Vintage Football Shirts: The Best And Oddest From Every Big London Club

Vintage Football Shirts: The Best And Oddest From Every Big London Club

Classic vs cult collectable shirts from 12 London League clubs.

Peris Hatton is one of the UK's best-known collectors and traders of football shirts, with a seemingly magical supply of rare, vintage finds. His new book, The Shirt Hunter is a story of that obsession. It features more than 500 vintage shirts, complete with stunning visuals and eyebrow-raising anecdotes, plus an A-Z covering every aspect of the football shirt as a cult object of desire, nostalgia... and rocketing cash value.

We asked him to go through his jaw-dropping collection and pick out the coolest shirts worn by all the London clubs – one nailed-on classic, and one cult/collectable shirt that veered towards the weird...

Arsenal

Two Arsenal kits, including the 1991 yellow and the 2005 claret

Classic: 1991 Adidas away

The early ‘90s would see the start of a trend for garishness in football shirts, and the ‘bruised banana’ was one of the frontrunners. Much maligned at the time, it has since become one the most sought-after Arsenal shirts among fans, even more so than the legendary ‘89 Anfield shirt.

Weird: 2005 Nike home

Staying on the fruit theme, Arsenal’s redcurrant home shirt caught absolutely everyone by surprise, a shocking break with tradition. Fans loved the sentiment of remembering the final season at Highbury, but the misconception that this colour was used historically by the club lets it down. And as for the missing white sleeves…

Brentford

Two Brentford football kits from 1992 and 2000

Classic: 2000 Patrick home

Patrick is a classy, classic French brand which produced kits for British clubs from 1980 to around 2005. This long-sleeved player shirt from 2000 is a stormer, with perfect symmetry of stripes, badges classically centred on the white stripes, and a stylish collar.

Weird: 1992 Hummel home

This Hummel ‘KLM’ is an oddity, if only because of Brentford’s ten-year sponsorship deal with Dutch airline KLM, which extended to the roof of Griffin Park’s New Road stand. Situated on the Heathrow flightpath, the massive message “Next time you’d better fly KLM” surely hit the target market. And then there’s the vexed question of whether those fluffy white diagonal lines are meant to represent vapour trails!?

Charlton Athletic

Old football shirts from Charlton Athletic

Classic: 1986 Adidas home

You can imagine the conversation between the Charlton chairman and the Adidas rep: “You’ve just been promoted to the First Division? Time to ditch Osca, the lovable local London brand, and join the sumptuous Adidas party!” Simple, stately and sublime, the 1986 shirt’s classic status was further elevated by being sponsor-free.

Weird: 1996 Quaser away

Quaser were one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em brands from the crazy design haze of the ‘90s. But, boy, did they leave their mark with three of the best away shirts produced during the decade, including this purple and green striped eyecatcher – in this case an ultra-rare reserves shirt with alternative sponsor.

Chelsea

Two vintage Chelsea kits

Classic: 2005 Umbro home

The last in an 18-year association between Chelsea and Umbro, both parties going out in style with the retention of the Premier League title. The commemorative club centenary badge takes it up yet a further notch along with the stunning Gold X-Static trim.

Weird: 1983-85 Le Coq Sportif home

How else could Le Coq follow up 1981-83’s vertical pinstripe design except with horizontal hoops of royal and pale blue, artfully separated by thin red and white bands? Gets the nod ahead of the Blues’ ‘tangerine and graphite’ ‘90s monstrosity (i.e. highly sought-after nearly 30 years later) by dint of the players you visualise when you see this shirt. Pat Nevin, Kerry Dixon…

Crystal Palace

Two Crystal Palace collectable vintage shirts from 1978 and 1994

Classic: 1994 Nutmeg home

US brand Nutmeg, better known for basketball and American football kit, flirted very briefly with the UK football replica market in the mid ‘90s, and produced this classic red and blue striped effort for Palace. Shirt sponsors TDK instantly bring back memories of the ‘80s and ‘90s… and, at least in my case, hundreds of LPs home-taped on C-90 cassettes, blaring in my sky-blue Laser Capri!

Weird: 1978 Admiral home

With Palace changing their home kit colours as often as most lads changed their grundies back in the ‘70s, it was only a matter of time before they alighted on a sash design. And then this latest oddity slowly gained recognition as one of the finest examples in football history. Leicester-based Admiral effectively invented the modern football shirt industry, introducing glam, go-faster designs, external logos as a matter of course, adult-sized replicas and manufacturer sponsorship deals.

Fulham

Two vintage Fulham football shirts, from 1981 and 1984

Classic: 1984 Umbro home

If a shadow-stripe design gets you going, then Fulham’s 1984 home shirt is the one that will see you dribble over to the point of dehydration. Matched with the stylish pinstriped V-neck collar and narrow black piping, Umbro really did tick every box here. An understated delight.

