69. Puma 'Formula' (2009-12)
Several weeks ago, I was using my Microsoft Windows PC, thinking how pleasant life was, when suddenly and without warning, my screen turned blue. "Your PC ran into a problem and needs to restart," it said helpfully. When eventually it did, a second message informed me that I needed to install an operating system on my computer.
I should have been more worried, but I was in the fortunate position of having made a backup of my data when virtually the same thing had happened one month previously. (Aren't HP Microsoft Windows PCs great?) Even so, I had other things on my mind that were more concerning. Chief among these was the quandary of how I was going to create the effect of hand-painted stripes in my next set of illustrations.
From left: AEK Athens (2010-11 home), Algeria (2010-11 home and away), APOEL (2010-11 home).
At that particular moment in time, I should have been wondering how long I'd be without my PC while it was being repaired, but it seemed unimportant somehow. I knew that the number 69 entry in the 100 Greatest Football Shirt Templates series would feature Puma's shirt designs for African teams at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and they'd be incredibly tricky to illustrate to any reasonable level. Readers, they WERE.
Having returned my computer to full service, I set about the task of drawing Puma's fabulous 'paint stripe' shirts. Fabulous is certainly the word, because when they first appeared in 2009, they looked so brilliantly original. We hadn't seen stripes depicted in this naturally imperfect way before.
From left: Cameroon (2009-10 home and away), Côte d'Ivoire (2009-11 home, 2010 away).
Quite honestly, the illustrations I created don't do the detail justice - even if you click on the images you see here for a larger version. Look closely at the shirts themselves, however, and you see the beautiful way that every line in every colour appears to be the product of someone physically daubing the shirt with a brush. Such was the connection Puma aimed for when creating a range of designs for its African teams ahead of the 19th World Cup; The Cradle of Humankind, represented in art and sport.
Those stripes appeared on the away shirts of the likes of Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Ghana, but the home shirts that accompanied them would also be worn by Morocco and Tunisia, who failed to make the journey to South Africa that year. Those same home shirts provided their own challenge, for though they had no stripes, they did have a national symbol displayed on one shoulder.
From left: Ghana (2010-11 home and away), Hoffenheim (2010-11 away), Lech Poznań (2010-11 home).
Puma had a backup plan to reinforce a sense of African identity, and it used a shadowy motif on an extended shoulder section that stretched right across the upper part of the shirt. Algeria's was a fennec fox, Cameroon had a lion, Côte d'Ivoire had an elephant and Ghana used the star from their national flag. Morocco, though nicknamed The Atlas Lions, chose the star from their own flag, while Tunisia displayed a soaring eagle. All of them were a delightful counter-punch to the stripes on the away shirts, and just as distinctive in their own way.
That shoulder section looked almost like a detachable part of the shirt which, given the sleeveless nature of one of Puma's previous efforts for Cameroon, was not beyond the realms of fantasy at the time. Though very much an integral feature, it often appeared to be made from an Aertex-style fabric and provided a place for a shirt number to be displayed where necessary. In some instances, that mesh-like fabric was also used on the opposing sleeve.
From left: Lech Poznań (2010-11 away and third), Morocco (2011 home, 2010-11 away).
With so much going on in the design, there was little other effort required, except to add some smart cuffs that sported an agreeable triangular protrusion on both arms. The neckline had a shallow wrapover, and in a couple of cases, it allowed for differing colours to be used in a half-and-half style, as with Morocco and Côte d'Ivoire's away shirts.
This template was by no means a refuge of African national teams, however. A smattering of European clubs also took on the look, and even used the hand-painted stripes while they were at it. That said, Lech Poznań's home shirt seemed to buck the trend by insisting on the use of traditional straight-edged stripes. They also went further by not using the first-choice shorts and socks that completed the Puma 'Formula' look. There's always one, isn't there?
From left: Morocco (2010-11 third), Tunisia (2010 home), BSC Young Boys (2010-11 home).
But before Puma moved on to other templates that involved diagonal cut-offs across the shoulders, they also used their 'Formula' template to produce one last special shirt. Known commonly as the Africa Unity design, its purpose was to provide Puma's African teams with a change kit that they could all wear with a common colour palette. The shirt faded from sky blue at the top to brown at the bottom, and the exact choice of brown hue was far from random - a detail that commanded even more respect from football shirt collectors the world over.
Representing the African sky and soil (not to mention the African sun, thanks to the yellow Puma logos), this was a shirt design with a genuinely credible back story. What would have made it just about perfect is if it had been worn as often as Puma intended. Sadly it was not, although ultimately one or two goalkeepers occasionally found a use for it.
Having failed to hit the target with an open goal at their mercy, Puma sadly couldn't transform their design into a classic for the ages. As it is, this version of the template (along with all the others) does remain a fan's favourite and is without doubt a high-water mark for Puma football shirt design over the last half a century.
Among the new finds are the 2010 Angola home shirt which features both hand-painted stripes and a national motif on the shoulder, plus a very fetching yellow away kit from the same year for Mozambique.
Anyway, check 'em out as there's some interesting versions to add to those I'd already included. Once again, thanks to Adam's Shirt Quest and Football Shirt World, and don't forget the invitation's always open if you know of any unknown template kits. Contact me here if you do...