87. Asics 'Light' (1994-96)
From the late 80s to the late 90s, Asics were producing smart, refined football shirt designs for a wide range of teams. It's fair to say they prioritised integrity over vulgarity, an approach that was quite admirable given the trend for the latter at the time.
By the mid-90s, the temptation to break out from their self-imposed conventionality proved too much to resist, and they allowed themselves a rare moment of exuberance. The result was this eye-catching template that looks like someone tried painting stripes on a wall without preparing the surface properly with a suitable primer/undercoat.
Perfect in its execution, the design nicely combines a simple framework with an unorthodox take on tradition. There is a simple wrapover v-neckline and no shadow pattern, yet in contrast, Asics included a set of stripes that appear eroded and incomplete. Furthermore, those stripes appear in two colours of their own to compliment the main third colour of the shirt.
From left: Borussia Mönchengladbach (1994-95 home and away), Rot-Weiss Essen (1995-96 home), Saarbrücken (1995-96 home).
The design itself is a brave one, but that fearlessness is repaid in the achievement of creating something that even today stands out as classy and poised. With that in mind, it's a great shame more teams weren't seen wearing it. Of those that did, only one appears to be a regular stripe-wearing club, thereby showing its appeal to teams that don't generally go for the striped look.
To have seen this template being worn in competitive football, you'd have to have travelled to Germany in 1994. In the Bundesliga, Borussia Mönchengladbach wore their delightful kit in white at home and green away in a campaign that saw them qualify for the 1995-96 European Cup-Winners' Cup. In the league below, Saarbrücken wore their version of the template in blue and black at home and, if unconfirmed reports are to be believed, in red and black away. Down in the third tier, Rot-Weiss Essen (a club that's never been afraid of trying something new) wore their shirt in white and red, with another unconfirmed issue reversing the colours for the change shirt. Whatever the colour combination, all four known versions looked fabulous.
What gave this design even more interest was that the two-colour paint motif appeared on the back of the shoulders as well as the front and back of one leg of the shorts. Not many templates use both sides of the shirt - let alone shorts - but this one did and did it well. I also like the way those stripes start and stop around the middle of the shirt front to deliberately allow space for a sponsor logo. On other shirts, the stripes tend to get cut off cleanly and clinically, as if done with a ruler and a pair of scissors. The designer here almost made it an artistic obligation to treat that part of the shirt sympathetically and respectfully. A nice touch.
Asics Light: sapce for sponsor logo
With the possible exception of Oldenburg, a German third-tier side who may well have worn a version of this template in white and blue, we have here something that was worn by only three teams across a two-year period. Yet again, we find ourselves stumbling upon a really great design that was only ever appreciated by a limited number of fans at the time. Does that make it any less worthy of inclusion in our countdown? Not at all. The chance to dream about where it might have cropped up only adds to its appeal while we give thanks that someone somewhere thought it great enough to wear for a season or two.