Getting Shirty: 13 iconic football tops and why I love them

Admiral Retro Trio Shirts 1.1

What defines a classic football shirt? Is it the Sir Stanley Matthews two-button-loose-high-collar stylee as worn in the famous Blackpool 1953 FA Cup victory? Or the silky Brazilian crew neck stretched across the chests of Sócrates, Falcão and Co at the 1982 World Cup? Surely not the 1991 Arsenal ‘sickly’ away jersey that strangely through time is starting to hold its own legendary properties?

Cult shirts, classic strips, fabled footie tops; whichever way we wish to refer to them, every lover of the beautiful game has their favourites. Our top picks represent the memory of that first shirt ever bought for us, the one we picked from a hundred choices adorned with the badge we didn’t even support, and ultimately the treasured design edition of our favourite team.

Down the years we’ve seen many a fashion faux pas as far as our beloved team shirts are concerned. Bat wing sleeves, tiger print, tie dye effect, collar lace pulls – name it, and football shirt designers have stuck it on, left it out, made it baggy or stitched it tight at some point or another.

And now seeing as modern day kits can best be described as sterile, unoriginal and lacking any semblance of cool artistry, below I’ve listed my own favourite football tops from an era we’ll sadly never see the likes of again. Behold the cult and feast on these!

In no particular order…

Denmark 1986 1.1

1. Denmark 1986 World Cup Home Shirt: This ultra legendary design was made famous as a result of Danish success at the 1986 Mexico World Cup. I recall that silky attacking team beating West Germany in the group stages of the tournament, at the same time thinking no other team wore this style of shirt – a continuous feature of Denmark strips over the years. Some said it caused a headache and the onset of squinty eyes; no matter, as till this day those stripes ooze Scandinavian cool.

A very popular and collectable all-time classic, as worn by Michael and Brian Laudrup, Jan Mølby and captain, Morten Olsen.

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Napoli 1986 1.1

2. Napoli 1987-88 Home Shirt: Another rare 1980’s design with Buitoni sponsor, and Scudetto and Coppa Italia shields marking the triumphs of the previous season when top-scorer Diego Maradona helped Napoli to their first Serie A Championship. The following season, the club were Serie A runners-up despite leading the race for much of the campaign. In that first season as reigning Scudetto champions they were knocked out of the first round of the European Cup by Real Madrid.

Quintessentially Italian in style and silkily epoch in material, this shirt for will forever hold the memory of my first interest in calcio Italiano.

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Tottenham Away 1985-87 1.1

3. Tottenham 1985-87 Away Shirt: This sky blue silk and veloured sponsor combo was one of the first shirts I was determined to wear in the summer of ’86. I evened it up by having the Arsenal centenary home kit from the same season just to prove I had no allegiance to either of the north London clubs. I recall the socks being a bit special as they had attached velour Hummel logos that were always worrisome during a 60 degree wash.

You’ll be very lucky to get a hand on an original of this shirt – as worn by Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle and possibly the only Argentinian nobody loved to hate in the early 1980s, Ossie Ardiles.


New York Cosmos 1977 1.1

4. New York Cosmos 1977 Home Shirt: In the 1977-78 North American Soccer League season, the club were simply named Cosmos. Despite a hiatus between 1984 and this year, the New York Cosmos remain the most successful North American team of all time. The club got their wish in 1975 when they eventually signed Brazilian great, Pelé, after five years of trying.

Very different from European style strips, I’ve always viewed this shirt as being a little bit glamorous, all the while seeping a notion of North American cult. The number 10 as per Pelé on the right breast makes this specific example all the more superb.

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Flamengo 1981-83 1.1

5. Flamengo 1981-83 Home Shirt: During his decade working in Brazil, my dad brought back this very distinctive mesh-material replica from the Rio de Janeiro club. I wore it with pride as no one round our way could identify the badge, let alone match it. I recall the scarlet and black bands being mistaken for a QPR away top, which needless to say was always shot down.

Flamengo were the Liverpool of the Brazilian game around the time of this replica, winning the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A four times in the 1980s. Legendary attacking midfielder, Zico, a cult classic in himself, was the club’s most inspirational player of the era.

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Everton 1984 1.1

6. Everton 1984 F.A. Cup Home Shirt: In the year when Everton were more than a match for any of their English rivals, and would 12 months later catch my eye with their European Cup-Winners triumph and First Division Championship, the team wore this was unique, highly stylised shirt that had no other comparison. A stand out from the crowd, the Le Coq Sportif design was reprised in Everton’s 2011-12 season; albeit it appeared a rougher, less cultish incarnation of its significant original. I would later have the club’s 1987 diamond-effect Championship shirt, sponsored by Umbro, though always regretted never owning the shirt that made me fall for the Toffees two year previous.

One glance at this classic top and visions of Ratcliffe, Reid, Sheedy, Steven, Sharpe et al spring instantly to mind.

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West Germany 1988-90 1.1

7. West Germany 1988-90 Home Shirt: Love them or loathe them, the Germans have always had a bit of Vorsprung durch Technik in and around their international football kit designs. And none so distinct than the one worn at Euro 88 and Italia 90. All incarnations since have failed to hit near the mark of this memorable classic, which always seemed a bit ahead of its time. Lightbulb-moment groans of “Oh I see what they’ve done there with the national flag” spread across Europe when it was first revealed.

