September 26, 2007

The top 50 football kits

From the pink jersey donned by Sicilian hardmen to the strip that hid blood on George Best's ankles, Nick Szczepanik has picked the best kits ever

It may be hard to remember in these days when footballers are mobile advertising hoardings, whose polyester shirts generate enough static electricity to power the Central Line, but football kits were once simple, strong statements, with nothing but a club crest as adornment - if that. And, as you can see at any big match, plenty of fans who choose to proclaim their loyalties by wearing a replica shirt prefer the reissued classics to the modern design nightmares.

So in our list of the 50 best kits of all time, most are from the days before the marketing men and failed graphic design students got their hands on the visual identities of clubs and countries. There are exceptions, but pitifully few. And when we get around to the 50 worst kits, many will be much more modern. We have no doubt you will send us your suggestions.

In the meantime, here is our list. If we have forgotten anyone's favourite, let us know. Often we had to choose between very similar designs: for example, Aston Villa, Burnley and West Ham United were almost identical for many seasons. Sometimes, of course, the fine line between a classic kit and a plain dull one is a matter of association. In the 1960s, there wasn't much difference between the outfits sported by Wrexham and Manchester United. But George Best didn't play for Wrexham.

50. Dukla Prague
"All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit" sang Half-Man, Half-Biscuit. We prefer the home version. The away shirt was a simple reversal, gold with maroon sleeves.

49. Palermo
For sheer nerve. If you're going wear pink - in Sicily - you'd better be ready to play hard.

48. Flamengo (Brazil)
If Dennis The Menace managed a football club, his team would wear a similar shirt to the best supported team in Brazil.

47. Northern Ireland 1970s
As worn by George Best when knocking the ball out of Gordon Banks' hands.

46. Scotland 1967
The "unofficial world champions" beat Alf Ramsey's World Cup holders. At Wembley.

45. Everton 1969
Ball, Kendall and Harvey ran the Goodison midfield in an understated navy blue number.

44. Partick Thistle 1960s (red and gold hoops).
Glasgow's alternative club bravely brightened up Maryhill with a unique striped combination.

43. Heart of Midlothian 1960s
Known as the Jam Tarts - a sort of redcurrant jam, in this case.

42. Bradford City 1968-72
A better combination of claret and amber than any of their recent efforts.

41. Sampdoria
It is claimed that chest bands are unpopular because, visually, they echo women's bras. Tell it to Vialli, Gullit, Lombardo ...

40. Manchester United 1960s
As worn by George Best. The red socks didn't show the blood from repeated assaults by clogging defenders.

39. Sheffield United 1972
Tony Currie was the great entertainer in a team that was otherwise short on stars. Remember Trevor Hockey? Nice kit, though.

38. Birmingham City 1972
The penguin outfit worn by Bob Latchford and Trevor Francis revived a season. There was a red away version and a strange third kit that was black on one side, gold on the other and red down the middle.

37. Aston Villa 1957 FA Cup final
Worn by the team that defeated the Busby's Babes nine months before the Munich tragedy.

36. Bristol Rovers
The Football League's only quarters (apart from Wycombe Wanderers).

35. Tottenham Hotspur 1970s
Greaves, Chivers, Gilzean - and not a red sponsor's logo in sight.

34. Poland 1974
Okay, so they put England out of the 1974 World Cup - get over it. But once in Germany, Lato, Gadocha and company ran rings round the opposition in a white and red getup.

33. West Bromwich Albion 1960s-70s
Jeff Astle, Tony Brown and company were "Throstles" in those days. Allegedly.

32. Croatia 1998 World Cup
The chequered flag look, later copied by Leyton Orient. But the Os didn't have Prosinecki or Shuker.

31. Juventus
This "old lady" has always had some decent outfits tucked away in her wardrobe.

30. Stoke City 1972
George Eastham scored the goal that won the League Cup, Stoke's first-ever trophy, wearing a tasteful version of the club's red and white stripes.

29. Arsenal 1970s
The present design echoes the simple outfit worn by the club's first double-winning squad. And Arsenal top the league again. Coincidence?

