting colour. Sounds simple enough. But football kit design is widely diverse with dozens of combinations of different colour ways and arrangements. Stripes, hoops, halves, quarters, diamonds, different colour sleeves, third and fourth colours, multiple-coloured socks. Sometimes just one alternative kit isn’t enough. More and more teams have three change kits now, and sometimes even that isn’t enough if a referee feels that there’s a clash. And bear in mind apart from there being two teams, there are two goalkeepers, and a set of officials, who all have to wear contracting colours for ease of identification in split second decisions. (This is the reason undershirts, undershorts, and sock tape all have to be colour-coded to the respective piece of kit.)

Sometimes what is and isn’t considered a colour clash isn’t clear (Celtic vs. Hibs, or Newcastle united vs. Sunderland spring to mind,) and each manager, referee, and kit controller deals with a clash in a different way. And this is where the strange combinations come from. The English Football League has had a rule for some years where clubs must ensure “registered colours (shirts, shorts and stockings) to be used are clearly distinguishable from those of their opponents.” Some clubs will change only the shorts. Or only the socks. Or only the shorts and socks. Either way you end up with the odd unusual mixture of different colour garments.

I support Rangers, and in Scottish football there’s never really been a rule about short clashes (well, not in the last 80 years,) so weird and wonderful kit mashups are far less common. Rangers do tend to wear alternative socks at times, and so I thought it would be interesting to look at the Gers adventures in playing kit over the last 30 years.

1987-1990 Umbro

Rangers launched their new home kit in the summer of 1987. Styled by Umbro, and with a new sponsor in the form of McEwan’s Lager, it represented a dramatic shift away from the 1983-86 kit. As the technology of artificial fibres improved through the 80s, kit manufacturers were able to introduce subtle shadow patterns, woven into the fabric itself. While previously these shadow effects had taken the form of stripes, Umbro started to take things a stage further.

The British manufacturer supplied a huge number of teams in the 80s and early 90s, and 1987 saw them release new designs for Rangers, Celtic, and Aberdeen. Many sportswear manufacturers design only a handful of template kits each year and tweak them for each club they supply to try and maintain some sort of individuality. So was the case for the three arch rivals – Rangers’ kit had a small shadow check design, Aberdeen’s a large check, and Celtic’s were rotated 45 degrees to form a diamond effect. All three kits featured grandad collars with a plastic popper button fastening. Notably, Rangers’ kit strayed away from tradition by including blue socks. The previous set had been partnered with red socks, as well as the more traditional black and red stockings, but blue would endure for the next five years, which I suspect might have been due to Graeme Souness’ influence, after his time in Italy (Rangers’ footering with their black socks tends to coincide with continental management appointments.)

Rangers-Umbro-1988-1990-home-shirt-kit-01

Rangers’ 1987-1990 home kit (illustration by Denis Hurley)

The away kit for 87-88 was slightly curious. Introduced in 1985, it was ostensibly the same template as Watford’s home and Newcastle’s away of the same period. However, the collar was notably different, an open necked flappy affair that owed more to the 70s (in terms of design, if not proportions,) than the increasingly fashion-conscious 80s. The sponsor was updated from CR Smith to McEwan’s Lager, but it was rarely used over the next two seasons, appearing perhaps 7 times in total. In the summer of 1988, a striking new kit replaced it. Clearly inspired by Monaco’s iconic home colours, Gers’ new away kit was diagonally halved, with red on the left, white on the right, and contrasting sleeves. Interestingly, this is popularly said to have been released in 1987, which is mainly due to the use of the grandad collar at a time when Umbro were moving towards wing collars. There are tell-tale signs that give its 1988 provenance away though, namely the diagonal shadow stripe and the dart shaped contrast colour inserts on the sides of the shorts. Both white socks with red tops, and red socks were worn with it.

The goalkeeping situation was no less murky. Main custodian Chris Woods had three colour jerseys available to him each season – yellow (his preferred colour, and that traditionally worn by goalkeepers in the Scottish league,) red, and a rarely used grey. The standard template shirt he wore in 1987-88 and 1988-89 was identical save for the ‘Umbro No. 1’ goalkeeper branding being superseded by the normal Umbro logo the following season. Inexplicably though, Woods wore a yellow ‘Hampden’ template goalie shirt against St. Mirren in February 1989. Perhaps this had been supplied to the club in 1988, but had Woods had preferred his ’87 shirt?

In 1989-90, he adopted a new style of jersey; this one had a large quilted section over the chest and shoulders, and had one of Umbro’s most audacious shadow patterns to date woven through the fabric, in the shape of bands of alternating chevrons, as would appear on Leeds and Man City kits. Again, yellow was the preferred choice for Woods and his deputy Bonni Ginzburg, but a red version was available. Interestingly, while Woods normally wore a pair of outfield shorts, Ginzburg donned yellow goalkeeper shorts (with attendant hip padding) for the game against Hearts in September 1989. These had the club crest embroidered on them, which suggests they were part of the kit.

The eighties Umbro-donning Rangers were not particularly known for kit miscellanea, but there is one titbit. In a pre-season friendly against Spurs in the summer of 1989, Rangers took to the field wearing a home shirt that was without the shadow check pattern, and had a different number font. This kit was never worn again, to my knowledge.

1990-1992 Admiral

Admiral hold a special place in the hearts of many kit enthusiasts, but I’ve never really liked their designs. Famous in the 70s and 80s for their bold templates, they had gone bankrupt in 1982, despite holding the England replica kit contract. Remerging towards the end of the decade, they had begun to supply a number of clubs in Britain, and once more Rangers shared a template with a fellow Scottish club, this time Motherwell. The new kit was either somewhat underwhelming, or classically simple, depending on your point of view. Echoing the 1960-1968 kit, there were no flashes, accents or inserts on the main body of the kit, but the white V neck collar featured a blue band with a white zig-zagging line, and a single red border. There was a strange plasticky wood texture throughout the kit material, but this could only really be seen up close. Blue socks were retained, but perhaps the most notable thing about the new kit was the amended crest, which now featured a scroll above reading ‘Rangers Football Club’, with ‘Ready’ picked out in individual letters underneath the RFC monogram. Rangers are unusual in that they have had a number of different crests and badges, with the club preferring to use the ‘lion and football’ badge for everyday purposes, and retain the monogram for the playing kit. The monogram also featured, sans scroll, on the back of the shirt, just under the collar, on all kits.

The away kit was similarly non-descript, a white shirt-blue-shorts-white socks combo broken up by a red and a blue chevron on each shoulder, which looked uncomfortably close to the triple chevrons Adidas were employing at the time on some of their kits. It wouldn’t have been the first time Admiral ’emulated’ Adidas…

There was no third kit, and as far as I’m aware, no swapping of kit elements although the home and away designs were neatly interchangeable*. The goalkeeper kits replicated the colour formula that had been in place under Umbro, with Chris Woods and his successor Andy Goram able to choose from a yellow, red, or silver-grey shirt. Goram was far more likely to don the red or silver shirt than Woods, who seemed glued into his yellow jersey, even wearing it away against Motherwell. Interestingly, while the yellow and red shirts featured the same ‘flame’ pattern that would appear in next season’s Southampton’s away and third shirts, the grey shirt’s pattern was closer to a cross between Liverpool’s 1989-91 away kit and a similar Ribero graphic of the time.

Rangers had signed a multi-year contract with Admiral, but by the second season their patience with the supplier was running thin. The sale of replica kit and club-branded leisurewear was becoming increasingly vital to British teams, and so when colour-fastness issues with the official club shellsuit resulted in negative press coverage, Rangers opted to terminate the arrangement, and signed a five year contract with Adidas in February 1992 with the new kits unveiled at the same time.

*The reserves played at least one match away to Kilmarnock in the 1990/91 season wearing the home shorts with the away shirt and socks.

1992-1997 Adidas

The Adidas equipment templates of 1991-1995, divide opinion, but I always really liked them. They were big, bold and a different tack for the German company, and I’d love to see them return on a modern kit someday. Well, the templates Liverpool and Rangers used in 1992-93 anyway – some of the others weren’t great, but more on that later.

