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