28. Reading 1969-74
Robin Friday's biography was called "The Best Footballer You Never Saw". The Royals' blue version of Celtic's outfit was the best football kit you never saw. Unless you were at Elm Park.

27. Coventry City away 1971
The Sky Blues were notorious for their brown road strip, but before that they had a snazzy green and black striped number. Wonder why they changed?

26. Blackburn Rovers 1960s
There's something about the blue and white halves that evokes brass bands and Hovis bread commercials rather than Peruvian forwards and Turkish midfield players.

25. Crystal Palace 1972
For one memorable afternoon only, Palace lived up to their intended image as the Ajax of South London in a 5-0 win over Manchester United.

24. United States 1994
Alexi Lalas looked like a ginger Captain America in a wacky one that worked nonetheless. This one had the stars, the home shirt had wavy stripes that looked like the flag.

23. Arsenal 2005-06
A dip into history for the farewell to Highbury. One of few modern kits that works.

22. Manchester City away 1969-73
City won FA Cup and League Cup finals at Wembley disguised as AC Milan.

21. Blackpool 1950s
The Seasiders' unique hue shone at Wembley in the Matthews final. Shame all the newsreel footage is black and white. Come on you Tangerines!

20. West Ham United 1960s-70s
The Hammers were persuaded to change to red when they won the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany.

19. Fiorentina
Violet is an unusual colour normally reserved for third kits in England, but Gabriel Batistuta wore it with pride for the Viola.

18. Crystal Palace 1970
Palace once wore the same combination of claret and blue as West Ham, but their distinctive pinstriped version accompanied them into the top flight for the first time.

17. QPR 1969
Rodney Marsh (yes, THAT Rodney Marsh) inspired Rangers from third division to first in the blue and white hoops.

16. Barcelona
As worn by Cruyff and Maradona, as copied by Malcolm Allison for Crystal Palace in 1973. Funnily enough, no-one ever chanted "Are you Barcelona in disguise?"

15. Hungary 1950s
Puskas, Hidekguti and friends destroyed England twice wearing the kit based on Hungary's national flag. Chelsea copied it for their away kit in the 1970s.

14. Internazionale 1960s
Okay, catennaccio put back the cause of attacking football for many years. But you couldn't fault the gear.

13. France 1984
Before Michel Platini became the interfering busybody of world football, he led a sublime attacking team that won a European Championship but fell agonisingly short in two World Cups.

12. England 1960s
Before Don Revie brought Admiral on board to make a mess of the England shirt, the three lions sat alone on a simple white jersey.

11. Argentina 1978
Forget the hand of God and unproven reports that Peru were bribed to lose 6-0 to put Argentina into the final. Osvaldo Ardiles and company were worthy World Cup winners in this classic outfit.

10. England 1966
Plenty of teams have worn red shirts and white shorts. But only one has ever won a World Cup final.

9. Wolves
Old gold shirts, black shorts. A proud and simple tradition, from Billy Wright to Steve Bull and beyond.

8. Celtic 1967
What, no shirt numbers? The Lions of Lisbon knew who they were.

7. Newcastle United 1969
The Fairs Cup win was Newcastle's last trophy. Maybe they should try going back to the classic kit they wore to win it.

6. Ajax
Unique, simple, iconic. You can't ask for much more from a football kit.

5. Liverpool 1960s
Bill Shankly decided that adding red shorts and socks would make his red-shirted players appear more imposing. Ron Yeats looked around seven feet tall as a result.

4. Holland 1974-78
Die Oranje lost two World Cup finals despite a host of great players, but the kit was a winner.

3. Italy 1970
There have been minor variations - remember the figure-hugging version? - but the Azzurri have always been Europe's best turned-out national team.

2. Real Madrid 1960s
The iconic kit, unspoilt by logos and motifs and worn by Gento and Di Stefano. Copied by every club from Leeds United to LA Galaxy.

1. Brazil 1970
An unlikely combination of yellow, green, blue and white, which proved a challenge to early colour television technology during the Mexico World Cup, but no team has ever looked better than Pele, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and company.