Rangers’ two new outfield kits were for all intents and purposes identical. Utilising the Adidas Equipment template that featured three vertical stripes arranged in triangles either side of a modified V-neck collar that connected to an isosceles trapezoid panel at the base of the ‘v’, where the manufacturer’s logo was situated. The Rangers crest sat directly underneath, in the middle of the shirt, which was something of a novelty at that time. The material itself was subdued compared to the previous Admiral effort, with three Adidas shadow stripes repeating vertically on the shirts and shorts. McEwan’s Lager returned as sponsor, but they had updated their logotype with the word ‘Lager’ now smaller than ‘McEwan’s’. Both words used different fonts to each other, and the previous logotype, and the result was a classier look for the sponsor.

Both home and away made use of a red-white-blue palette. The home shirt was blue, of course, with a red collar and white shoulder stripes, and white shorts. The away kit was white, but the shoulder stripes were red and the collar blue. Both collars had a red, white and blue accent. Perhaps most notably, the black socks with red tops returned. They had been a part of the home kit since 1904 but had only featured intermittently from 1968 onwards. Fashions change a lot in football, and sometimes managers have clear ideas about players wearing brightly coloured socks. However, save the 1972 throwback kit of 2012/13 season, they’ve been present ever since. The away socks on the other hand were red with white tops, with three Adidas stripes (blue, red, blue) on the turnover. While these sock stripes had been a trademark of the German company since at least 1974, they hadn’t appeared on the kits Adidas had manufactured for Marseille and Liverpool in 1991, so it’s a little surprising in retrospect to see them here.

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Rangers’ 1992-94 home kit (illustration by Denis Hurley)

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Rangers’ 1992-93 away kit (illustration by Denis Hurley)

Goalkeeper wise, Andy Goram and Ally Maxwell had the usual yellow, red, and grey versions of a manufacturer’s goalie jersey to choose from, although Goram did play at least two matches wearing a generic Adidas ‘Taifun’ shirt with McEwan’s Lager printed on it, for reasons unclear. Intriguingly, contemporary catalogues from retailers advertised replica versions of Rangers goalkeeper shirts for the 1993-94 season that utilised the ‘Rib Bar’ template (as per the 1993 Liverpool home shirt,) in purple. These were never worn by the first team, as far as I’m aware, but more on that later.

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Rangers’ 1992-97 ‘home’ goalkeeper kit (illustration by Denis Hurley)

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Rangers’ 1992-94 ‘away’ goalkeeper kit (illustration by Denis Hurley)

Speaking of the sponsors, in season 92-93, Rangers qualified for the inaugural Champions League, whose regulations precluded shirt sponsors (this seems faintly ridiculous 25 years on, but hey ho.) Rangers received a shipment of sponsorless jerseys for the first group match against Marseille, but the fact Mark Hateley, Trevor Steven, and Alexei Mikhailitchenko preferred to wear long-sleeved shirts had clearly been overlooked. Thus the two Englishmen and Ukrainian lined up against the French champions wearing long sleeve shirts with a rectangular patch from another home kit stitched over the offending sponsor. Due to UEFA’s rules on the home team changing if there was a kit clash, we also experienced the rare sight of Rangers wearing their away kit at Ibrox, in the group match against Bruges. Finally, a competition patch would adorn a Rangers shirt for the first time in the form of the Champions League Starball. The Scottish Football League wouldn’t adopt such patches until 1995.

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Rangers’ long sleeved home shirt with sponsor patch, worn against Marseille in the Champions League (illustration by Denis Hurley)

Despite a new kit supplier, Rangers kit would continue to display inconsistencies in terms of the shirt numbering font. Rangers, like most clubs, had historically used a rounded, simple font for their shirt numbering, before adopting the fashionable new block with inset border in 1982. They would stick with this format until the second season with Admiral, when they reverted back to the old-fashioned round numerals. But from season 1993-94 onwards, the club’s shirt numbering became a crap shoot. Both Adidas kits in 1992-93 had featured the rounder numbers (Ally McCoist went through a period of wearing one shirt in the first half with a slightly thinner number 9, before changing to one with a regular 9 for the second half, attributed to superstition in a Scottish fitba magazine of the time.) However, for the new season, the home kit reverted to bearing block numerals, utilising a design that was synonymous with Adidas. This type had three diagonal stripes at the top left of each number, and the Adidas logo on a bar, at the bottom.

As for the away kit, that was a little more complicated.

The first Adidas attempt at a change kit hadn’t proved to be popular, apparently because it was too similar to the previous Admiral kit, so a radically different alternative strip was launched in the summer of 1993. A bold statement in orange and navy stripes, it had half striped shorts, and socks with three bands around the mid-calf area. It was also the first Rangers kit with a modern polo-style wing collar. Intriguingly the kit worn by the club differed slightly from the prototype featured in the launch material. The changes mostly affected the shorts; the prototype had the Adidas logo on the right leg and the club badge on the left. This was switched to the conventional placing for the kit proper, which also acquired a solid navy waistband, with a Rangers scroll inset on an orange square on the front of the waistband. The socks changed too, from orange with navy bands and navy turnovers, to all navy with orange bands.

As mentioned previously, sometimes kit colour clashes are managed in a way that might not appear intuitive to many spectators at first glance. If team A and B both wear a solid blue kit, then it makes sense that team B would change to a different solid coloured outfit. But football teams often wear striped and hooped jerseys and this often confuses matters, particularly due to the optical illusion where colours bleed into one another from a distance. The human eye focusses differently wavelengths of colour at different point, a phenomenon known as chromatic aberration that affects all lenses, mechanical and biological – if you’ve ever had an eye test (most people have had an eye test, right?) this is the purpose of the black concentric circles on a red and green background element. Thus, Celtic’s equal sized white and green hooped shirts appear whitish from a distance, Kilmarnock’s blue and white appears whitish, Milan’s red and black appears reddish, and so on. Historically Celtic would wear their green and white kit against Hibs, and Rangers their blue against Morton and Kilmarnock.

Similarly, away kits being of a similar colour to the home kit is hardly a new thing. Rangers have regularly had a blue and white striped or even hooped away kit, so a navy and orange striped shirt is not the huge departure I’d thought it was at the time (colourway notwithstanding.) Due to chromatic aberration, the shirt appeared more orange than blue from a distance, and was worn against St. Johnstone, Levski, and Raith without issue (Kilmarnock had switched to white shirts that season.) Away to Dundee however, whose navy shirts were similar in hue to Raith’s, the Tayside club changed into their alternative sets as well.

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Rangers’ 1993-94 away kit (illustration by Denis Hurley)

The new kit was first worn at St. Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park in August 1993, with rounded numerals used, in contrast to the home kit’s use of the block Adidas branded numbers. However, as the season went on, more and more ‘Adidas’ numbered shirts appeared, firstly in the away tie against Levski Sofia in Bulgaria. By the time of the game against Dundee in January, there was an even split between standard and Adidas numerals, while by February against Raith it was all Adidas numbers in the first half, with some players changing into shirts with rounded numbers in the second half. The Adidas numerals featured the trefoil logo (apart from the Levski games, where this branding was covered up with pieces of white plastic to comply with UEFA regulations,) as did the orange shirt’s collar label and button, but the shirts and shorts featured only the manufacturer’s logotype (the 92-93 kits’ labels didn’t have the trefoil or the three bar logo, but a square with three stripes instead.) I’ve since seen a number of ‘match-issue’ 93-94 away shirts offered for sale on the internet, but these tend to have the Adidas ‘Equipment’ logo, and I’m not sure Rangers actually wore these in a match. The home kit certainly had ‘Equipment’ branded numbers. It that all seems a bit confusing and messy…I think it was.

