Back in the day, of course, it didn’t really matter that much. Teams wore their shirts, and if they both wore identical colours, one of them would have to change into something different. At the 1978 World Cup, France and Hungary both turned up in their home shirts (red & blue respectively), and France were requested to change their shirts because the majority of TV sets in Argentina were black and white, and the watching audience would not be able to tell them apart. France ended up having to borrow a set of striped shirts from local side Club Kimberley de Mar Del Plata (who are still going, by the way), and turned out in those instead. Back home in England, they were a perfunctory affair – an afterthought in the burgeoning market of sportswear. They were almost always yellow.
Things, however, have changed. The red shirts that England wore at the 2006 World Cup were, according to Umbro, the biggest selling football shirts of all time in the replica market. Nowadays, teams will turn in their away kits for absolutely no reason whatsoever (well, no reason above and beyond the importance of getting them into the public spotlight so that people will go out and buy them), but it’s still quite important that we know who is wearing what, not least because seven of the teams playing at Euro 2008 will be wearing red shirts (four of them, surprisingly, in Group A – I don’t know what the odds against that happening were, but they must have been long), whilst a further four will be wearing white. The viewing experience of the black and white television set owning audience may no longer be important, but there is still money to be made out of change shirts.
Switzerland: Manufactured by Puma (who are taking no chances in the “getting our company logo on the television for as long as possible” stakes), this shirt does at least have the benefit of being better than their home shirts, with a pleasingly “Saturday Night Fever”-esque red collar. It loses points, however for Switzerland’s terrible badge, those excessive Puma logos and the needless diagonal red stripes than run down he sides.
Czech Republic: Does this look somewhat familiar to you, too? Yes, indeed. Puma have the opinion that there is little point in designing seven or eight shirts when you can just design one and change the colours accordingly. The white collar makes it looks (appropriately, for the country of birth of Ivan Lendl) like it wouldn’t be out of place at Wimbledon this summer.
Portugal: Another comparatively restrained Nike effort for Portugal, though I’m less than convinced by the green go faster stripes. I’m no great fan of Nike and their ethics, but Adidas the rest could at least take note at this point: guys, this is all you have to do.
Turkey: The Turkey home shirt is one of the best that you’ll see this summer, and Nike have decided that the away kit should represent a link back to the Ottomans (turquoise, of course, literally means “colour of the Turks” in French). This means that the shorts that they will turn it are the most lurid shade of blue that I have ever seen.
Austria: Surely I can’t be the only person left feeling slightly queasy by the fact that Austria (of all people) should be wearing a black change kit, can I? Coupled with that badge, there is definitely something of the Nazi about it all. Distasteful allusions to the past aside, Puma have also chosen to incorporate gold into this shirt, which, given Austria’s recent form, couldn’t possibly be less apt.
Croatia: Croatia’s shirts are probably the most easily recognisable in world football, and their change shirts are probably in the top ten in the same category. The red and white checks should probably stop under the arm, but this is another elegantly understated affair from Nike, who seemed to have learnt that people won’t buy replica shirts if they look ridiculous.
Germany: Germany’s change shirt should be green, shouldn’t it? Adidas seem to think not, and this shirt is supposedly modelled in the very first shirt worn by a German national team, one hundred years ago this year. There has been a strong debate within Germany over whether the kit has (because of the red, white and black) Nazi overtones. Personally, I quite like it, and I wouldn’t have marked myself down as a Nazi.
Poland: As with their home shirt, Poland’s change shirt follows the Puma template and has two badges on it. If it was down to me, Poland’s colours would be reversed and this would be their home shirt, but I don’t expect the Polish FA to take any notice of me. It looks quite shiny too, so watch out for a few Polish players sporting a “wet t-shirt” look this summer.
Romania: Ah, elusive Romania. So far as I can work out, the Romanian change shirt can’t be worn anywhere, and this feeble little picture is the only one that I can find of it. Of course, they’ll only need it should they be drawn to play Sweden in the knock-out stages.
France: Now, if there is one thing more certain than Germany’s change shirts being green, it should be that France’s are white. This, however, is a monstrosity. Red? Red? It’s this sort of thinking that was probably behind the FFF’s decision to dump Adidas in favour of Nike from 2011. There is doubtlessly something of the “teams that wear red hold a psychological advantage” behind this, but it’s no excuse.
Netherlands: The Dutch were never going to match the marvellous change shirt that they had at the World Cup two years ago with the diagonal stripes, and this kit looks a bit like a night shirt, although the colour is reportedly the colour of the Dutch royal family. This looks more like a nightshirt to me, and is particularly nasty when seen with the royal blue shorts and white socks which accompany it.
Italy: The Italians have, at least, been kept in their traditional change colours of white for this tournament, although again needless gold trim has been added to it. The little Italian flag in the middle of the v-neck makes them look like they’re wearing ties, too.
Spain: Wow. The worst of a mediocre lot by a country mile. Not only have Adidas decided to eschew the traditional Spanish white or blue change shirts for yellow, but they have chosen a horrible shade of yellow that looks like a cross between bile and vomit. “Bilomit”, if you like. Nasty.
Russia: Another country whose colours I would swap around if it was down to me. The Russians will always now suffer because they can’t wear those fabulously cool shirts with “CCCP” in big letters on the front of them, but this one is alright, actually. The incorporation of the Russian flag works much better than it does on the home shirts, too.
Greece: It may surprise you to learn this, but I’m quit fond of this Greece shirt, primarily because it is simple but, if you squint a little, you can see that they’ve turned the whole of the front of it into a Greek flag. I wouldn’t buy it (but this is primarily because I am about as un-Greek in my appearance as its possible to be).
Sweden: Last but not least, Sweden, and Umbro left it very late before even announcing this design. In a shade of blue so dark that it might even be black, it appears to be made out of the same material that basketball vests are in the USA. I’m not so keen on the anaemic looking swirly yellow stripes in the shoulders, and you can’t see from this picture that there are two small diamonds on the sleeves, as well. I”d suggest wearing a vest under this shirt, if you’re thinking of buying one and wearing it out.