65. Puma 'Strobe_alpha' (1995-99) *
Here's a philosophical conundrum for you. When is a football shirt template not a football shirt template? The answer: When it's two football shirt templates.
During the research for this entry in our countdown, I believed for quite a while that many teams, such as Austria, Bulgaria, Parma and Werder Bremen, were all wearing the same design. And a fine design it was, too... Featuring a repeating pattern of flashes running up the sleeve to the neck (often repeated on the shorts), it was difficult to ignore. Not only that, but it was also remarkably difficult to ignore, given the many other wild and way out shirts doing the rounds in that decade.
Yet I soon realised that I wasn't just looking at one shirt design; it was actually two. On closer inspection, it became apparent that one of the templates had the alternating flashes running across the top of the shirt, whereas the other only had them on the sleeves. Furthermore, the flashes on the first one were wider and fewer in number, distinctly echoing the curved stripe seen on Puma footwear. So was this one template in two styles, or two completely distinct and separate designs?
From left: Austria (1995-97 home), Bulgaria (1995-96 home and 1995 away).
It's safe to say I've been giving the matter a lot of thought over the last few weeks. My judgement (for the purposes of this article) may be a little controversial, but I've reached a compromise. Having originally come up with the provisional name of 'Strobe' for this template, I've decided to call the classier version 'Strobe_alpha' and the other one 'Strobe_beta.' Our main focus here will be on the former.
I say 'classier' because, for me, the design that features the repeating flashes across the top of the shirt is more coherent and stronger than the other. Not that either is in any way poor. I just think that the likes of Austria and Bulgaria got the better deal with their shirt design for reasons I'll explain.
From left: Czech Republic (1995-96 home and 1995 away), Köln (1996-97 away).
As mentioned before, Strobe_alpha extends its series of curved stripes from the cuff, up the sleeve and across the shoulders before finishing down at the other cuff again. This works particularly well, I feel, as it brings the variegated pattern into the upper body of the shirt, rather than containing it on the arms. Those stripes (or flashes - call them what you will) also have a gradient fill, making them slightly lighter in colour the nearer they are to their base. It's a nice touch that helps to soften up the blocks of solid shade.
The neckline is of the wrapover variety and contains a thin stripe running along its centre (which is often reflected in the cuffs). A fine extra detail is the ribbon stripe that travels the length of the arms and shoulders in a lighter tone to that seen on the curved flashes. This also repeats on the shorts wherever a team was daring enough to wear those of a similar design to the shirt.
From left: Latvia (1999 home), Poland (1995 home and 1996 away).
A shadow pattern provides the final element to the design, and this appears to differ from kit to kit. Some feature a medium-width repeating stripe, others have a thin repeating stripe, while one or two may not have had a shadow pattern at all. Either way, a Puma logo featuring the word mark and titular animal appears just below the neckline to round off an interesting and well-blanced look.
But as we already know, that's only half the story. Strobe_beta offers a slightly different take on the attributes recently discussed, and just as many teams wore this version as wore the previous one.
One of the most significant differences was found in the collar, which is typically winged with a variety of decorations. The one found on Köln's home shirt looks almost like it has a trim pattern based on the twin spires of the city's cathedral. Having seen the same zig-zagging pattern on the lower hem of Werder Bremen's away shorts (and those of Macedonia), I can only guess the resemblance is coincidental.
From left: Armenia (1996 home and away), Hong Kong (1997 home), Israel (1997-98 home).
But to return to the sleeve pattern, it's interesting to note that where there's a fade effect, it appears as the background colour to the flashes, rather than on the flashes themselves. The fade also has a much coarser speckled look to it. Not every version of the shirt uses the fade, however - some instead opt for a pattern of lines that criss-cross each other in a starburst fashion. A nice way of getting extra versatility from the template, I thought.
What comes across very well in both versions of the template is the blend of colour and visual texture. Each shirt looks almost like a patchwork of different fabrics stitched together to make an interesting whole. Yet whatever the individual parts, the palette for each one seems to work really well. I particularly like the mix of white, yellow and blue on the Parma kits, although Israel's summer blue, white and black ensemble is just as easy on the eye.
From left: Israel (1997 away), Köln (1996-97 home), (North) Macedonia (1997 away).
Despite illustrating 19 different kits throughout this article, a number of others also exist that I wasn't able to include for various reasons. Belarus essentially wore the Macedonia kit shown above in a long-sleeved version, while CSKA Sofia took that kit and simply inverted the colours.
The Federated States of Micronesia (constantly discussed by football fans everywhere) wore a home kit not unlike that belonging to Israel, but with Puma as a main shirt sponsor, just for good measure. (It's amazing what you can get away with when you're not affiliated with FIFA...) Then there's Tanzania who clearly wanted a shirt that looked something like Strobe_beta but couldn't afford the authentic article.
During their second round tie against Benfica in the 1996-97 European Cup Winners' Cup, Lokomotiv Moscow wore a very nice version of Strobe_alpha in white with yellow and black markings. Alas, a lack of decent source photography or video footage prevented me from illustrating that one.
From left: Parma (1995-96 home and away), Werder Bremen (1996-97 away).
And then there are the versions of this template that are frankly... a bit odd. During the 1996 season of MLS, Colorado Rapids wore a shirt that wanted to be a Puma 'Strobe' but slightly fell short. The colours were pleasant enough - white with yellow and green, but for reasons unknown, the sleeve flashes curved upwards rather than downwards. Even the winged collar was different from the one seen on the Beta template, and that's before you get to the ribbon taping which is normally seen on the Alpha template. Oh, and there's some very flamboyant edging to the cuffs that seemed to be made from the material left over from someone's sewing basket. Strange.
Speaking of upwardly pointing sleeve flashes, Singapore tried them out themselves on their red and white home kit, but possibly the most bizarre version of all the Strobes was the one they wore in a friendly against Nottingham Forest in 1995. That one managed to crowbar in some thick pinstripes and a bespoke collar, as if to show just how much detail this template could have.
And that's kind of the point. Having started with a basic premise, Puma allowed for enough flexibility in their design so that any number of details and colours could be included. In doing so, they opened up the potential for producing a muddled template with numerous elements that didn't work coherently, but they avoided that brilliantly. This was a great design - striking and impressive in ways that Puma have always done best.
(With thanks to Adam's Shirt Quest on Twitter for providing much of the source material for this article.)
* Unofficial template name