The England football team likes to shoot themselves in the foot. They’re the masters of missed penalties, the superstars of spurious red cards, the sine qua non of quarter final exits. Sartorially, though, they’ve often acquitted themselves far better. A week on from the launch of the strips that the Three Lions will be sporting this summer in Brazil, we’re paying tribute to some of the classic England tops sported at World Cups over the years, and choosing our favorites – sorting the wheat from the David Seaman keeper shirts along the way.
When watching this year’s World Cup, we can expect to see a plethora of leaping PUMAs, three-striped adidas sleeves and Nike Swooshes – but sometimes it’s from the smaller brands that the really striking designs can emerge. Admiral Sportswear, whose current kit production portfolio doesn’t stretch further than the Gibraltar national team, were declared bankrupt in 1982, but amidst that turmoil managed to create one of the enduring England ensembles. This top was the first to experiment with the full red/white/blue colorway, here used as a striking shoulder design and the v-neck, that most under-used football collar, offers a daring slice of skin between the ubiquitous early ’80s bubble perms, tashes and chest rugs.
King Kevin Keegan never looked so good; even more so in the shortie shorts, replete with drawstring and three-color piping, which we’d like to think were a coping mechanism for the searing Spanish heat, but were probably a fair bit more to do with it being 1982. That year’s England vintage managed to go home undefeated, in no small part assisted by this underdog victory of a kit, and with Admiral now languishing in the lower leagues of sportswear manufacturers, it seems unlikely that we’ll see its like again.
2014’s England effort, with its understated design, attempts to hark back to the glory days of the ’60s and ’70s, but with two crucial flaws. Firstly, as much of the press coverage of the launch showed, charging people £90 for “minimalism” tends to go down quite badly amongst the shirt-buying British public. Secondly, the players of yesteryear could pull off that look with an unfettered aplomb with which their more recent counterparts struggle. A team with comb-overs, missing teeth and names like Roger, Gordon and Nobby didn’t need any gimmicks (here’s looking at you, Becks) or cosmetic surgery (and you, Wayne) to play the game, just a simple cotton shirt, Three Lions on their chest and most importantly, the Jules Rimet Trophy in hand. That isn’t to detract from the shirt though, an uncluttered classic which remains massively popular after nearly 50 years, with crisp white shorts sandwiched between a red shirt and red socks, and rounded off by utilitarian long sleeves, and a crew neck collar. The bottom line, though, is that it is very, very difficult to look bad whilst holding the World Cup trophy aloft.
The enduring image of England’s 1970 campaign will always be that of a topless Bobby Moore, trading jerseys and shaking hands with Pelé, but the shirt itself deserves more than a short mention. Specifically designed to withstand the heat of Mexico, it was the first ever to be constructed in Umbro Aertex, utilizing tiny holes in the mesh to transfer sweat away from the body, and forming the scientific basis of all kits to follow. The minimalist crew neck and pure white color also caught the eye, set off only by the Three Lions badge on the left breast. Throw in the matching white/white shorts and socks, and the fact that the 1970 tournament was the first to be shown in full color, and you have a kit that made a lasting impression on the public back home in Blighty. The proof is in the purchase: an original was recently listed at auction in the UK with a reserve of £40,000 ($67,000 USD).
England, 1998. The game has reached a nadir in the nation that gave it to the world. The national team failed miserably in Euro ’92, didn’t qualify for World Cup ’94 and suffered agony on penalties when hosting Euro ’96. After stumbling to the World Cup in France, hopes weren’t high. The country, though, was on the up. Cool Britannia was at its peak, Britpop was ruling the charts and the Young British Artists were making waves worldwide. Hell, even the World Cup songs were good that year. The jersey – a mash of ideas thrown at a shirt, from the strutting stand-up collar, complete with button and miniature flag, past the red and navy blue side panels and on to the number font straight out of a Sega Megadrive – seemed to exemplify all the scattergun creativity that was overflowing from the nation. Of course, it all fell apart from the penalty spot again, but for those fleeting moments it was revelatory.
Some might say it hasn’t aged well, or that there are prettier shirts out there, but it is the Lightning Seeds of England kits; the sight of it takes you back in an instant to the moment when an 18-year-old Michael Owen flew through that Argentinian defense wearing it, and we all, as Baddiel and Skinner sang, still believed.
The 1980s was a terrible time to be a football fan in England. Supporters were not just maligned but regarded as feral animals, to be fenced into dilapidated stadia and herded around by lines of police. Italia ’90, though, changed all that. From the ruins of the national game, a team emerged which went as close as any since 1966 to winning it all. With that team, came a cultural shift that endures to this day and the 1990 World Cup jersey exemplified that shift.
Gone was the idea of the shirt as being only for the players; this top was the first intended to be sold as a replica, designed for the masses and influenced by the existing styles seen on the street. Informed by the understated classics of 1966 and 1970, but inherently modern, it featured a dual-textured under-pattern, a sleeve-design and a button-down collar lifted straight from the Casual subculture dominant on the terraces up and down the UK. Its lasting image is not that of Lineker, Waddle or even of Gascoigne, using his shirt to wipe his tears; it was of New Order wearing it on Top of the Pops. It takes the number one spot – as “World in Motion” did – because it was the shirt that took football fashion from the field to the catwalk and, more importantly, onto the streets.
Mike Meehall Wood for Highsnobiety.com