I think the idea to make a book about the worst football kits came from a conversation between me and my good friend Jamie. The novel thought was that we’d write it ourselves, but we both knew we probably wouldn’t. For starters, we couldn’t even decide which ones to include – it is a divisive subject after all. Then he upped and left for the big lights of London and that seemed to be that. But the idea wouldn’t go away, it kept nagging at me.
So then I decided it had to happen and set out to find an author. Dave Moor runs an excellent football kits website, one which I’ve used many a time for research (and to while away idle moments). He was really enthusiastic and got the concept easily – it would have to be fun, colourful and a bit silly. After some wrangling on formats etc., we got it through the acquisitions meeting and hey presto, a year later we held The Worst Football Kits of All Time in our hands.
The first football kit I ever got was when I was about ten. It was a Newcastle away one from about 1995 – the blue one with what looks like white paint flecks. It was the cheapest one in the new sports shop that opened in town; it was a time when I wanted everything baggy and in XL. It’s still too big for me. That was a horrible shirt yet I loved it dearly; all my friends had several shirts and finally I had one too. It wasn’t the team I supported but it was a genuine replica shirt, finally I felt up to scratch with my peers. Not that they were at all snobbish about it, they used to lend me their shirts all the time (mostly Arsenal ones) to wear for kickabouts. Soon after that I got an Ireland home shirt – I think it’s the one Dougal wears to bed in Father Ted. It’s vibrant green with patterned shapes and panelling and my favourite part is the orange, white and green collar. I have no affiliation with Ireland (about as much as I do with Newcastle) yet that shirt is still with me (albeit with one or two real paint flecks since added).
I still remember the thrill of getting my first Chelsea shirt. I’d seen it was on sale and had mentioned subtly (and then less subtly as the weeks progressed) that it might make a very suitable Christmas present. Come the festive morning I sat down to open my presents and sure enough, there was nothing shirt-shaped. My last present was a small, square box. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘just smile and be grateful.’ I looked my mother in the eyes and said, ‘Thanks Mum.’ I didn’t register then the sly smirk on her face as I started unwrapping. I opened the box and there, looking up at me, was the badge on a brand new 1998 Chelsea home shirt – my brand new 1998 Chelsea home shirt! Maybe it is nostalgia biasing me, but that is still one of my favourite Chelsea strips. It’s the one with the white underarm patches with yellow trim, and Chelsea FC emblazoned on the back of the collar, a detail I found and still find wonderful. I believe Jamie thought that should go in the Worst Kits book, our first disagreement.
Of all the things I’ve lost in my time – books, cds, friends – what rankles most is losing my 1998/99 Boston United home shirt, a very overwhelming amber affair which I must have looked really cool in as it was easily eighteen sizes too big for me. I remember going down to the small club shop, a tiny front room in a terraced house behind their crumbling stadium, with my hard-saved pocket money. The lady working there was possibly surprised to see me, the ‘megastore’ more often than not being empty. She scuttled to a big box on the floor and pulled out my shirt, my shiny new shirt, pristine in its cellophane wrapper, the felt Wards sponsor still a dark black and a blinding white, before all the detritus and fluff I ever went near attached itself to it. Where that shirt went I still don’t know. Even now, I look in my wardrobe whenever I go home on the off-chance that it has materialised. It hasn’t. The same is true of a Bristol Rovers home shirt that I bought cheap when I was a student. I don’t know why I liked Rovers so much; I think I had a very good game with them on Fifa Soccer Manager, my only marginal success on the game (success in that I wasn’t sacked and got to build a lovely new stand). It was that or my Championship Manager career which saw me start as Rovers gaffer and end in the ludicrous position of simultaneously guiding the next generation of the Dutch international team to glory and watching my Halesowen squad
plummet out of the Conference. Or maybe it’s just that I really like their blue and white quartered jerseys. I only had that shirt a few months before I realised it was missing – I can only assume it is making someone else very happy.
I love retro shirts – I love my old shirts more now than I did when they were the current strip. I’d much rather buy the kit as it is replaced than get it on its release (for one thing it’s much cheaper, although I was astonished to see the last England jersey ‘on sale’ at a very reasonable £35 rather than the usual £50 – don’t even get me started).
And all of that brings us nicely back to the Worst Kits.
I guffawed loudly while reading through Dave’s text and checking the images. I ummed agreement with his Chelsea Tangerine and Grey effort, I nodded approval at Manchester United’s grey it-looks-good-with-jeans-but-can’t-be-seen-for-love-nor-money-on-the-pitch jersey and I enjoyed very much Aldenham School’s 1870 strip of all white topped with a black turban.
But then I saw it.
It was hideous, I could see as much, and yet I was transfixed, a collision of colours and patterns as if the printing machine had just decided it had had enough of being constrained by society’s expectations and wanted to let its full creative power flow. It wasn’t a worst kit, it was a wonderful kit. Ajax away, 1989/90. It was blue, red and white with ‘a complex geometric design’ and ‘fashionable pinstripes’ (see my profile picture). The clash doesn’t work at all (what clash does?), and yet it couldn’t be more perfect. It has a rounded collar with blue, white and red stripes (not so dissimilar to that old Ireland shirt I wear when creosoting my dad’s shed) and I knew as soon as I saw that photograph, I had to have one. I found the cheapest one I could (old shirts can be very expensive) and bought it. It says ‘Um’ – the ‘bro’ and logo being long gone – and I had to get the sleeve ends sewn back up by my best friend’s kindly mum. It has lots of pulls (a couple since added by my cats) and I have no idea who has worn it nor where it’s been since entering the Ajax club shop twenty-odd years ago. And yet it’s mine now. I wear it from time to time (I was going to wear it a few days ago for a day out in Bristol, only for my fiancée to say, ‘Ergh, you’re not wearing that horrible thing are you?’ I know, I know, under the thumb, etc., but we were going out with her parents and I was hoping they’d buy me lunch – they did). It may not be my favourite shirt of all time, but it is most certainly my best worst.
As for the book, which if I do say so myself is utterly and indescribably brilliant, it’s on sale … now! See http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/products/Worst-Football-Kits.aspx for more details.