I’m not sure who was responsible for supplying the shirt numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been Adidas themselves; they didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of brand management at that period of time. Having introduced the new ‘Equipment’ marque in 1990, by 1993 they already appeared to be scaling back on its use…but instead of returning to the classic trefoil logo, they were using the company logotype by itself instead, with the trefoil appearing sparingly on labels and the like. This was no more evident than at the World Cup of 1994. The company provided kits for ten of the 24 finalists – United States, Romania, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Argentina, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Ireland, and Norway. As noted previously, Adidas were in the midst of a phase of reinventing their famous ‘3 stripe’ marque, and in the early to mid-90s were using a number of different branding concepts, some that explicitly used three stripes and some implicitly – the classic vertical 3 stripes, horizontal 3 stripes, ‘Equipment’ style bars, contiguous columns of flattened diamonds, and 3 stripes as part of the body of the shirt design were all used, and there were a couple of kits produced at this time that didn’t readily reference the three stripes at all.

The Adidas strips worn at USA 94 were a mishmash of these different ideas, all launched in 1994:

Team Logo Used Shirt Brand 1 Shirt Brand 2 Shorts Socks
Argentina (Home) Logotype Vertical stripes N/A Horizontal stripes Calf Hoops
Argentina (Away) Logotype Vertical Stripes Diamonds Diamonds Calf Hoops
Bulgaria (Home) Logotype Rib Bars N/A Hip Bars Calf Hoops
Bulgaria (Away) Logotype Rib Bars N/A Hip Bars Calf Hoops
Ireland (Home) Logotype N/A N/A N/A Turnover stripes
Ireland (Away) Logotype Body Stripes N/A N/A Turnover stripes
Germany (Home) Logotype N/A N/A N/A Turnover stripes
Germany (Away) Logotype N/A N/A N/A Turnover stripes
Nigeria (Home) Logotype N/A N/A N/A Calf Hoops
Nigeria (Away) Logotype N/A N/A N/A Calf Hoops
Norway (Home) Logotype Vertical Stripes Rib Bars Hip Bars Calf Hoops
Norway (Away) Logotype Vertical Stripes Diamonds Horizontal Stripes Calf Hoops
Romania (Home) Logotype Rib Bars N/A Hip Bars Calf Hoops
Romania (Away) Logotype Rib Bars N/A Hip Bars Calf Hoops
Spain (Home) Logotype Diamonds N/A Diamonds Turnover stripes
Spain (Away) Logotype Diamonds N/A Diamonds Turnover stripes
Sweden (Home) Logotype Rib Bars N/A N/A Calf Hoops
Sweden (Away) Logotype Rib Bars N/A N/A Calf Hoops
United States (Home) Logotype N/A N/A N/A N/A
United States (Away) Logotype N/A N/A N/A N/A

This melange of ideas suggested the new Rangers kits for the 94-95 season could be anything, but there already existed a far more accurate portent. On Boxing Day 1993, Liverpool played Sheffield United at Brammall Lane wearing a natty new gold third shirt. Its fabric featured a repeating motif in gold and black of the club’s badge intertwined mit den drei Streifen, broken up by a larger aspect of the motif on the right hand side. The shirt and shorts also had 3 horizontal stripes at the bottom of each sleeve and leg and a varsity jacket-style stud collar.

Rangers unveiled the new home, away, and goalkeeper kits in April 1994. The home set was virtually identical to the Liverpool 3rd kit, save for the colour, the stylised crew-neck collar, and the club badge fabric motif being a little more subtle. Notably there was no red on the shirt or shorts for the first time since the 84-87 kit, although the Adidas stripes had a very fine black border. Like the previous season’s away kit, there was another club crest on the front of the waistband.

But we should talk about the socks some more. Rangers very rarely wear any type of alternative shorts with the home shirt, but the socks are a far different story. It’s not just that they’ll occasionally wear red, or white stockings – quite often they’ll wear black and red socks, but which are from a previous season’s kit, assuming they’re not teamwear. Ostensibly, the 1992-94 socks, upon the kit’s release, were plain black with red turnovers, with the RFC monogram picked out in white, although it appears that black and red socks without the monogram were also used. Refreshing the design for 1994, Adidas simply added their logotype below the monogram, but more often than not the team turned out in the 92-93 socks instead. Against AEK at Ibrox in qualification round for the Champions League, the team wore plain red socks, as the Greek side also wore black socks. Bafflingly, both sides had worn black stockings in the match in Athens two weeks previously.

The red away kit took the varsity collar from the Liverpool 3rd kit, and combined with the black candy stripes, ended up looking something like a baseball uniform. The shirt had a large RFC monogram on its front, with the candy stripes changing to red wherever they intersected with the logo. The shorts were black with red candy stripe strips at the bottom of each leg, and the whole thing was complimented by a lovely pair of socks – red with black turnovers and 3 clean white Adidas hoops, the manufacturer’s branding being otherwise absent from the strip. While the full change kit was worn away to Falkirk in September, home socks were substituted in for the second visit in January 1995.

The new kit excitement didn’t end there though, with the introduction of the lilac ‘European change’ kit. With a similar collar to the previous season’s away kit, its fabric was constructed of solid and aertex-style stripes woven together (the Liverpool home shirt of the following season would be made of the same material.) Paired with black shorts with white-purple-white horizontal Adidas stripes, the socks were the same design as the away kit, but in purple instead of red. It was a gorgeous strip, one of my favourites, but ill-fated. With the club knocked out of the European Cup at the qualifying stage for the Champions League, the kit made one competitive appearance, against Motherwell in a 2-1 defeat in October 1994, when there was no clash of colours. It was never seen again.

As usual for Rangers, the greatest variety in playing kit came from the goalkeepers. The initial first-choice goalie kit was the new Adidas template, as worn by several keepers at the World Cup. For the previous decade or so, Rangers goalkeepers had worn either solid yellow or red shirts, but this design allowed both colours to be combined in one, with an Ajax-style central portion of red pebble-shaped blobs on a background, flanked by yellow pebbles. Would an alternate be needed, a purple and grey version was also available. Andy Goram would also wear this template in a grey and orange colourway against Kilmarnock in October. A point of interest is the use of crests this season; the home kit saw the return of the monogram sans scroll, while the away and European kit badges used the scroll version. The goalie shirts also had different badges, with the purple and grey and the grey and orange scroll-less, and the red and yellow with the scroll. On top of all that, Goram wore the old red Adidas Equipment jersey against Falkirk in the League Cup!

The numbering was at least straight-forward. The Adidas block template was used for all kits in all games, branded with the manufacturer’s logotype. There was now no sign of the trefoil or Three Bar logo anywhere on the kits. Well, aside from the shirt labels, which was still a mixed bag.

The club retained the home kit for the 1995-96 season, but released a new away strip, the beginning of a slow realisation for fans that clubs could make money by releasing more and more replica kit. On this occasion I’ll forgive them, as the new change shirt was a belter. Taking its cue again from a Liverpool’s get up, it had the same wide V-neck collar as the Anfield club’s new home shirt, but drew its quartered design from their away jersey, thankfully swapping the bottle green for red. It was complimented by 3 vertical stripes on the sleeves, being the only shirt that Adidas would produce for the club that would feature its trademark in its most readily recognised form. The shorts were simply black with three white vertical stripes, and like the home kit, the socks were identical enough to the previous season’s for it to be unclear what difference there was. The monogram crest had now permanently lost its scroll (at least when used on playing kit,) and sat inside a solid black shield. The back of the shirt was solid red, and the black Adidas numbers sat a little illegibly on it.

In domestic football anyway. After failing to qualify for the Champions League two seasons in a row, Rangers overcame the Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta to make it to the group stages. Oddly, they wore the new away kit in the home leg, and the home kit in the away leg. This had been the convention from 1991-93, but UEFA seemed to have reverted to having away teams changing in 1994. A new shirt number font would be used in European competition that seemed to be halfway between the old rounded number set and the blocky Adidas numerals, having the font weight of the former and the straight lines of the latter.