Weird: Osca 1981 away

If lower-division football was your thing in the early ‘80s, the chances are you’ll have seen an Osca shirt being worn by several of the capital’s clubs. This is a typically smart, no-nonsense template from the local London manufacturer – it’s just a coincidence that it brings to mind the crew from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Leyton Orient

Leyton Orient classic kits

Classic: 1989 Ribero

Ribero produced some belting kits in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – we’re talking Norwich ‘egg and cress’, Brighton ‘Chewits’ – with this businesslike O's shirt from 1989 representing the smart and sensible end of their spectrum. Classic period V-neck, subtle version of the shadow print that gave rise to Coventry's legendary ‘shattered windscreen’ shirt. and the obligatory nostalgia-inducing lower-division sponsor!

Weird: 1980 Adidas home

If Ribero made some belters then we shouldn’t forget the braces! The 1980 Adidas ‘braces’ design, to be precise! Following on from a similar design by Admiral the previous season, I’m struggling to understand why the designers thought it would be a good idea to persist with this apparently useless idea – unless it had something to do with Madness’s ‘Baggy Trousers’ of the same year?

Millwall

Two vintage Millwall collectable football shirts, from 1976 and 1995

Classic: 1976 Bukta home

You can’t talk about Millwall and football kits from the past 48 years without mentioning Bukta. This one was from the first of their three partnerships – the 1977 home shirt in the proper blue, with old-style badge and smart white striping on the collar and cuffs. The only potential oversight was the lack of Bukta’s contemporary logo tape running down the sleeves, featuring rows of little stylised bucks.

Weird: 1995 Asics away

The Asics design team went the way of so many others in the mid ‘90s, either completely running out of ideas or aiming to be outrageous just for the sake of it. This half-and-half 1995 away shirt was a washing-machine accident just waiting to happen, with the white half inevitably ending up a creamy green colour. Decent sponsor, though!

QPR

Two vintage QPR shirts from 1974 and 1985

Classic: Adidas 1985 home

The utter madness of QPR’s ever-changing branding and kit design during the ‘70s was swapped for the serenity of stability from around 1983 onwards. This proper all-time classic is not only augmented by the introduction of red to the V-neck, three stripes and cuffs but also by having one the iconic shirt sponsors – raised yet a further notch by that font.

Weird: Umbro 1974 away

We wanna look like Feyenoord! “No problem at all,” replied Umbro, promptly serving up this outlandish but quite magnificently stylish away kit from 1974, which was also produced by Adidas for the club. Completely random yet undeniably irresistible.

Tottenham Hotspur

Classic shirts from Tottenham Hotspur

Classic: 1981-82 Le Coq Sportif away

Any shirt that you wear in a Wembley Cup final where you get to lift the silverware is going to be lovingly remembered – as indeed is this silky Le Coq Sportif away shirt from 1982. Why, it’s almost enough to forgive the manufacturer for putting the team badge in the centre of the shirt.

Weird: 2006 Puma away

Puma thanked Spurs for adopting them as kit suppliers in 2006 by producing a thoroughly memorable third shirt. What colour should they go with? Dark blue? Yellow? Green? No, we’re going with brown! Of course, there’s a reason why brown is one of the least used colours in the football spectrum, namely the additional abuse that fans (both for and against) will throw at the team if the game isn’t going well. The only redeeming feature here is the gold trim, which should look like cheap and tatty bling… but does kinda make it work!

West Ham United

Two classic West Ham football shirts

Classic: Fila 1999 away

This terrific away shirt illustrates how Fila sportswear really does belong on the football pitch – not just on the tennis court, or on the Boleyn Ground terraces sported with lemon-yellow golf slacks by Casual devotees. Heck, it just oozes sex appeal… talking of which, you can just picture Paolo di Canio wearing it in his pomp!

Weird: Adidas 1984 home

While mid-’80s Adidas kits are commonly acknowledged as some of the finest ever made, this 1984 Hammers outfit decidedly divides opinion. Something about it is just plain wrong. That big, basic light-blue panel across the chest, perhaps a botched reference to the claret hoops of the ‘60s? And that overstated sponsor logo doesn’t help. Anyone who hated Admiral’s fussy chevrons in the ‘70s probably hated this one as well.

AFC Wimbledon

Two vintage collectable football shirts from AFC Wimbledon, including ones from 1981 and 1997

Classic: Osca 1981 home

The wonderful 1981 Osca home shirt brilliantly combined the Dons’ now-regular home colours of blue and yellow. This was the forerunner for the Spall version worn in the historic Cup final in 1988 when they beat a certain team from the north west – and, curiously enough, it’s on the same template as the ‘weird’ Fulham selection!

Weird: 1997 Lotto away goalkeeper

Finally, a big thanks to the 1990s for not only giving us garish and hugely oversize ‘baggy’ shirts and shorts but also a comedy selection of over-the-top goalie shirts, designed using Spirograph, which resembled explosions in a paint factory. Clearly, there was some sort of competition going on among the brands of the time, and this Lotto entry is a real contender. Where’s me sunglasses?


Enjoyed the trip down memory lane? There's hundreds more vintage shirts, with commentary, in The Shirt Hunter: One Man's Ceaseless Pursuit of Classic Football Kits, by Peris Hatton, with Derek Hammond & Gary Silke. Available now from Conker Editions

All images courtesy of Peris Hatton. Some of our links will take you to Bookshop.org, which supports independent bookshops, and we may earn a small commission for recommending them.

Last Updated 05 December 2023

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