My cousin kicked about in the tracksuit top version around the time Chris Waddle was knocking his penalty toward Row Z of the Stadio delle Alpi. But what I do recall most about the design was thinking Adi Dassler himself would likely have had a hand in its construction, even from the grave. That, and whether Frank Rijkaard’s spit washed easily out of its collar…

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Barcelona 1984-89 1.1

8. Barcelona 1984-89 Home Shirt: There are two very surprising facts about Barcelona from the 1980s; one is that the club achieved only one La Liga – under the helm of Terry Venables no less. The second is that they kept the exact same home strip for five years running. Sponsored by Catalonian based sportsbrand Meyba, the shirt worn for the second half of the decade is possibly one of the softest, most tangibly lush football items every created. Whatever material was used in its manufacture is akin to a texture being sent from heaven.

I remember while on holiday in Majorca in the mid-80s being struck by my first pangs of strip envy when the lad I played pool with one day rocked up wearing this very top. It fitted perfectly with its v-neck collar, and simply glistened under the pool table lights. Sheer quality from a barren Barca era despite Gary Lineker, Mark Hughes and Steve Archibald being on the books…and all before the club sadly went all Kappa on us.

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Italy 1996-97 1.1

9. Italy 1996-97 Home Shirt: Designs of the Italian international shirt fell foul of a good few bloopers post-Italia 90, thanks in no small part to manufacturers Diadora hitting out with ill-fitting synthetic materials while adding nasty cuff and collar Aztec-esque motifs. None so tragic was the baggy and saggy effort worn by the team at the USA 1994 World Cup. Compare that to the shirt worn as Marco Tardelli celebrated his goal in the 1982 World Cup final and the style issue is something if not glaring.

Everything changed in 1996 when Italy ran out in friendlies just prior to Euro 96 sporting a new Nike issue which was cut from no other cloth than a very stylised, the Milano catwalk would be proud kind of effort. With “ITALIA” emblazoned in white across the bottom back of the shirt, it was a real stand out piece with its Dri FIT material and modern classic simplicity.

I still have this strip in a kid’s size kept under my bed, and despite my numerous addresses over the years, I can’t bare to part with it.

Perhaps best remembered as worn by Gianfranco Zola, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Pierluigi Casiraghi and Dino Baggio.

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Celtic 1982-85 1.1

10. Celtic 1982-85 Home Shirt: Back in the day when Celtic players wore numbers on their shorts only, and the time hadn’t yet arrived for the name of a famous Scottish double-glazing sponsor to spoil the sanctity of the hoops, the likes of Charlie Nicholas, Davie Provan, and Tommy Burns played in a paradise playground wearing this shirt. I didn’t become a Celtic fan until the late-80’s thus I have a retrospective adoration for the club strip of this earlier era. No gimmicks, no magic eye patterns, just pure Celtic.

The design was typically Umbro in its look, while another special favourite of its time was the pale green away version as famously worn when Celtic dramatically won the league on the final day of the 1985-86 season.

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France 1985-90 1.1

11. France 1985-90 Home Shirt: This mid to late Eighties version of the French squad shirt is perhaps not their most iconic, nor is it my favourite in terms of Gallic design. But what it does represent is the memory of one of the finest and most thrilling matches I’ve watched during my entire love affair with football.

The World Cup in Mexico 1986 is what I now refer to as the celestial one. Throughout the tournament I recall sitting close to the television, enraptured by the sunny images so luminous the contrast knob was switched to low. With the exception of those in which the cynical Uruguay were involved, every match of the group stage was played with attacking football on show.

Scotland’s inevitable first round exit, Gary Lineker’s taped up hand, the Soviet player by the name of “Rats”, Manuel Negrete’s sensational overhead kick and my full Panini sticker album all led the way to the legendary quarter-final clash between Brazil and France.

The football played in Guadalajara that day in late June was merely sublime. With the match at deadlock after extra-time following goals from Michel Platini and Careca, it is the image of Luis Fernandez strolling up to the penalty spot to make the most important kick of his life that lives on in cult status. Socks at his ankles, sweaty hands through his hair, the look was pretty knackered, the style vitally French…and all the while a Brazilian samba beat rang through the stadium.

Anyone who was mesmerised by those same images will know exactly what happened next…

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Newcastle 1983-85 1.1

12. Newcastle United Away Shirt 1983-85: Another example of an Umbro away classic, this silver beauty holds legendary status with all the Toon Army fans I know, as it was worn during the two seasons Kevin Keegan played at St James Park. At a time when Umbro change shirts were experiencing a purple patch, this specimen gives boost for the perfect argument that they just don’t make them like that anymore. Accompanied by silver thigh-baring shorts and Umbro-emblem sock turnovers, the whole classic ensemble makes later green and yellow, blue and maroon, and various speckled Newcastle away editions look nothing if not gawdy.

Get your hands on an original and you’ve probably paid near a ton and a half for it in today’s retro kit market.


Cameroon 1990 1.1

13. Cameroon 1990 World Cup Home Shirt: Settling down to watch the opening match of Italia 90 no one, and I do mean absolutely no one could have predicted that Cameroon, in only their second World Cup appearance, and later down to 10 men, would beat the reigning champions Argentina in a match that kicked a fantastic tournament off with a bang.

The green and red kit used during their passage to the quarter-finals is best remembered as worn by four-goal smiling assassin, Roger Milla. The striker was unknown outside of his homeland and France, looked nothing like a footballer from the start and no one seemed to know if his true age was 38 or 40, or whether his name was spelt Milla or Miller (perhaps he being aware that the latter clashed with the same spelling as the famous American country singer). Whatever his deets, the man was veteran poster boy for all that was memorable about Italia 90, and the kit he and his team mates wore, with it’s roaring lion badge, goes down in the annals of World Cup carved-into-the-brain history.

It’s fair to say that back then sleeveless shirts and all-in-one Puma kits of the controversial kind were just a twinkle in Roger’s eye.

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