During the 95-96 season, Rangers used 4 goalkeepers, and as many goalie shirts. The club started the season utilising the ‘Predator’ template, as worn by the two other clubs in Adidas’ UK stable, Newcastle and Liverpool. Sticking to some sort of tradition, yellow & orange and grey & blue versions were available. But Andy Goram wouldn’t have been Andy Goram wearing just two jerseys. Oh no. By November he’d reverted to wearing the purple and grey Pebble shirt from the previous season, and would continue to do so for much of the season, with the orange & grey Pebble jersey popping up in March against Inverness Caley Thistle in the cup. In addition to resurrecting the Pebble shirt, Goram liked to combine it with a pair of Pebble template shorts, which he hadn’t done the season before. The problem was the Pebble shorts he wore were a different colourway to the jersey, being black with maroon and grey pebbles rather than purple and grey.

(Denis Hurley suggests the official name of the ‘Pebble’ template was the ‘Predator’, and I bow to his superior knowledge.)

With another two year cycle over, it was time for the last set of kits under the Adidas agreement. They had been launched in May 1996, in time to be worn in the Scottish Cup final as the previous two new home kits had. It was virtually identical to France’s Euro 96 national team shirt, which had debuted some three months earlier in a friendly against Greece. The differences were minor: the Rangers kit lacked the laced section of the France shirt, the collar accents were inverted (Red, Blue, Red for France, Blue Red, Blue for Rangers,) and the Rangers shorts didn’t house the vertical stripes in a blue panel.

Continuing the general theme of Rangers’ Adidas shirts not featuring the 3 stripes in their traditional position on the shoulders, on this shirt they were located in two white wedges either side of the chest, appearing almost like tricolour braces. The fabric shadow pattern was the monogram inside a shield, repeated throughout the shirt, and the shorts were simple enough – white with the three stripe ‘braces’ repeating in the same colour arrangement as the shirt at the sides. They didn’t run the full length of the shorts, being restricted to an elongated quadrilateral halfway up the sides. The socks again had only minor differences to the previous two home sets.

The away kit contrasted greatly with the previous year’s red and white quartered affair, but had some similarities with the new home kit. The material was exactly the same, and the tricolour three stripe also appeared as a ‘brace’, instead running the full length of the shirt, and on the right side only. A red panel connected the brace with the red right sleeve, and the shirt had a red grandad collar – otherwise it was predominantly white. The Rangers monogram was once more contained in a shield, this time red with a blue border. The short were also red, with white side panels housing the three stripe quadrilateral, and the socks were white with red turnovers containing three blue stripes. All kits featured the Adidas logotype again, and on the away it was located in a small white patch on the brace.

The 96-97 kits weren’t great. I’m not sure if I thought that at the time, but I certainly do in retrospect. I’m normally a big fan of Adidas, but I think at the time they’d lost a bit of direction, and weren’t quite sure what their brand identity was. Part of me thinks they looked a wee bit cheap as well, but kits from all manufacturers can do so from time to time. I’d mentioned at the start of this recollection how I’d been inspired by reading Denis Hurley’s Museum of Jersey’s pieces on kit ‘mash ups’ where teams are forced to introduce pair another piece of kit with their ensemble due to colour clashes. Sometimes this is from one of the club’s other strips, sometimes it’s an entirely new piece of apparel. Denis’ piece got me thinking about Rangers’ kits over the years, and kit clashes, and I thoroughly recommend you give Museum of Jerseys a read (particularly if you’ve got this far in my blog…seriously. They have pictures. Pictures are good.)

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Rangers’ 1996-97 home kit, variant worn against Ajax in the Champions League (illustration by Denis Hurley)

Apart from changing to the away kit when there’s a clash, Scottish football doesn’t have regulations or a culture of changing elements of a kit piecemeal (other than some weird rule about wearing black shorts away, rescinded in the 20s.) So 1996-97 was the first season I was aware of Rangers doing things like changing shorts or socks (yes, they had worn red stockings against AEK 2 seasons earlier, but that hadn’t registered with me at the time.) Over the next 20 years, Rangers would mix and match kit more regularly, but quite often there didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason as to why such substitutions were made. At least not to my eyes.

Earlier I mentioned that Kilmarnock’s blue and white stripes often fade to white from a distance, and that Rangers historically wore blue shirts at Rugby Park. In fact, Kilmarnock happily wore their white and blue striped shirt at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup just two seasons ago. It’s not ideal, but more or less okay. Kilmarnock had been wearing predominately white, then blue, for the previous three seasons so there had been no hard thinking to do about what strip to wear. Faced with a Kilmarnock side that had returned to blue and white stripes, Rangers ended up in the white away kit and the results weren’t pretty. I’m not sure who made the decision, referee or club, but it suggested that a white away kit hadn’t been a wise decision, or that a third kit might be required. Still, no-one at Rangers or Adidas was in control of Kilmarnock’s design-hopping.

Oddly enough, Rangers had played in a third kit just ten days earlier, against Grasshopper in the Champions League. Utilising the same template that was common with some of Europe’s Adidas-supplied national teams, the red shirt featured three broad white stripes on each shoulder, curving gently as they converged near the bottom of the ribs, and a V-neck not massively dissimilar to the 92-94 home kit, trimmed with a red-black-red tricolour. The shorts were simple black affairs with three white stripes on either side – they’re almost identical to the 95-96 away shorts, but frustratingly from a mash-up point of view, I don’t think they’re the same. They’re even made of the exact material, but I can’t see a club crest on any of the images. The use of the home socks adds to the air of this being an ad-hoc effort, but the crest and Adidas logotype are neatly embroidered, and the sponsor logo doesn’t look like a rush job. It would certainly have been more suitable to wear against Kilmarnock than the white shirt, but perhaps the club felt that with Raith being the only other team that wore blue in the league, the white, commercially-released, shirt wouldn’t get many outings. Changed days, if that indeed was the case. I suppose we have to consider the possibility that Rangers hadn’t registered a third kit with the SFL, but I’m not sure even they would have been so unyielding to reject a solution to a colour clash.

Denis Hurley has already covered in his piece much of Rangers’ scattergun approach to kit control in the Champions League in 1996-97. They changed shorts and socks against Ajax away, but not against Auxerre away. Alcohol advertising was, and still is, banned in France, so the club commissioned a shirt that replaced the McEwan’s Lager branding with that of one of their parent organisation’s other concerns, Center Parcs. Bizarrely, this shirt wasn’t made from the same material as the 96-97 home shirt, but the 94-96 version.

Let’s re-introduce Andy Goram at this juncture. As custodian, he had two new jerseys to choose from. One was an all-white affair with a black roll neck, blue-red-blue shoulder stripes, and white club monogram in a red shield in the centre of the shirt. It was very similar to the away shirt, in point of fact. His alternate was, again, similar to a jersey worn by Newcastle. The body’s colour gradient, from red at the bottom to yellow at the top, provided a sunset-effect background for a graphic representation of the Archibald Leitch Ibrox main stand. Black sleeves with white Adidas stripes and a black roll neck completed the striking shirt. It wasn’t worn very often though, with Goram preferring the white shirt. He really didn’t like the sunburst shirt, because when Rangers played Kilmarnock in the match alluded to above, with both sides wearing almost all-white kits, he dragged the 1992-93 yellow Adidas Equipment jersey out of retirement (the fourth season it would appear in.) Intriguingly, this shirt doesn’t have SFL competition patches, but does have what appears to be black electrical tape covering a logo on the right sleeve. The Starball was worn on the left sleeve when Rangers played in the Champions League in 1992-93, so was this kit prepared for the campaigns in 1995-96 and 1996-97?

While Goram seemed to dislike half the kits Adidas provided each season, his back-ups didn’t appear so fussy. Theo Snelders donned the sunburst kit against Hibs in January, and late-season emergency signing Andy Dibble gave it an airing against Raith Rovers in April. Regarding the black jersey Goram wore against Auxerre at home, I suspect this was a 1993 era goalkeeper shirt, similar to the ones Liverpool and Arsenal used, but with the white rib bars removed. We know Soccer Scene advertised a purple-with-black-bars goalie strip, and if my memory serves, a black version was also commercially available. It’s a bit of a stretch, and it doesn’t really explain why he couldn’t have worn any of the other dozen shirts he’d had available up to that point. That’s why the Snelders Amsterdam shirt snafu is confusing as well, given that he changed at half-time from the borrowed yellow shirt into a sunburst jersey. He then wore the grey & blue 95 shirt against Ajax in the return fixture. And then there’s Andy Goram seemingly wearing the shirt from the Ajax game against Auxerre, having changed the number from Snelders’ 13, and steamed the logo off? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and I can’t imagine Adidas would have been happy. That said, Rangers had signed a contract with Nike a year previously, to come into effect at the start of the 97-98 season, so maybe relations between both parties were a little frayed? It all seems a bit shambolic, particular when you consider the specially commissioned outfield shirts worn against Grasshopper and Auxerre.

