A quick glance to the left of these words tells you as much as you need to know about the sartorial elegance of the modern football coach. In their world, the suits are double-breasted, the buttons are shiny and the overcoats, when worn are cashmere. It’s a land that time forgot. Off the pitch, the players dress like refugees from the worst fashion show in history, but we’re not interested in that this evening. Tonight, we’re going to take a look at what they’ll be wearing on the pitch. The kit suppliers this year have been narrowed down to just four – the big two, Adidas and Nike, supplemented by Puma and Umbro (although the failure of England and Ireland to qualify means that Umbro are down to just one nation – and, as we’ll see, that’s by no means a bad thing). So, leave your fashion sense at the front door as we enter the polyester party that is the football kit parade for Euro 2008. They’re arranged in group order.
Czech Republic: Puma appear to have extended their reach in the international kit market over the last couple of years, after almost completely disappearing from view. The Czech effort, in the traditional red and blue, is a decent enough shirt, but with two major drawbacks. Can you see what I’m getting at? Puma have already got a big logo on the breast of the shirt, and doubtless they’ll be wearing all manner of “training gear” with the Puma logo on it, so is it necessary to have the logo on both shoulders? It makes the shirts look like someone (a child, presumably) has tried to draw epaulettes on them in Tippex.
Portugal: Pleasingly, reassuringly big badges appear to be in fashion this summer, and Nike’s outfit for Portuguese has one, although it looks as if it might have been on on accidentally too high up the shirt. The green piping at the front of the neck is slightly unnecessary, but Nike have been making a pretty good job of not ruining international shirts for the last few years now (they’ve been steadily improving since their shirts-by-numbers disasters of the 2002 World Cup), and this one is, well, alright. Neutral.
Switzerland: I sometimes wonder about people that design football shirts. Do they spend months and months studying the the culture and history of football in the country that they are designing for? Or, do they just pick a template shirt from the collection and make a quick phone call that goes something like, “Hey, Gus? What colours do Switzerland wear? Red & white, huh? Cheers. Bye”, and then just fill in the colours using Photoshop? If you work for Puma, you might already know the answer to this. The Swiss shirt, to be worn by their national football team in their first major tournament as hosts in over fifty years is a more or less exact copy of the Czech shirt. I mean, it’s not bad (apart from the shoulder embellishments), but it’s hardly going to set the world alight, is it?
Turkey: Now, this is a bit more like it. Turkey have opted for a traditional (and, if I might be so bold as to say, a somewhat Middlesbrough-esque) red with a single white hoop. Are they trying to invoke the spirit of Bernie Slaven? One can only speculate. There are only two things wrong with it. Firstly, those drawn on white collars are a bit, well, weird, aren’t they? These shirts would be immeasurably improved if they had real collars on them (and the wider the better, too – I’m interested solely in aesthetics here, not aerodynamics). Secondly, there is the small issue of the white stripes on the back of the sleeves. What are they, then? Go faster stripes?
Austria: I don’t have much sympathy for the Austrian team over their recent woes. It’s nothing much to do with my opinion of Austria or Austrians (I don’t really have an opinion or Austria or Austrians), but is very much based on their decision to change their shirt colours from white and black to red and white. They reportedly changed to distinguish themselves from Germany (whose colours they shared), but this overlooks the fact that, well, Austria have always worn white and black. It’s what they do. This desecration is further underlined by the fact that it was instigated by Hans Krankl, the hero of their 1978 World Cup team and possibly their greatest ever player. No sense of history, some people.
Croatia: You can’t really go wrong with Croatia, can you? Nike have, sensibly, chosen to keep things simple. No waviness in the design of the chequers, no unnecessary stripes, slashes, or anything. The only nod to absurdity is the blue collar, and this is only a very slight one. This might turn out to be the best shirt that Croatia ever wear. It’s certainly the best shirt to be worn at Euro 2008.
Germany: Signs of a football nation that isn’t as good as it used to be, volume one. When your team isn’t doing as well as it used, kit manufacturers start reaching back into the past, trying to invoke the spirit of the great teams of the past. None of this is to say that Germany are a bad team at the moment (they were, of course, semi-finalists on their own soil two years ago), but confidence there must still be fragile at the moment. After all, it is now 12 years since they last won a major tournament, and that is, I guess, a long time for them. with this is mind, Adidas have drawn their inspiration from the 1990 World Cup winning team in producing this summer’s shirt. This is the best that Adidas can manage at the moment, by the way, and I quite like it. Something about the eagle on their badge inspires a heady mixture of fear and awe.
