In around forty-eight hours or so, the 2014 World Cup Finals will begin in Brazil, and some sets of eyes will be focused, initially at least, upon the sartorial efforts made by the thirty-two competitors, a diversion that will be considerably less enjoyable for FIFA’s tinkering with the rules to ensure that teams only wear predominantly two colours this summer. The 78 year old Sepp Blatter is, apparently, a fashion guru. Since 1930, however, teams have been dressing up for the occasion so here’s a run down of the twenty best, in strictly chronological order.
It’s not something you’d necessarily expect to see in today’s world, shrunken as it is by jet travel and satellite television, but back in 1930 a jolly to Uruguay was still something of a big deal. Not least for the Bolivian football team, who stripped off for their opening match of the inaugural World Cup tournament to reveal a kit of black shorts with white shirts, each emblazoned with a large black letter so that they might spell out “VIVA URUGUAY” in team photographs. As a piece of propaganda with an eye to winning over a potentially hostile away crowd, this was hard to top! And that’s before we have discussed the various other benefits, such as the players arranging themselves during set pieces to as to spell out insults in Slavic languages. The fairytale ending for the Bolivian team would have been to win 11-0, goals scored in spelling order. Instead, they got tonked 4-0. For their second and final match, against Brazil, Bolivia abandoned the concept and promptly lost again. 4-0.
We’re all suckers for simple, classic and pure kit designs. What could be better? Well, simple, classic, pure and THRIFTY kit designs. The canny Swiss decided that what isn’t broken doesn’t need to be fixed and as such turned out for the 1934, 1938, 1950 and 1954 tournaments in the same outfit: a red jersey with a free-floating Swiss cross, white shorts and black stockings. The whole thing absolutely screamed “we are Switzerland, open wide for some soccer”. If your international team’s kit is immediately recognisable as such, it’s done its job and done it well.
Like all well-bred people, we at Two Hundred Percent are absolute suckers for a kit sash. The United States famously beat England 1-0 during the 1950 tournament wearing this beautiful kit, featuring a red sash on a white shirt and navy blue shorts. It’s enough to make anyone weep with joy. This fact was seized upon by the designers of the USA’s kits for the 2010 World Cup, which paid tribute to it with genuine style.
The loss against Uruguay in the 1950 final in Rio de Janeiro remains a source of national trauma for Brazil, both in sporting terms and those of wider society. The decision was taken that all vestiges of this thing must be destroyed before it absorbed the entire country into a black hole of evil and wretchedness. The first thing to go was the kit. Brazil’s traditional white and blue strip was dismissed and a competition held to design a new one. The winner, penned by a Brazilian schoolboy, has become emblematic of beautiful and, more importantly, successful football worldwide. Yellow shirts trimmed with green, blue shorts and white socks. The design has barely changed ever since.
Czechoslovakia always seemed far too gauche to be a communist country, an impression no doubt shared by all of the people who lived there. This cultural collision bore fruit in some magnificent World Cup kits, by turns Soviet and deviously jaunty. If purity of line and classical simplicity is what you’re after, the 1958 iteration will probably be more to your taste, but for us the 1950 edition is just magical. The red shirt is joined with two thin horizontal bands of patriotic white and blue, and then superimposed by a Soviet-style star crest. The hooped red, blue and white socks are a delight and a reminder that Josef Stalin’s favourite album was World Clique, by Deee-Lite.
Like Czechoslovakia, Hungary have serious form for producing magnificent football kits. As magnificent, in some cases, as the teams who played in them. The 1966 change colours were very much their apogee. An all-white kit save for red and green horizontal bands on the chest and on the turnover of the stockings, with an always-welcome centrally-placed crest. Clean, crisp and defiantly Hungarian, they did everything that you could want a Hungary kit to do. With the possible exception of making them play like the Golden Team of the 1950s. Nevertheless, these Middling Magyars beat Brazil 3-1 on the way to the quarter-finals, where they lost to the Soviet Union.
There are a few things that every schoolboy knows about the 1970 World Cup. Bobby Moore got arrested for thieving, Brazil played football from another planet and England dodn’t beat West Germany no matter how many times you watch it and think that they might this time. And it was hot. Very, very hot. Bobby Charlton had a full head of thick black hair before he arrived but the heat turned him in to Gregor Fisher in the Hamlet adverts. The kit designer, therefore, had a challenge that they had not necessarily faced before. Most just ploughed on regardless. But the Bulgarian solution was decidedly funky fresh: the deep-V. Generally speaking up to this point people had only seen a Bulgarian wearing a deep-V t-shirt in a soft porn film. As a piece of lateral thinking it was difficult to argue against, and it would probably have become the standard design for all hot weather tournaments in the future but for what happened next: nothing. Bulgaria lost their first two games and then could only muster a draw in the final dead rubber with Morocco.
For purity, this kit is difficult to top. Whenever anyone thinks of a German football team, this is probably one of two kits that they would picture them wearing. White shirt, black shorts, white socks. But the devil is in the details: the tastefully thick black trim on the v-neck collar and on the cuffs of the sleeves. The clarity of the German eagle on the crest. You could perhaps still hold out for black turnovers on the stockings, but you’d really be nit-picking.
