Browsing the Old School Football website is a doubly nostalgic experience for me, and doubtless many other fans. Having reached the age of 54, I view the burgeoning retro shirts market with recollections of what were once simply replica shirts, way back in the 1970s.
Old designs bring the memories flooding back. There is the yellow Brazil shirt, worn by the great team of Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, and Carlos Alberto, that won the World Cup in 1970, but disintegrated very quickly. When I watched the 1974 and 1978 finals on television, Brazil’s flamboyant football had been replaced by something less than the beautiful game, although they ground their way to the last four each time.
The orange Netherlands shirt (technically more correct than Holland!?) was worn by the Dutch masters, who were runners-up to West Germany in the 1974 World Cup. That tournament gave us the much-repeated footage of Johan Cruyff doing the Cruyff-turn – less often recalled is this being in a goalless draw against Sweden. Diminished in flair, and without Cruyff, the Dutch reached the Final again in 1978, and were again beaten by the hosts, in this case Argentina.
The website has shirts modelled on those worn by the old West Germany. Strange to think that West Germany lost at home to East Germany, on their way to winning the 1974 World Cup. The next time West Germany won the title, beating Argentina in the 1990 Final, the country was about to be reunified.
The Italy 1960s and 1970s top recalls a time when their football was rather negative and overly-physical. A brighter than usual Italy eliminated England in the 1978 World Cup qualifiers, and went on to take fourth place.
The 1970s was a grim time to be an England fan. There was little comfort in pointing out that we kept missing out on major tournaments because we faced tough opposition in the qualifiers (although I think I did suggest that). In my head, an imaginary contemporary TV commentator is saying: “Younger viewers may be surprised to learn that there were only 16 teams in the World Cup finals, and four teams in the European Championship finals”.
Once upon a time, only one team per qualifying group progressed to the finals, now there can be two or three from a group. Indeed five finalists can emerge from the giant South American World Cup qualifying group. All teams in that group play 18 games, over two years or more, earn countless millions in TV revenue, spending some of it on flying lots of players, based with European clubs, back and forth over the Atlantic. The whole thing has the size, and speed, of a Galapagos tortoise.
Returning to England’s woes, I have already mentioned the 1978 World Cup, which followed England being knocked out of the 1974 competition by Poland, who took third place. The European title went to West Germany in 1972, and Czechoslovakia in 1976 – and (you guessed or knew?) I am about to say both teams eliminated England in the qualifiers.
We was robbed by the luck of the draw! Then we was robbed by injuries to Robson, Keegan, and Brooking, and loads of other things, in the 1980s. This was just a stage in the however many years of hurt there had been / have been / will be, between 1966 and whenever we win another trophy. I have been there, done that, and got the replica T-shirts. I also keep believing, having recently been luckily allocated a ticket to a Euro 2020 finals group game at Wembley – I will know in a few months who will be playing in said match, with a two in three chance of it being England.
Now where was I? Oh yes, stuck in thoughts of the 1970s!
Moving to European club shirts, the Juventus item is modelled on that worn when they lost the European Cup Final in 1973 to Ajax, bringing back more memories of Cruyff. I watched that match live on TV, back at a time when, apart from the World Cup, very few matches were shown live on British television. Some years we only got to see the FA Cup Final, European Cup Final, and England v Scotland home international – three live games in May, and none the rest of the year. Nowadays Sky viewers (I am not one) can expect three or more live games a weekend throughout the season.
At the age of 11, I sat in front of the television wearing my Manchester United kit, on the day of the 1976 FA Cup Final, a game they lost 1-0 against Southampton. In those days, the Cup Final was a much bigger event than it feels nowadays, and the TV coverage started about five hours before kick off. Feeling very fed up, I went to bed straight after the match ended!
Monday at school was not much fun either, as I lived in Hampshire and everybody suddenly seemed to be a Saint. In 1997, by now living in Southampton, but working in Reading, I got a lot of miss-placed ribbing when the team from the latter place unexpectedly knocked the former out of the FA Cup. As somebody born in Aldershot, a mere 200 miles or so south of Manchester, it has always seemed reasonable to me to be a home counties United fan – I have even been to the theatre of prawns.
The replica kit market in Britain was effectively started by Admiral, who started to sell Leeds United shirts in 1973, quickly followed England the next year, and a large number of other teams.
From memory, my Manchester United kit was not actually an Admiral version, but an imitation by another company. I think there had been quite a lot of imitations of popular kits in the years before Admiral, and the clubs they worked with, put things on an official footing.
With Admiral having gone bankrupt, Umbro started to produce England kit in 1984, and held the contract until 2013, when they were replaced by Nike. I bought England replica shirts to wear on my travels to follow the team in the World Cup finals of 1990 and 2006, held in Italy and Germany respectively. In between, I acquired the design worn by the team at the 1998 World Cup – a year I followed them to the tournament in France. The 2006 shirt is red, with a single gold star above the Three Lions badge, in recognition of England winning the World Cup once – the other two shirts are white.
I bought Manchester United shirts in 1991 and 1993, the latter being a yellow and green effort that reproduced one from 1878, worn by players upon the founding of the club’s forerunner, Newton Heath. These shirts were emblazoned with the name of Sharp, the sponsor of Manchester United through until 2000, when they were replaced by giant Vodafone lettering, and I own a copy of the first design of the new millennium. I often wear my United and England shirts while watching them live on TV, besides my attending games in the team colours.
My purchase of the 1993 shirt was in celebration of Manchester United winning the inaugural Premier League title. A year earlier, they had finished as runners-up to Leeds United in the Football League, and I went on holiday to Greece, where a lot of English tourists were wearing Leeds shirts. The bar next door to the hotel in which I was staying was run by a group of enterprising young men, who had commissioned T shirts advertising their establishment, with unlicensed use of the Umbro logo!
Fast forwarding from 1992, a few months ago my wife and I went to Turkey, a country that has an awful lot of shops modelled on British originals – I think they are all unauthorised “tribute acts”! There was even a shop calling itself the Genuine Turkish Fake Factory – bootlegging with a smile. I found a supposed branch of Marks and Spencer that only sold sports kit.
Here I bought a plain white “Adidas” shirt, and a Fenerbahce shirt – my first such purchase for a team I do not actually follow. The dark blue Fenerbahce shirt was part of their away kit last season. The team badge is accompanied by three stars, each of which represents the club winning the Turkish Super Lig five times. With Fenerbahce having a total of 19 titles, one more will lead to another star. I bought the shirt with a sense of irony, given that the first team to beat Manchester United in a European game played in England were Fenerbahce – ending a 40 year run that had stretched from 1956 to 1996.