Squad numbers (but not names at this stage) were required in the Champions League, from the group stages onwards, and this was a first for the club. While the English Premier League had adopted squad numbers and shirt names in 1993, it would be another five years before the concept would reach Scotland, with the advent of the breakaway Scottish Premier League (SPL). There weren’t too many controversies about the allocation of the numbers – you could perhaps argue David Robertson should have been 3 rather than 15, but as he missed the first 10 weeks of the season, it’s a minor quibble. Otherwise the font was the same as the previous season. 96-97 was the first season that Rangers seemed to pay attention to sock clashes though. Not only did they wear blue socks against Ajax in the Champions League, and Dunfermline domestically, after the first visit to Rugby Park, red socks with 3 white hoops were worn with the change kit for visits to Kirkcaldy and Kilmarnock.

Had Rangers made the Scottish Cup final, we might have seen the new Nike kit in that match, as was becoming tradition. As it was, the club’s last game of the 96-97 season, and wearing Adidas apparel, was against Hearts at Tynecastle, the 3-1 defeat notable only for the debut appearance of a 19 year-old Barry Ferguson. The Nike deal was supposed to signify Rangers moving onto a higher plateau, and breaking Celtic’s 9-in-a-row record. It wasn’t meant to be the end of era it ended up becoming. There had been some good times with Adidas, and some bad. Reaching the Champions League group stages 3 times from 5 attempts shouldn’t be sniffed at, in retrospect.

But it wasn’t just the great servants of 9-in-a-row departing Ibrox that symbolised the changing of a guard – the notion of what a football kit was supposed to be was continuing to change as well. It was no longer just a means of easily identifying who you were attempting to kick the ball to, and who you were trying to keep it away from. The 96-97 home kit was the last Rangers jersey to be worn domestically without mandated squad numbers and player names featuring at all during its lifespan. From the 1960s onwards, European teams started playing more matches in more competitions, using more players. In Scotland, matchday squads slowly got bigger, from 12 in 1987 to 18 in 2004. UEFA and FIFA became more pedantic about kit regulations (although consideration of visually impaired fans is good reason,) and clubs became cannier about replica sales, realising that three new kits every years spun many pennies. Manufacturers continually pushed the boundaries of technology, or so they told us. Nike were still making inroads to European soccer with the Rangers contract, and Adidas seemed to slowly be getting their act together after half a decade of confusing branding. In 1997, they settled with using the three bar logo, sans ‘Equipment’ tag for their football kits and general sportswear, and used the trefoil exclusively on their retro ‘Originals’ line.

Competition patches, squad numbers, mandatory fonts, bigger squads, fashion, technology, cold hard cash. All these factors made football kits how they are in 2017. With hundreds of teams across Europe, many releasing three new full kits every season, it’s no surprise that design has got a bit samey and uninspired – I’m specifically thinking of Nike’s vapid Vapor templates here. That’s not to say there weren’t templates back in the 80s and 90s – oh, there were many, and most of Rangers’ kits were templates. They were just spread out a bit more, and kit launches were staggered, and it was all a bit less samey. The 2017 approach to team apparel also made the club’s business of managing their kit more complicated. Most professional clubs started off like your uni or Sunday league team – they bought a set of 10-12 outfield shirts (the goalie wearing what appeared to be his dad’s Aran jumper,) and often the players laundered them themselves. Matching shorts and socks were a luxury! Nowadays, transporting the players’ outfits around Europe is a logistically intense operation, mirrored in the evolution of the term ‘kitman’ into ‘kit controller.’ It’s not just gender neutral, it reflects that there a big club will have scores if not hundreds of pieces of clothing circulating its training centre and stadium every day of the week.

This mid 90s crossroads in the world of football kits, and the end of the 9-in-a-row era, coincided with a juncture in my personal life. I’d left secondary school in 1996, and while I had long dreamed of designing football kits for a living, I had no idea how to break into the field. I acquired an ‘A’ Level in Art, a National Certificate in Graphic Design, and had been accepted onto an HND (Higher National Diploma – roughly equivalent to the first two years of a Bachelor’s degree.) But while I was ostensibly getting closer to becoming a designer, I was drifting away from football, and football kits, a little. Like many teenage boys my head was being turned by the twin devils of rock music and girls – I’d taught myself to play guitar, and was attempting to write songs. Terrible lovesick songs about the woman that worked in the butchers I fancied. All the while I’d taken up photography at college, and from pursuing a reasonably sensible vocational path, I suddenly found myself 300 miles away in Dudley in a dingy student hall of residence where I would study for a degree in photography, form a band, and entertain hazy dreams of becoming famous at something.

What’s worse, I convinced myself that it was time to put away childish things. My elaborately plotted and illustrated fictional football league was binned. Horrifically, my mother and I seem to have colluded to throw out my entire replica shirt collection. That collection included a fair number of the shirts referenced above, as well as some other stone-cold early 90s classics. I’m not sure I can even begin to figure out what I was thinking there, and it still chides me to this day. But I’m glad to say I got better. I started collecting shirts again at university, and the development of blogs and Twitter has allowed me to fully indulge myself in the nerdier elements of the subject. As you can probably tell by the length of this post. I think I’ve got it out my system now.

Well, the 80s and 90s kits anyway…I suspect part 2 will follow in the next few weeks.

(As part of my research for this, I heavily used the following site:

Museum of Jerseys

The Football Attic

True Colours

Historical Football Kits

(Updated to include illustrations of some of Rangers’ kits, used by kind permission of Denis Hurley at Museum of Jerseys.)

Par for the Course

I went on one of my rare trips to Ibrox this evening, to take in the Scottish League Cup second round match between Rangers and Dunfermline. (As an aside, the main reason I don’t go more often is the cost; the game cost me £30.20 for travel, food and a programme, just for one adult.)

It was a pretty good performance by the Gers. Resting Ryan Jack, who’s been impressive since he signed, the Ibrox side were nevertheless 2-0 up by the time the match clock ticked into double figures. Two more goals in the first half, and another couple in the second, saw Rangers secure their biggest competitive victory to date under Pedro Caixinha. While Dunfermline are a second tier team, Rangers dominated the game, using the ball well in midfield and converting chances when they arose, something they don’t always do. All-in–all, a resounding victory and a great team performance – symbolised by the fact I’ve been struggling to single out a man of the match. Some elements of the evening did annoy me a little – being 4-0 up after half an hour inevitably resulted in the foot being taken off the gas a little, although that might have been at the manager’s behest to try different things out. Caixinha’s decision to pitch Wilson, Kranjcar, and Holt in as his three substitutes peeved me as I’d liked to have seen Ryan Hardie get a run out. 

I also felt Jordan Rossiter looked a bit rusty in midfield, although that’s perhaps to be expected after all his injury problems. I didn’t think Alfredo Morelos was all that impressive either – two goals aside, he looked to struggle physically against Dunfermline’s centre backs, particularly  Jean-Yves M’voto, after the big Frenchman came on. 

However, Morelos won the sponsor’s man of the match award; not unsurprising, as this often goes to players if they’ve scored more than one goal. After I left the mobile internet graveyard that is Ibrox however, it became apparent that Morelos playing well and looking a talent was a consensus view. Ah well. I tweeted something about how my views always seem to run contrary to others, and continued my walk home. 

Five minutes later, I checked my phone to see I had a number of notifications. Iain Duff, who is a mutual follower and has written books on Rangers, had replied to me saying he felt the performance was overrated, and that seemed to instigate some kind of minor tweetstorm, with people telling us we were being miserable bastards, essentially. 

