Third Kits – A history of the Third Kit by John Devlin by Tom› 1 Sep 2009
Third kits have been a big talking point around Umbro House, of late - mainly because of this. With this in mind, we asked our friend (and kit fanatic), John Devlin, to give us his rundown on all that is third kits.
John is the author of a two volume book entitled True Colours. The highly acclaimed TRUE COLOURS series of books illustrate the football kit history since 1980 of England’s biggest clubs. Every home shirt, away shirt and third shirt is reproduced in painstaking detail and is accompanied by text explaining when it was worn, who wore it and important matches in which it featured. I use them A LOT to identify all of the old kits in the archive.
Born out of necessity and now an essential part of many club's kit cupboard, for me, third strips are the icing on the football cake.
The main function of a football kit is to enable everyone to clearly differentiate between the two sides playing. If both a visiting teams' home and away kits clash with the home sides's strip then there is only one answer: a third kit.
As well as obviously providing an effective colour clash counterpoint, third kits give designers a chance to freshen up strip ideas and try out styles and colour schemes not generally associated with the club as well as sometimes resurrecting previous historical designs.
Contrary to popular opinion third kits (and indeed, whisper it, fourth kits) have been around almost as long as football itself. They may not have been named 'third kits' as such, but to all intents and purposes these one-off outfits that were called into action when necessary, were just that.
The first third kit I remember noticing was the all-yellow outfit Liverpool wore in their '78-'79 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. The tie went to a replay and in both games Liverpool took to the field sporting this previously unseen outfit. The reason for this third kit? Well, back then FA rukes dictated that if there were was a clash of colours in the semi-final or final of the cup then both teams had to wear change kits unless otherwise agreed. United turned out in their away kit of white, meaning Liverpool had to switch to yellow.
This peculiar FA rule has led to several appearances of third kits in Cup matches through the years including the 1950 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Liverpool. Liverpool wore white while Arsenal sported a third kit of amber. Two seasons earlier in the 1948 Cup Final Blackpool sported their white away kit, forcing opponents Manchester United to adopt a third kit of blue. Of course United's blue third kits are now legendary and have made regular appearances away from Old Trafford, most famously in the 1968 European Cup Final triumph against Benfica.
Even internationally, third kits have their place. England first announced an official third choice kit back in the Mexico '70 World Cup. The lightweight Aertex-fabric kit was a very pale blue (selected as a cooler, lighter colour designed to combat the blistering heat) and was worn only once in a 1-0 win against Czechoslovakia.
When the late Sir Bobby Robson's men prepared for the 1986 World Cup, again in Mexico, they also took along a pale blue alternate kit and this third choice colour was retained by the national side (in various designs of course) for a further seven years.
Teams in stripes have traditionally caused the most problems for visiting sides. Although occasionally refs don't seem to have an issue with a team in white playing a team in say, red and white stripes, quite often a third kit is the only answer to avoiding confusing colour clashes.
One specific kit that did force the regular donning of third kits was Southampton's Patrick-produced home outfit of the early '80s. Neatly combining red and white panels it meant that teams who played in red home and white away kits had to dig out alternate strips from the back of the kitbag. Cue further outings for Liverpool's all-yellow ensemble and varying blue designs for Manchester United.
Replica third kits first became available in the '80s - but only for the big clubs. Towards the end of the decade though more teams were also marketing them mainly due to public demand. This demand continues today although to combat criticism of the replica market several clubs produce only limited editions of replica third kits purely for those fans who want to complete their wardrobe. It's interesting to note that these limited editions are often quickly sold out and rapidly become collectors' items.
Post Italia '90 and in the run up to Euro '96, when it seemed the whole country went football shirt mad, a club's kit cupboard wasn't complete without a third kit. It was then that the term 'third kit' entered the everyday football lexicon (prior to then it was only us football shirt anoraks that knew the expression). You could see Nottingham Forest in green, Liverpool in amber and QPR in orange. Manchester United led the way again with their Newton Heath-inspired green and yellow halved affair providing, arguably, the first postmodern football kit and quite possibly the greatest and most certainly newsworthy third kit ever.
Towards the end of the '90s many clubs settled into a comfortable routine where last year's away kit became the current year's third kit.
The regularity of third kits means that today there is not quite the same thrill of surprise when your team emerges onto the pitch in a previously unheard of colour scheme and design. But they still have the ability to excite when they are formally announced.
For those who knock third kits, I ask this question:
If your team turns up for an away game and the ref decides both your kits clash with the home side's what would you rather do;
a) wear a set of unbadged and unsponsored teamwear shirts with no recognisable link to your club? (as Fulham did in the mid-'80s against Brentford)
b) cobble together a training kit, hastily adding league squad names and numbers in the club shop? (as Derby did aainst Brighton in '04-'05)
c) borrow a set of your opposition's shirts? (as QPR did against Newcastle in the early '80s)
d) turn out in a pre-prepared badged, smart and carefully designed third kit?
It's a no-brainer really!