September 1985: An overly excited young boy eludes eighty percent of the staircase on his downward journey, having mastered the art of grasping the banister rails he’d become adept at making it from the top to the ground floor of the house in just three synchronised hops. As always, he landed upon his right foot to the instantaneous unison of angry Irish voices. This time it mattered not, it was his ninth birthday and only a feeble layer of paper stood between the red-headed sprog and his first ever Nottingham Forest jersey.
Of course, that boy was me and it certainly doesn’t’ feel like it was thirty-five years ago. I remember the very texture of the shirt, from the almost woollen material to the silky, satin bands that ran from top to bottom. The Nottingham Forest logo proudly situated upon the sternum, flanked by the ostentatious deployment of double Adidas badges, like the council house lions, one upon each sleeve.
That was the day I fell in love with and began to hoard football kits. It’s at this point that you’d expect me say I’ve got every NFFC kit produced since that moment. The truth is quite different and my collection of one hundred and fifty odd ranges from Belgium to Belarus, each jersey has its own unique story to tell.
During the Covid 19 lockdown I followed the Nottingham Forest twitter account which ran a poll to choose the club’s greatest ever kit. Surprisingly, the winner was the 1977-1981 home shirt, synonymous with two European Cup triumphs. Aesthetically, not a patch on more recent editions in my opinion but one that represents the greatest period in the club’s history. As a result of this and ITV’s fantastic “Getting Shirty” documentary, which portrayed Admiral’s game changing designs of the seventies, I was inspired to write this piece.
Having put the feelers out on Twitter I received a fantastic response, and as predicted, one that provided beautiful variation and diversity. My phone pinged like a machine in the hands of Tommy Walker as a plethora of screenshots appeared, images of Gabriel Batistuta at Fiorentina, Kevin Keegan at Southampton, Johan Cruyff at Ajax, and Gary Blissett at Brentford to name but a few.
There are hundreds of reasons why we’re drawn to a particular football shirt, starting with the iconic heroes that wore them so well. @90sfootball regularly tweet a picture of classic kit alongside the following question: Who’s the first player you think of when you see this shirt? A simplistic but intelligent way of engaging its followers and one that has no right or wrong answer, purely subjective.
Olympique Marseille, when I see their jerseys of the late eighties and early nineties It’s all about Chris Waddle for me. OM were dominating European football during this period with household names from 1 to 11, as an aspiring winger, I was transformed into the man himself every time I put on that shirt, without the back-mullet obviously, it was hard enough being ginger!
Random names will intrinsically appear when we are reminded of a club’s colours from any given era: 70s Liverpool – Dalglish, 80s Watford – John Barnes, 90s AC Milan – Marco Van Basten, 2000s Chelsea – Didier Drogba and the last decade invariably belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
As a kid I’d deliberate upon which kit to wear for the all-day football matches on Woodthorpe Park, tough decisions to make, would I be Neil Webb or Ally McCoist? Yes, I used to wear a Rangers shirt, until a fateful visit to my Auntie’s house in Glasgow. She was a fanatical Celtic supporter and made sure that I never wore blue again!
I’d pretty much go anywhere across the City of Nottingham for a kick about, hopping on the appropriate bus to replicate a kind of away day if you will. The No53 to Clifton, the 141 to Hucknall or by foot to St Ann’s. The Cliftonites seemed to like their Italian shirts, the St Ann’s lads favoured the Man United and Liverpool strips whilst the Hucknall boys kept it real with Notts County and Forest.
Looking back, some of the kits from yesteryear were outstanding, especially those worn in the 1988 European Championship. West Germany unveiled their greatest ever strip, whilst The Netherlands and the USSR rocked up in Adidas’s most innovative design to date, identical but iconic, nevertheless. Whilst England’s grandad collar design went under the radar somewhat, possibly owing to their horror show at the finals the Republic of Ireland ticked the boxes nicely with theirs. Italy, aside from a slight change to the badge, were still catwalk material in their timeless Diadora from their World Cup win six years previous. Perhaps the only disappointment was Denmark’s inability to replicate their very own shirt porn from Mexico 86!
In retrospect, the company who must take the credit for the evolution of football kit design is Admiral. ITV’s recent documentary about the little underwear firm who cornered the market was brilliant, it’s called “Getting Shirty,” and if you’ve not yet seen it, trawl through ITV player and give it watch, it’s a phenomenal story. From a fateful encounter at Leeds United they went onto design and make kits for Wales, Crystal Palace, Coventry (Chocolate brown!), Spurs, Norwich, Bologna, Man United, Southampton and many others. The genius behind the project was a young lady straight out of art college called Lindsay Jelley. She claims to have almost zero knowledge about football but she sure as hell changed the game forever when it comes to football shirts.
So, we’ve linked various kits to the star players who wore them, swooned at the bespoke beauty of their design, and as the Nottingham Forest competition proved, grown to love them for the glory and silverware produced within them. So, what about all three of these facets together? I believe that only when all three of these ingredients combine, it truly constitutes the holy grail of football kit. I call it the shamrock effect, well I would, wouldn’t I!
Examples: Player – Pele, Jersey – New York Cosmos 1977, Trophy – Soccer Bowl. Player – Marco Van Basten, Jersey – Holland 1988, Trophy – European Championship. Player – Norman Whiteside, Jersey – Man U 1985, Trophy – FA Cup. Player – Lothar Matthäus, Jersey – West Germany 1990, Trophy – FIFA World Cup. Player – Diego Maradona, Jersey – Napoli 1987, Trophy – Scudetto. Player – Didier Deschamps, Jersey – Marseille 1993, Trophy – Champions League. Player – Keith Cassells, Jersey -Mansfield Town 1987, Trophy – Football League Trophy. Player – Gianluca Vialli, Jersey – Sampdoria 1990, Trophy – European Cup Winners Cup. The list goes on and on!
The truly classic shirts can be identified by their sponsor alone; have a go at linking the team to the sponsors listed: Mediolanum, Crown Paints, Skol, NEC, Sharp, JVC, OPEL, Sony, CR Smith, Ariston, Pirelli, Mars, Mita Copiers, Philips, ERG, Carlsberg, ABN AMRO, s. Olivier, No Smoking, Teka, and RTL. Easy money!
I shall finish with an insight to my own, eclectic selection. My penchant for all things Nottingham Forest and Olympique Marseille has dominated proceedings but there are some absolute beauties to accompany them. I’m a stickler for vintage so my Liverpool shirt from 1979 scores highly, along with Notts County (Adidas) 1981, New York Cosmos 1977, West Germany 1990, Cameroon 1990, Spurs 1987 (Hummel), Éire 1988 and Australia 1993.
My absolute favourites are usually adorned with signatures, Forest 79 requires a few more to complete the set but my Spurs 87 has the whole squad on it, as does my Celtic shirt from 2006. I’m desperately working angles to obtain the scribble of Stuart Pearce on his testimonial shirt and of course Chris Waddle on the OM classics. Bizarrely, I’d have to say that my New York Cosmos is the pick of the bunch, an Admiral original from 1977 and elegantly signed by Steve Hunt who played alongside Pele at the time. My favourite NFFC jersey is the 1989 League cup number by Umbro: like me, it’s somewhat dated, simple, and not too loud.
I’m certain several of you are screaming at your screens right now, asking why I’ve failed to mention this one or that. However, as I said from the outset, our love for each kit is subjective and the beauty will forever lie within the eye of the beholder.
*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
Main image @FitzCorry some of the impressive 150+ strong shirt collection and rising.