Which is probably a fair cop. 

What I do take exception to were the tweets saying that Rangers fans are celebrating a rare occasion when they were expected to win big and have, after five years of failing to, and that they’re not getting carried away. That’s simply not true. Each of the last five or six seasons I can clearly remember a big win early in the season in the league or challenge cup that has had Rangers fans purring and convinced of impending glory for a few days until a player makes an innocuous mistake in that weekend’s league match and doom is one more upon us. It’s emblematic of the magic bullet syndrome I’ve written of before. 

Some examples of the phenomenon include:

  • Rangers 5-0 Queen of the South (September 2016)
  • Rangers 6-2 Hibernian (July 2015)
  • Rangers 8-1 Clyde (August 2014) You can argue the toss McCoist’s reputation was too far gone by this stage. 
  • Rangers 4-0 Albion Rovers (July 2013)
  • Rangers 2-0 Motherwell (September 2012)

These pretty much all turned out to be false dawns. Or non-turned corners. It’s good to be positive about your club’s fortunes, but I do think it’s easier when it’s summer or early autumn and the grass is green and the sun is out and your marrow isn’t freezing in your bones. And let’s not forget that football fans are incredibly fickle. 

I do think that Rangers’ recent results and performances have been encouraging, and most of Caixinha’s signings have impressed me. Alves, Cardoso, Jack, and Dorrans in particular look like they’ve formed a strong girdle up the middle of the team, something we’ve lacked for a while. But I’m not getting carried away until the season starts proper. Fool me 28 times, shame on you…

Baad Stats

If you read my blog at all, you’ll know I bristle at the misuse of statistics in order to ‘prove’ dubious theories. I stumbled across another example on Twitter this afternoon. 


On the face of it, it a third-tier English side selling twice as many tickets as a first tier Scottish team doesn’t look good. But this is where regression analysis comes in. For a start,  Bradford has a higher population than Aberdeen (roughly twice the size.) England in general has ten times the population of Scotland, so direct comparisons like this aren’t helpful. 

Bradford have also introduced cut-price season tickets for under-11s – £5 for the entire season (46 league games.) 


Aberdeen are in “the big boy’s league”. And they’ll probably sell more season tickets than any other Scottish club, outwith the Old Firm. Leicester City and Villarreal only sell around 20,000 season tickets in their first tier leagues, and they’re able to compete with the big boys. 

None of that really matters though. The original tweet was meant at a dig at Aberdeen, and with 96 retweets and 242 likes, it certainly succeeded in its goal. 

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Big Count 2006.

In my previous blog, I wrote about the emergence of soccer data analysts focussing on the Scottish game, and how I wasn’t convinced a lot of the metrics they presented were accurate and disconcerted by how the methodology behind the metrics is less than transparent, proper methodology being key in producing accurate statistics. Since that blog Rangers and St Johnstone were both knocked out of the Europa League at the first possible hurdle, the sort of thing that always hurtles Scottish football into apocalyptic self-flagellation and also led to analysis going into overdrive with all sorts of information and graphs being posted online.

One such chart I saw on Twitter was the number of youth players in Scotland, compared to Denmark, Norway and the Republic of Ireland, nations of comparable size and geographically local. At first glance, the table was damning, with Scotland only having half as many youth players as the other three. It was implied that this paucity of young players was the reason Scotland were struggling in international competition.

Over the last few years, despite being keen on the use of statistics to aid informed decision, I’ve come to realise there’s a lot of misinformation and bias about, deliberate or otherwise. Whenever any source publishes a big stat such as the one above, regardless of whether it’s in the sphere of politics or football, my snidey senses start to tingle. Where’s the bullshit? I reflexively ask.

There are a few ways that statistics can be presented in a way that looks a bit iffy. One is cherry-picking: why have Denmark and Norway been selected as comparisons, and not England, Wales or Northern Ireland, with whom Scotland is more akin. What’s the source of the original data? Have variables and outliers been accounted for? What’s the baseline data? What’s a standard deviation? Are like items being compared?

The source of the data was shared later in a reply, and I had a quick look at it on Friday – on a first glance, it didn’t fill me with confidence. Firstly, the methodology for the data gathering was described as follows;

“The data for Big Count 2006 was collated in the first half of 2006 via the standard practice of a questionnaire as well as an online tool. The response rate was over 75%. FIFA used Big Count 2000, a UEFA survey from 2005 and other internal analyses to supplement missing data from associations and for plausibility purposes.”

A survey was sent out to the member associations to be completed, and if the information wasn’t returned, they would fill in the gaps from other sources.

The information for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales was also interesting. Always a bit of an anomaly in World football due to being 4 sporting nations within 1 sovereign country, the FIFA report has applied the UK’s population to each of its constituent countries, which dramatically skews the players per population percentage for the smaller three countries. Finally, the data was from 11 years ago, which is useful in telling us how events 11 years ago are shaping today, but the fact no follow-ups seem to have been carried out means that we only have a snapshot in time, with no progress or decline to benchmark the figures against.

I started my own analysis by copying the data into a spreadsheet. This would allow me to calculate the figure for Youth players as a percentage of the each county’s respective population, allowing for a more like-for-like comparison.

Number 

Association 

Region 

Pop 

Youth 

% of Pop

1 

Faroe Islands 

Nordic

47246 

4040 

8.55% 

2 

Norway 

Nordic

4610820 

272958 

5.92% 

3 

Iceland 

Nordic

299388 

16000 

5.34% 

4 

Republic of Ireland 

UK & Ireland 

4062235 

174498 

4.30% 

5 

Liechtenstein 

Central 

33987 

1400 

4.12% 

6 

Sweden 

Nordic

9016596 

319599 

3.54% 

7 

Denmark 

Nordic

5450661 

188724 

3.46% 

8 

Slovakia 

Central 

5439448 

169561 

3.12% 

9 

Netherlands 

Western 

16491461 

510091 

3.09% 

10 

San Marino 

Southern 

29251 

823 

2.81% 

11 

Austria 

Central 

8192880 

221547 

2.70% 

12 

Germany 

Central 

82422299 

2081912 

2.53% 

13 

Luxembourg

Western 

474413 

11874 

2.50% 

14 

Czech Rep 

Central 

10235455 

208451 

2.04% 

15 

Belgium 

Western 

10379067 

208551 

2.01% 

16 

Finland 

Nordic

5231372 

101334 

1.94% 

17 

Andorra 

Southwestern 

71201 

1366 

1.92% 

18 

France 

Central 

60876136 

1034046 

1.70% 

19 

Switzerland

Central 

7523934 

127700 

1.70% 

20 

Croatia 

Southeastern 

4494749 

64495 

1.43% 

21 

Ukraine 

Eastern 

46710816 

658540 

1.41% 

22 

England 

UK & Ireland 

60609153 

820000 

1.35% 

23 

Scotland 

UK & Ireland 

5116900 

67123 

1.31% 

24 

Wales 

UK & Ireland 

2966000 

31200 

1.05%

25 

Spain 

Southwestern 

40397842 

419485 

1.04% 

26 

Slovenia 

Southeastern 

2010347 

20831 

1.04% 

27 

Italy 

Southern 

58133509 

557453 

0.96% 

28 

N Ireland 

UK & Ireland 

1742000 

16000 

0.92% 

29 

Serbia 

Southeastern 

9396411 

85412 

0.91% 

30 

Cyprus 

Eastern 

784301 

6644 

0.85%

31 

Greece 

Southeastern 

10688058 

86779 

0.81% 

32 

Malta 

Southern 

400214 

2773 

0.69% 

33 

Hungary 

Central 

9981334 

63744 

0.64% 

34 

Portugal 

Southwestern 

10605870 

64922 

0.61% 

35 

Bosnia-Herzogovina 

Southeastern 

4498976 

26570 

0.59% 

36 

Israel 

Eastern 

6352117

33883 

0.53% 

37 

Georgia 

Eastern 

4661473 

23990 

0.51% 

38 

Poland 

Central 

38536869 

185808 

0.48% 

39 

Albania 

Southeastern 

3581655 

14000 

0.39% 

40 

Estonia 

Northern 

1324333 

5042 

0.38% 

41 

Macedonia 

Southeastern 

2050554 

7760 

0.38% 

42 

Latvia 

Northern 

2274735 

6550

0.29% 

43 

Lithuania 

Northern 

3585906 

9764 

0.27% 

44 

Bulgaria 

Southeastern 

7385367 

17389 

0.24% 

45 

Romania 

Southeastern 

22303552 

48010 

0.22% 

46 

Turkey 

Eastern 

70413958 

131916 

0.19% 

47 

Belarus 

Eastern 

10293011 

18760 

0.18% 

48 

Azerbaijan 

Eastern 

7961619 

14120

0.18% 

49 

Russia 

Eastern 

142893540 

196170 

0.14% 

50 

Kazakhstan 

Eastern 

15233244 

20500 

0.13% 

51

Armenia 

Eastern 

2976372 

2915 

0.10% 

52 

Moldova 

Eastern 

4466706 

2603 

0.06% 

 

In 2006, Gibraltar and Andorra were not members of FIFA, and there was apparently no data available for Montenegro, so they’re not included in the above table.

