The game of soccer is generally considered to date back to the mob football games played in the Middle Ages between rival villages without rules and with unlimited players on each side. Football never stands still. So also the shirts! Last time we talked about the shoes, and now we would like to talk about the shirts!
Interest in soccer shirts has never been higher, largely fueled by the internet, prompting a plethora of sites dedicated to the subject. Collecting replica and match-worn shirts has become a serious business with rare match-worn shirts changing hands for hundreds and even thousands of pounds.
Around 1850 plain white shirts were very popular, being both relatively cheap and easily obtainable. As one might expect, given that players bought their own jerseys, there was considerable variation within a team.
This changed in 1883. Popular designs were self-coloured or hooped, (described as “striped”). Vertical stripes did not appear until circa 1883, when the term “shirts” appeared for the first time. While it was technically possibly to produce vertical striped tops before this, it may have been cheaper to produce knitted garments in horizontal stripes. I speculate that the introduction of vertically striped shirts in the early 1880s was a result of mass participation in the game that stimulated a dramatic growth in demand for tops in distinctive colours that could be produced at economic prices.
Rather sensibly, most clubs retained long sleeved versions of their shirts including old-fashioned collars to protect their players during the winter months, wearing the Continental style during the warmer spells at the beginning and end of each season. The new style of kit was generally matched with traditional designs.
A number of clubs celebrated their centenaries during the decade and one of these, Derby County, introduced special kit to celebrate the occasion in 1984, establishing a precedent that would become the norm some 20 years later.
Now every football club has a partner on their shirt!