An International Love Affair
(Posted on 07/09/17)
With the huge influx of foreign players in every major league along with the explosion of worldwide football coverage in the media it’s difficult today to appreciate just how exotic international football appeared to those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s writes John Devilin.
With very little live coverage of non-major tournament games on the TV back then, the only way to follow the exploits of the national side if you weren’t old enough to stay up for the late news, was by listening in on the radio or reading the match report in the morning papers. Or for the truly desperate, following the game live on Ceefax, staring at the screen for an hour and a half waiting for the score to change!
With all that in mind, you can imagine that for the young kit nerd, being exposed to the majestic and mysterious kits of foreign international teams, usually in the following week’s Shoot or Match magazine, was a rare and thrilling experience. An experience that was enhanced every couple of years with the arrival of a major tournament that gave us the chance to feast our eyes on a whole array of wonderful strips as they blended with the familiar outfits of the home nations that we were used to.
There’s something special about international kits, they always seem so….’different’. Sometimes horrendously behind the times from a fashion sense and sometimes way ahead of the curve, they were always exciting to see, full of flair and excitement.
Back in the 70s and 80s, it’s easy to see why they were perceived as so different. British football apparel back then was still full of British brands (Umbro, Admiral etc) whereas the international game was dominated by flamboyant and desirable brands such as Adidas, Le Coq Sportif and Puma who at that time were yet to really make massive inroads into in the British domestic game.
Apart from the brands though, I think there are several reasons why international shirts are so loved.
Firstly, so many of them have become icons of football. For example, the yellow and green jerseys of Brazil that perfectly encapsulate the glamour and pinnacle of football skill. Or the fan-powered dominance of Holland’s famous orange, the stylish simplicity of Italy’s blue and the unique sky blue and white stripes of Argentina. And who can forget the enigmatic CCCP emblazoned across the chest of the Soviet Union shirts.
As well as these classic and iconic kits, it’s the magic of unusual and often unorthodox colour schemes that also catch the eye. Colours that were often simply extracted from national flags that of course were created centuries earlier with no thought as to how they might later be integrated into sporting wear! Combinations of green, red and white (Hungary, Bulgaria, Morocco etc) that would never normally be seen together in the British game and the dynamic red, gold and black of Belgium that symbolised the rich magic of the international football kit. All these designs brought a breath of fresh air to the familiar colour schemes we were used to in the UK.
The shirts can also give us a small insight into the lifestyles of other countries we may not be so familiar with. I, for one, love seeing Puma’s ranges for the African teams they have supplied over the years, full of innovation and cultural references. It’s also fascinating to see the shirts from smaller footballing nations such as Malta and Sierra Leone.
In recent decades, from a football kit anorak or collector’s point of view though, the major tournaments also act as a showcase for sportswear brands (call it an international football kit fashion show if you will) and provide an opportunity to view the templates domestic teams will wear the following season (for example Spain 1996-98 away kit, Holland 2002-04 home kit) and lust over bold designs that perhaps won’t make it to our local stadiums (e.g. France 1994-96 kit).
Today an international shirt still holds its magic. They symbolise a different culture, are free from sponsorship (therefore pleasing the purists!) and are guaranteed to turn heads when worn down the High Street.
(Approx $132 / €116)
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