Compared with the average of all nations across Europe, Scotland’s number of youth players is slightly under par (1.31% to an average of 1.61%,) but was healthier than that of Spain, Italy, and Portugal. Intriguingly, the top 7 nations for youth players in the above table consist of 5 of the 6 Nordic countries. Whether this is down to the Nordic countries having a more Sportacus approach to getting kids active, or a different definition of what ‘registered youth player’ is, I couldn’t say. Broadly the same countries all top the table for ‘Teams’ per head of population, but as there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast definition of what a ‘Team’ actually is, we might do well to take the FIFA stats with a pinch of salt. The Faroe Islands apparently have a football team for every 155 people, which seems implausible to me.

The Republic of Ireland having nearly 3.5 times as many youth footballers as Scotland was another interesting data point, given that football on the Emerald Isle has to compete with rugby and Gaelic Athletic Association sports. Football does appear to be the most popular team sport in Ireland with a 2008 Sport Ireland report suggesting 9% of people play soccer. The four countries with the highest number of clubs per population are Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales in that order with the first two having twice as many as the latter two. Ireland however apparently has three times as many teams as Scotland, as well as more youth players.

I looked for breakdowns of population by date, and using the CIA World Factbook for 2016 (yes, I know,) and the 2011 UK Census, I was able to generate numbers of how many people aged between 0 and 14 each country had. While not exactly aligning with the 0-18 age bracket of the dataset, I felt this would give a better grasp of what percentage of young people were registered as footballers in each country.

Interestingly, this suggested that the percentage of young people aged 0-14 in Ireland was 10% higher than in Scotland.

Association 

Population aged 0-14

Youth % of total Population

Republic of Ireland 

1065440 

26.23% 

N Ireland 

354703 

20.36% 

Wales 

519128 

17.50% 

Scotland 

855000 

16.71% 

England 

9372010 

15.46% 

 

So Ireland have a larger pool of younger players to get involved in football. But what about the remaining deficit?

Number 

Association 

Pop 

Other 

% of Pop 

1 

Germany 

82422299 

10000000 

12.13% 

2 

Scotland 

5116900 

302500 

5.91% 

3 

Italy 

58133509 

3207700 

5.52% 

4 

Croatia 

4494749 

232715

5.18% 

5 

Spain 

40397842 

1915000 

4.74% 

6 

Faroe Islands 

47246 

2000 

4.23% 

7 

Sweden 

9016596 

375000 

4.16% 

8 

England 

60609153 

2415200 

3.98% 

9 

Switzerland 

7523934 

240000 

3.19% 

10 

Austria 

8192880 

260000 

3.17% 

11 

Slovenia 

2010347 

55200 

2.75% 

12 

Georgia 

4661473

122400 

2.63% 

13 

Cyprus 

784301 

20200 

2.58% 

14 

Romania 

22303552 

556700 

2.50% 

15 

Republic of Ireland 

4062235 

98800 

2.43% 

16 

Norway 

4610820 

110000 

2.39% 

17 

Finland 

5231372 

120000 

2.29% 

18 

San Marino 

29251 

650 

2.22% 

19 

Hungary 

9981334 

203100 

2.03% 

20

France 

60876136 

1233100 

2.03% 

21 

Portugal 

10605870 

210000 

1.98% 

22 

Denmark 

5450661 

100000 

1.83% 

23 

Iceland 

299388 

5100 

1.70% 

24 

Netherlands 

16491461 

250000 

1.52% 

25 

Moldova 

4466706 

66150 

1.48% 

26 

Serbia 

9396411 

134500 

1.43% 

27 

Wales 

2966000 

41000 

1.38% 

28 

Greece 

10688058 

145400 

1.36% 

29 

Armenia 

2976372 

37900 

1.27% 

30 

Slovakia 

5439448 

68700 

1.26% 

31 

Belgium 

10379067 

128200 

1.24% 

32 

Bulgaria 

7385367 

90400 

1.22% 

33 

Israel 

6352117 

77000 

1.21% 

34 

Turkey 

70413958 

847000 

1.20% 

35 

Estonia 

1324333 

15700

1.19% 

36 

Poland 

38536869 

424300 

1.10% 

37 

Belarus 

10293011 

113000 

1.10% 

38 

Lithuania 

3585906 

38100 

1.06% 

39 

Azerbaijan 

7961619 

82700 

1.04% 

40 

Russia 

142893540 

1443800 

1.01% 

41 

Czech Rep 

10235455 

103100 

1.01% 

42 

Andorra 

71201 

700 

0.98% 

43 

Albania

3581655 

34000 

0.95% 

44 

Macedonia 

2050554 

19000 

0.93% 

45 

Liechtenstein 

33987 

310 

0.91% 

46 

Luxembourg 

474413 

4100 

0.86% 

47 

Bosnia-Herzogovina 

4498976 

36200 

0.80% 

48 

Latvia 

2274735 

17900 

0.79% 

49 

Malta 

400214 

3100 

0.77% 

50 

Ukraine 

46710816 

314700 

0.67%

51 

N Ireland 

1742000 

10500 

0.60% 

52 

Kazakhstan 

15233244 

79600 

0.52% 

 

There’s a column further along to the right in the FIFA dataset marked ‘Company or Army Teams, Schools and Universities, Street Football’. Scotland has the second highest % of population for this metric, behind Germany’s curiously round number. It might not be well known, but many club teams in Scotland don’t allow their young players to also play for their school team – could it be there is a high number of youth Scottish players included within this figure of 302,500? Without any clear guidance on methodology from FIFA, it would be down to the individual associations to interpret what data fell under which category. And colour me cynical, but I’m sceptical that roughly 16% of Irish children between 0-14 are registered footballers.

There’s one more oddity with this collection of data. When I added up the numbers of Professionals, Amateurs, Youth, Futsal, Beach Soccer, and ‘Other’, the totals didn’t match the total number of players in the third column. What’s more, they didn’t match in a very specific way, as you can see in the table below.

