By John Bayfield
Got a favourite must have home shirt hanging in the wardrobe? Some impressive away shirt that’s tucked away in the drawer from God knows when? Or you’ve got that ‘third’ shirt, one that seemed a great idea at the time when you bought it but you would only wear now for a bet? A recent article on the BBC website covered the England football shirt era with kit makers Admiral in the early 80’s. The England home shirt was derided by most around then as it took the shirt design and style away from the traditional look, as in not being the plain white shirt worn through the decades previously. That Admiral national shirt has of late become a collectors’ item apparently.
One of the most notable changes to what were called generic or plain kits was that Admiral had put their emblem on shirts, down the side of the shorts and around the tops of socks. A clever form of advertising where previously only a few clubs had the makers’ logo opposite a club badge. Admiral had made football strips for many league clubs across the country most notably Leeds United from 1973/4, well before the England kit tie up and including West Ham United from 1976-1980. This looked good for Admiral as the Hammers were in the Cup Winners Cup reaching the final in 1976 and it ended with our 1980 FA Cup Final victory at Wembley over Arsenal.
In the second half of the seventies, Umbro and Adidas were making big moves on the top teams but Admiral hit money troubles and mainly kept ties with lower league clubs. Which brings me back to our claret and blue shirts in East London. With the aforementioned England shirt causing debate and being frowned upon by many at the time, what then would be regarded as a well presented and easy on the eye West Ham United playing strip? When it gets down to the nitty gritty it doesn’t matter what the boys (or girls) wear as long as they play well and hopefully are successful. Right from the early 1900’s our home kits have in the main been similar. The colours go so well together and I think it’s a great mix. Altogether much more appealing than all red, all blue or black and white stripes for instance. And not many teams have played in the same colours as ours. Aston Villa started using theirs in 1888 while Scunthorpe United followed the Hammers in 1904. Burnley used claret and blue from 1910 seven seasons after us. Much of the West Ham style and design from 1903 to 1976 were claret shirts, sky blue sleeves with white shorts and socks. Even our away kits for the bulk of the last century were either mainly sky blue or white with minor fluctuations. As we passed into the 80’s more and more clubs were latching on the fact that sales of shirts/kits were pulling in a pretty penny for income and it wasn’t too long before clubs were changing kit styles every couple of years.
Up to the 1975 FA Cup Final the single piece of art on our shirts apart from shirt numbers on the back was the club badge. Bukta made our kit then and (as far as I know) their name was on our shirts for the first time in that game. From then kit makers motifs were on all future shirts and shirt advertising followed in 1983 with West Ham starting with Avco Trust emblazoned across the chest on a large light blue area over the claret shirt highlighting the name of the company. Knowing this was a good and welcome income for the club I went with it. But once I saw the finished article and other clubs versions, I wasn’t so keen. But it was here to stay regardless if I liked it or not. Kit suppliers’ names were of a minimal size and didn’t affect the general look of the shirts but capital letters spread over the front of shirts just spoilt it for me. Maybe I am too much of a traditionalist but changes come and go. Compared to some clubs we have got off lightly through the seasons.
Since then various forms of lettering (some foreign) and numbers have adorned shirts for many sports, not just football and now it’s the norm in sporting circles. West Ham have been supplied by Bukta, Admiral, Adidas, Umbro, Pony, Fila, Macron and Reebok.
Here are a handful of shirts, in no particular order of good, bad and…..ahem, purple. The 1976-80 Admiral shirt with claret and blue chevrons across the chest . And of course with the rest of the white strip. The club crest at the time was also a plus, much better than the current rebranding one which is plain and simple in comparison. Fortunately this shirt was pre sponsorship thank goodness.
The 2019/20 season’s shirt is similar in design but no white to balance the kit up alas. The 1991-93 seasons gave us the BAC Windows logo on the shirt. The bright red logo taking up a fair chunk of the shirt didn’t help. Bukta provided the material and pre-school infants designed the shirt colour schemes during that period. Too much Blue Peter influence with sticky back plastics strips over the shoulders and sleeves for the home shirt. Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen would have been proud to have it in his curtains catalogue.
This is a wonderful away strip from 2005. Strands of claret across the sky blue shirt, Bobby Zamora doing the posing bit. The 2006 white change kit as in the Cup Final was also high up on my list.
I quite liked our navy blue/white away style, 2006/7 in the great escape season. The beige shirt with navy blue shorts and socks during 96/97 were a disappointment, not really us. When the third shirt idea came along it must only have been from a business point of view. Make even more money but did really they make much? Claret, light blue and white are our clubs primary colours, it’s in West Ham’s DNA. Surely those up in higher up the food chain can decide and make a proper West Ham third shirt not far off the range of colours we are used to. No need to go purple. Maybe the designer was a Prince fan? But the powers that be need to sell different gear to encourage us to change very frequently in modern times. The few outings this purple attire has been paraded out on the pitch left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Having been a tad harsh on some outfield items earlier, I can’t waffle on without a mention on keepers kits as some of you may know I’m a bit biased towards goalkeepers in general. So in ending, I will try to redress the balance a little. When I used to drop crosses, fumble a back pass or pick the ball out of the back of the net, it was mainly in a green or blue colour for the keepers top, bar one season which was I was in yellow (didn’t make much difference to my form though). Quite plain compared to some goalkeeper’s jerseys over the past few decades. Having been part the goalkeepers union from the age of nine, many a time I have tried to defend the actions of fellow members, whatever playing level, no matter how they performed in or outside the penalty box. But there is a limit. I could have chosen one of many examples but these photos (and they are far from the worst I have seen) show Mark Bosnich and Hans Segers either doing impressive imitations of the old BBC TV test card or a rather large bag of Smarties in the six yard box. These two photos sum it up for the football evolution of fashion. Classy or chavvy? I’ll leave that difficult choice to you.