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The Early History Of Football Clothing

Sep 13, 2008
It was in the Victorian period that football emerged as a popular sport, being somewhat regulated in 1863 when the Football Association was formed. In these early years specialised clothing was not really needed for matches, players turned up in whatever clothing was to hand, normally teams would be distinguished by the wearing of coloured scarves or caps. This period however saw football in its infancy, the rules varied depending on which public school was playing, for instance, Rugby School played rules where handling of the ball was allowed and Cambridge University and the Sheffield Club played a game where the use of hands was outlawed. Eventually this led to a split between the two forms of the game, one becoming rugby and the other football. It was at this stage that codified rules were produced.

It was in the 1870s that the first uniform kit clothing started to appear. In most cases the colours of the kits related to the school or organisation that was affiliated to the team. In the first ever FA Cup Final, which took place in 1872 the two finalists played in clothing with an eclectic mixture of colours. The Wanderers wore pink, cerise and black while their opposition the Royal Engineers (army teams regularly played in the early years) wore dark red and navy clothing. At this early stage however, players were restricted by living costs, if a player could afford a shirt in the team colours, more often than not they could play for the team. Subsequently the most popular colour was plain white, as it was the cheapest and most widely available.

It was not long before specialist sports clothing manufacturers started to arise. In 1879 Bukta began making football shirts. Shirts however is a misnomer, in this early period the clothing was often labelled as jerseys, sarks and even Guernseys. It was in 1883 that the term shirt was first used, the result of vertical striped patterns arising in many teams. At this stage the range of colours used was probably at its largest in the sport's history. A mixture of economic and practical reasons led to the diminishing of diversity and a more general set of colours used for all kits across the land.

In terms of the bottom half of the player, originally knickerbockers; a piece of clothing that covered the knees, worn due to rules about knee coverage from the FA. In addition heavy shin guards and stockings were worn on the legs. However the rules pertaining to the covering of knees were relaxed at the turn of the century and players soon wore shorts; at this stage, the stockings on the feet of players were first regarded to be part of the kit. Colours for these items of clothing were not as diverse as the shirts, in most cases, white, black and grey were the only colours available.

In this period the materials used for clothing were hard wearing cottons that allowed for the tugging of shirts during play. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century and further regulation of the rules that lightweight shirts were introduced. Predominantly this began on the continent but eventually spread to Britain in later years. At this stage however fans and spectators rarely wore team shirts as a means of support; it was more oft the case that the crowd would have a scarf with the team colours to show support. This however changed in the latter half of the twentieth century as teams saw the monetary benefits of selling shirts to fans. Today the manufacture of replica shirts is a multi million pound industry as fans are proud to sport the attire of their favoured team.
About the Author
Fashion and sports expert Thomas Pretty looks into the history of football clothing in the early years of the sport.
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