Poland: More identikit nonsense from Puma, I’m afraid, with the added humiliation of having a second badge on it (which isn’t even the official badge of the 2012 European Championships, which might have been forgiveable, considering everything). Again, this is the sort of shirt which, if you removed the national badge(s) from it, would look like nothing more than the sort of thing that a Sunday League team would wear. Brand and undistinguished, I’m afraid.
France: After a partnership that goes back for nearly four decades, France and Adidas will be going their separate ways soon, and on this sort of evidence, it’s a relationship that has run its course. French football shirts are, when they get them right, the best. The 1978, 1982 and 1984 versions are amongst the greatest ever made. This, though, has been designed presumably with one and a half eyes on the retail market, and in the worst possible way. First up, there’s a cheap looking, shiny asymmetrical red stripe across the middle. Then, underneath them, there are four clear stripes underneath it. Then there’s what looks like a silver coin stuck in the corner of it. And as if that little lot wasn’t bad enough, they’ve even redesigned the badge to make it look more “contemporary”. They’ve even added a fake collar effect with a round neck. Appalling. And don’t even get me started on that red away shirt.
Italy: Dear me. Puma couldn’t even be bothered to stray from their template for the world champions. To compound their folly (and presumably this is because they are the world champions), they’ve decided to use gold for the trim rather than the more traditional white. It makes it look as if they’ve been sick and wiped their mouths on their collars and cuffs.
Netherlands: The Dutch were, as some of you may just remember, my picks as the best dressed team at the 2006 World Cup, and this shirt is only really let down by a slightly daft collar that incorporates the Dutch flag into it. Once again, Nike seem to have noted the fact that, in football shirt design, less is more, and the result is a shirt which is clean, simple and to the point. You might start to feel a bit sick if you’re sat in a ground surrounded by 10,000 people dressed from head to toe in orange, but that’s just one of the idiosyncratic charms of international football, isn’t it?
Romania: First up, I would just like to take a moment to say that I really like Romania’s badge. Red, yellow and blue swirls surrounding an appropriately retro looking football. Secondly, I like all yellow and blue kits. This is the best of the Adidas lot – nice and understated with not too many wavy lines and plasticky bits. Better than its immediate predecessor (which I had, foolishly, put up here before – thanks to the anonymous contributor that pointed that out to me).
Greece: This is probably the best of the Adidas shirts, primarily because they have left it well alone. It’s a plain design – white, with three blue stripes on the sleeves and the FA badge on the breast. There seems to be a little unnecessary padding going on around the collar and those familiar little badges that Adidas seem to love so much around the hemline, but otherwise this is proof that they can do it, provided they, well, don’t put too much effort into it.
Russia: The worst, I think, of the Nike shirts. I don’t particularly object to the the red and blue stripes across the middle, but the addition of the white one and the subsequently necessary thin gold stripe makes it look a bit daft. It continues Nike’s current fetish for including the national flag into the design of the shirt, whether it needs to be or not.
Spain: You can usually rely on Spain to wear something reasonably dapper for the finals of a major tournament, but this is a surprisingly lacklustre effort. Unnecessary gold piping on the front of the shirts loses them points, though they do win the award for “Biggest Badge On Their Shirts” for this tournament, at least. Ah, and yes. That terrible, terrible yellow away shirt. I saw them wearing it for their friendly match against France in Paris a couple of months ago, and they looked like eleven Creme Eggs.
Sweden: And finally, Sweden. You can usually rely on the Swedes to have reasonably nice shirts on, can’t you? Well, not this year, you can’t. There are three things which ruin this shirt for me. Firstly, there are the two blue stripes that curve down from the collars. Then there’s the little bits of pattern next to them. What the hell are they supposed to achieve? Finally, there’s the tell-tale signs of logo diarrhoea. Umbro have placed their badge deliberately high – I’m taking a guess that someone has told all of these people that putting it there or on the shoulder makes it easier for TV audiences to see and they’ve also added one to the shoulder. Again, the fake collars would be better if they were real ones.