As Norman Bates in the film Psycho sagely pointed out, we all go a little mad sometimes. This has never been more applicable than for Zaire’s sole World Cup Finals campaign in West Germany, 1974. They were indisciplined, unruly and unpredictable. As such, they became everybody’s second team. Or first team, if you happened to live in England and your team hadn’t qualified. It would have been enough for Zaire just to have booted the ball away before the opposition had taken their free kick, or been massacred 9-0 by Yugoslavia, in completely plain white kits. But, of course, they wore yellow and green kits. Trimmed with red and black. And with the words “Zaire” and “Leopards” writ large on the front of the jersey. And featuring a picture of a football. And a rampant leopard. As an exercise in box ticking, these kits remain unbeaten to this day.
If Sepp Blatter were to see this now, he would probably have multiple heart attacks. Exactly why France were were required to wear a change kit when they played Hungary in Cordoba in 1978. Presumably somebody thought that the “dark shirts, white shorts, different shade of dark socks” would be confusing for viewers with black and white television sets, even though France’s were blue and Hungary’s were red. Whatever the reasoning behind the need for France to wear a change kit for this match, they were left somewhat red faced when they forgot their white change shirts and had to borrow a set of green and white striped shirts from a local club instead.
Big red sash. BIG one. Adidas three-stripe. Amazing.
Algeria were horribly cheated out of a second-round berth at the 1982 tournament by Germany’s mutually beneficial 1-0 defeat of Austria. The team, and their kit, deserved better. It’s a kit which is hard to describe, as it has so much going on, yet unlike so many other kits of which the same could be said, it held together well. Perhaps the unifying factor was the exciting addition of Arabic script? Or perhaps it was the daring addition of red socks? Either way, it’s a performance and a kit which Algeria are yet to top.
Admiral! Makers of many a memorable kit. At the same tournament, they could boast one of England’s finest ever World Cup outfits, but this was their piece de resistance. What would otherwise be a fairly run-of-the-mill all-red kit with yellow and black trim is brought to life with the addition of lunatic trim pieces down the front of the jersey which extended down onto the shorts. It could only be Admiral and it could only be the 1980s. It won immortality as being the kit worn by the opposition in the most famous photograph of Maradona, a match which incidentally Belgium won 1-0.
France should never have a rubbish kit. France with a rubbish kit is an insult to us all. The French have never been more stylish than during their run to the semi-finals in 1982. By turns restrained and magnificently over the top, it spoke volumes for the national identity of the wearer. It was also unique: for no-one else did Adidas play so fast and loose with their three stripe trademark, allowing the French team to have a single red stripe between two white. What really sets the pulse racing, though, is the pinstripes (for which the patriotic red and white is continued). The FFF’s golden cockerel crest has never looked so plucky.
Halved shirts with pin stripes. It’s a concept which is so daft it would get you thrown out of St. Martin’s. But it worked. Somehow, it worked. The same Hummel template was later adopted by several British league teams, notably Aston Villa (didn’t work), Southampton (definitely didn’t work) and Coventry City (so-so). No, this is a perfect example of a complete synthesis between a kit, a style and a philosophy. It was majestically Danish. Daft, unlikely and strangely wonderful, it summed up one of football’s greatest ever teams in a few pieces of shiny nylon.
Cameroon were the most exciting thing about the 1990 World Cup. Their kit was no small part of this. The green shirt was boldly trimmed with white and adorned with a brilliantly outsize yellow Indomitable Lion crest. It now being the 1990s, shadow stripes were also very much in vogue but the Cameroon shirt went above and beyond with shadow PINstripes. Coupled with red shorts and yellow socks it was an enormously welcome splash of colour in a tournament badly in need of one. Cameroon used a similar shirt design for the 1998 tournament but, trimmed in yellow rather than white, it looked like a Thatcherite businessman’s tie cupboard.
The classic German kit was brought kicking and screaming up to date by Adidas for the last tournament before the German football teams would be reunited. What could have first appeared as a somewhat loud offering – especially for a German team – now looks every inch a design classic. This impression was in no small part helped by the performance of the team wearing it, who were thoroughly deserving World Champions. It’s simple, it’s stylish, it’s vibrant. It’s classical yet somehow modern and very difficult to top.
There are certain things in football shirt design which are simply guaranteed to get my pulse racing a little faster. Pinstripes. Sashes. Shadow stripes. The name of the country being written on the jersey (The Soviet Union, of course, were the masters of this but props in this category also go to Iraq and Canada in 1986 as well as Iran in 1998). Another, it turns out, is Giant Faces of Aztec Deities.
Croatia are a unique team in international football, ploughing the chequerboard furrow alone. However, the standard of the results can be variable. The 2006 iteration was probably the nicest one. Pure of design and not stinting on check. The blue turnovers on the socks were also a delightful little touch.
Given the rather alienated chaps at FIFA and their continuing eccentric diktats regarding kit design – it’s all got to be the same colour; the crest has to have Sepp Blatter’s face on it; you have to have a How Am I Driving? sticker on the arse of your shorts – it seems increasingly unlikely that the World Cup will be able to produce any really spiffy pieces of kit design even if it wanted to. So it’s probably a good time to celebrate small victories like this, the two kits that Portugal took to the last tournament in South Africa. The home kit had echoes of the 1966 kit which saw the team make it to the semi-finals, with the traditional green shorts replaced with white and a thick horizontal green band added to the shirt instead. The away kit, with its white shirt and red and green vertical bands in the centre was another little treat. Will we ever see its like again in a footballing summer?