Association

Pop

Players

Check

Difference

Russia

142893540

5802536

2290536

3512000

Germany

82422299

16308946

16308946

0

Turkey

70413958

2748657

1044657

1704000

France

60876136

4190040

3028040

1162000

England

60609153

4164110

3901110

263000

Italy

58133509

4980296

4721296

259000

Ukraine

46710816

2273017

1007017

1266000

Spain

40397842

2834190

2568190

266000

Poland

38536869

2000264

1081264

919000

Romania

22303552

1034320

665320

369000

Netherlands

16491461

1745860

1388860

357000

Kazakhstan

15233244

510420

107420

403000

Greece

10688058

760621

504621

256000

Portugal

10605870

547734

342734

205000

Belgium

10379067

816583

571583

245000

Belarus

10293011

373810

138810

235000

Czech Rep

10235455

1040357

789357

251000

Hungary

9981334

527326

330326

197000

Serbia

9396411

441682

266682

175000

Sweden

9016596

1006939

927939

79000

Austria

8192880

967281

856281

111000

Azerbaijan

7961619

306370

102370

204000

Switzerland

7523934

571700

472700

99000

Bulgaria

7385367

327033

141033

186000

Israel

6352117

283866

120866

163000

Denmark

5450661

511333

401333

110000

Slovakia

5439448

622668

497668

125000

Finland

5231372

362649

250649

112000

Scotland

5116900

420589

413589

7000

Georgia

4661473

222186

149186

73000

Norway

4610820

543165

462165

81000

Bosnia-Herzogovina

4498976

200240

105240

95000

Croatia

4494749

362514

342514

20000

Moldova

4466706

168570

76570

92000

Republic of Ireland

4062235

421644

351644

70000

Lithuania

3585906

135874

53874

82000

Albania

3581655

164730

87730

77000

Armenia

2976372

151353

79353

72000

Wales

2966000

173550

108550

65000

Latvia

2274735

85285

26285

59000

Macedonia

2050554

93896

41896

52000

Slovenia

2010347

116925

85925

31000

N Ireland

1742000

92320

49320

43000

Estonia

1324333

57024

25024

32000

Cyprus

784301

52403

39403

13000

Luxembourg

474413

47580

36580

11000

Malta

400214

24853

13853

11000

Iceland

299388

32408

26608

5800

Andorra

71201

5037

3737

1300

Faroe Islands

47246

8094

7694

400

Liechtenstein

33987

3315

2515

800

San Marino

29251

2836

2236

600

 

Apart from Germany’s data, the number for every other nation are out by a considerable, and suspiciously round number. Why? Some of the individual data is rounded up, but what could be missing that inflate the total players by this amount? Margin of error? The percentages aren’t the same. Perhaps some formula was used that is unknown to me as an amateur statistician, but I find it all a bit odd.

I’m loathe to read too much into these statistics. Or, I’m loathe to take them on face value. That’s often the case with statistics, and carrying out regression analyses helps us better understand the data we have, and as a result, the subject we’re trying to research. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I would like the football statisticians out there to examine things in a little more depth than they currently do.

Sources:

http://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/fifafacts/bcoffsurv/statsumrepassoc_10342.pdf

http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/fifafacts/bcoffsurv/bigcount.statspackage_7024.pdf

http://www.sportireland.ie/Research/Ballpark_Figures_2008_/Ballpark_Figures.pdf

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/population-and-household-estimates-for-the-united-kingdom/rft-table-3-census-2011.xls

 

 

Frightening Reverse to a Club Ranked 4th in Luxembourg

There’s a tendency in our hyperbolic, disposable culture where anyone can amplify their brain farts to the world using social media, to hype everything as the ‘best’ or ‘worst’ ever, when it’s probably not the best or worst that week. That said, it’s difficult not to reflect on Rangers’ 2-0 defeat to Progrès Niederkorn as the club’s worst ever. A part-time team, from Luxembourg, knocking out one of the biggest clubs in the U.K., who’d spent millions in player recruitment over the summer? Inconceivable!

And yet it happened. It’s hard to actually think of a worse result in the club’s history. Some people consider the league defeat to Annan in 2013 to be the worst, but that was more-or-less a one-off at the end of a horribly gruelling season, physically and mentally, when the team were already 20-odd points clear at the top of the league. Failing to progress (you just can’t avoid that pun) past the Europa League first qualifying round at the hands of a part-team team from Luxembourg? That’s pretty bad, particularly when you consider that getting into the next round would have at least seen the club net over a million pounds in ticket sales for the home leg (not including expenses.)

I’m angrier about this Rangers result than I have been for years. I think I felt that this was the club’s chance to make a proper fresh start, and to try and close the gap on Celtic. But no. This Wednesday afternoon Rangers have made themselves, and Scottish football a laughing stock.

So where did things go wrong? I blogged last week about how Rangers’ defence had been suspect for the last season or so, but in all honesty the attack hasn’t been any better. While many of us bought into Mark Warburton’s concept of attacking, pressing, fluid football, the fact is that by February 2017 his Rangers team had all the urgency and drive of a Britpop band in 1998. Match after match would see the midfield languorously stroking the ball along the edge of the opposition penalty area, but no-one seemed to have any idea of how to convert possession into goals.

The formation didn’t help. Warburton’s 4-3-3 was often more of a 2-1-2-5-0, with Wallace and McKay playing wide left, Tavernier and Miller drifting all over the place, and generally nobody in an actual centre-forward position. I have my issues with James Tavernier, and I’ve made clear my scepticism about his alleged high xA scores, but there’s no denying he occasionally puts a fantastic cross in but when he does there never seem to be any Rangers players in the box. Or, as happened last night, the other full-back puts a cross in and it’s Tavernier and the attacking midfielder getting in each other’s way trying to head the ball in, and still no actual attacking players in the box.

Caixinha’s side, even with his signings, seem to suffer from the same existential malaise regarding scoring goals that Warburton’s did. He preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation in both legs against Progres, but they rapidly descended into a globular amorphous mess again. But it’s not just the formation, the style of play is chronic as well. Attacks are built up slowly, with pretty but inconsequential passing about in midfield (the one exception in the home leg against Progres, the quick free kick, we scored from.) None of the players seem to know where their team-mates are supposed to be at any time. I never know where Tavernier and Miller (I love Kenny, but he needs to pick a position,) are supposed to be playing at any time. We break like glue being poured over quicksand. ‘Transition’ is one of the new football buzzwords, changing defence into attack. We counter-attack so slowly that we let the opposition filter back into their defensive shape and I honestly think that’s by design on the part of both Warburton and Caixinha. The Blizzard, the football magazine, often make jokes about editor Jonathan Wilson once commenting that ‘goals are overrated’ in modern, tactical football. He meant that midfield dominance was more important than pumping six past the opposition. But contemporary football has forgotten how to score at all now. I’m reminded of a Chris Brookmyre’s novel One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, where he talks about the ‘Bullet Deadliness Quotient’ of cinema.

“An action film establishes its own rules of gunplay. In some, every bullet is potentially lethal — even the old shot to the shoulder can look worryingly near to the upper-chest area. But in others, machine guns can seem the least deadly weapon known to man. To illustrate, at one end of the spectrum there’s your Tarantino movies: reputations aside, there’s not that much gunplay, so when somebody lets off a shot, it’s for real, and it’s usually fatal. High bullet-deadliness quotient. At the other end, there’s your John Woo movies: zillions of rounds goin’ off an’ the only thing they ever hit is glass. Low bullet-deadliness quotient. In a high BDQ film, if the baddie draws a bead on somebody, get ready for ketchup. In a low BDQ film, that’s just a bad day for the janitor. And both types are fine by me, as long as the rules are followed consistently.”

Modern football has a High Goal Deadliness Quotient. Winning the game isn’t the thing now. It’s win the midfield battle, then score the only goal of the game. And for Rangers, winning the midfield battle has become so all-consuming, that the thought of scoring a goal has become a massive Herculean undertaking. No-one seems able to handle the responsibility, save Kenny Miller, occasionally. The tie against Progres should have been put to bed in the first leg at Ibrox, but because we’re playing this odd ‘false 9’ system, scoring goals has become an afterthought. A plan B, if you will.

Absurdly, Rangers now have a month until their next competitive game, against Motherwell in the league. Our pre-season starts here, after we’ve already been knocked out of Europe. Pedro Caixinha has opportunity to work with his squad (at least eight, potentially more, new players will need time to bed in, plus Rossiter and Kranjcar are almost like new signings,) on tactics, systems, shapes, etc., to ensure that when we start the league season, we hit the ground running. Oddly enough, the twitter account Football Cliches posted last night about German Bundesliga teams running up huge scores against regional amateur teams in their pre-season preparations. I’m sure Rangers used to do this in the 90s. I think it’d be useful to have a couple of bounce matches against amateur teams and give them a right doing. Well, attempt to anyway. It would do the team’s confidence a world of good.

I miss goals. They definitely weren’t overrated.