88. Umbro Parma (1991-93)
There are some football shirts I'd love to take with me if the chance to travel back in time was ever realised. To see the look on the faces of ordinary football fans of the 1960s when shown a shirt from the 1990s... it would truly be something to behold. But which shirts would I choose to extract the maximum awe and bewilderment from those unknowing folk of the past? Perhaps one of those based on the fine Umbro template above.
To think that football shirts were once pieces of dyed fabric stitched together, bearing no more than two or three colours throughout. The development of manufacturing techniques and materials moved on, of course, but never too fast to keep up with the rate of change. Then suddenly (or perhaps otherwise) in 1991, we're greeted with this - a combination of zig-zagging lines, noise patterns and colour tones of all kinds. What a change, but as with all major changes in football kit design, it didn't saturate the status quo immediately.
Umbro were busy ripping up the rule book around this time, and new ideas were being refined and applied with great voracity. Abstract was in, and no shirt was worthy of praise if it didn't feature layers of detail both perceptible or unnoticable. So it was that this template helped to realign everyone's expectations of what a football shirt could be, but just to be on the safe side, it was only ever worn occasionally as part of a change kit.
From left: Galatasaray (1991-92 home and away), Oldham Athletic (1991-93 third), Parma (1991-92 third).
Several features form the constant here. Two jagged stripes, widely spaced, run almost parallel to each other across the shirt. The space between them is left blank to allow for a sponsor logo or indeed a white contrast from the vivid colour shown elsewhere. The upper part of the shirt, meanwhile, looks like the view from the windscreen of an abductor's car being driven into a forest several months after the start of a nuclear winter. Hey, it's all a matter of perspective.
Not immediately obvious is the shadow pattern that appears on certain iterations of the shirt. A series of lined 'V' shapes work their way from top to bottom, and it wouldn't be unfair to say that they're lost amid the visual cornucopia of it all. More useful, perhaps, is a button-up collar with repeating horizontal bars forming a line of trim on the outer edge. With that, the look is complete, and to the uninitiated it probably looks somewhat messy and uncoordinated. In reality, it's dynamic, inventive and just the sort of thing to appeal to younger football fans, if not the old traditionalists.
Umbro shadow pattern, 1991-93.
Not many teams were brave enough to wear it. Of those that did, Galatasaray had the distinction of sporting home and away versions using red, white and yellow in different permutations. Parma had infrequent cause to wear theirs as an away kit in yellow, white and blue, and to complete the continental eclecticism, Oldham Athletic used theirs in a third kit that can best be described as 'green.' Other versions appear to exist online, but they can be broadly categorised as 'unconfirmed' or 'worn by lower league teams.'
Keen football shirt enthusiasts will no doubt be aware that Oldham's verdant interpretation of the template bears a striking resemblance to the one worn occasionally by Celtic in the 1991-92 season. Those same enthusiasts will also be keen to point out that there was one subtle difference, namely those zig-zag lines that finally head downwards on the right-hand side, not up.
In many ways, that particular quirk isn't the most questionable part of the design. More intriguing is the way that the middle dip in that upper spiky stripe gets gets cut off horizontally. At first glance, one would be mistaken for thinking it's because a white panel has been attached as the background for a sponsor logo, but no. Umbro appear to have integrated a cut-away into the design itself, presumably so that a sponsor logo would be unobscured. Understandable, but what a shame we don't get to see that downward spike fully intact.
Never mind. Despite its frequent appearance on the lists of those people denouncing 'the worst shirts ever,' this template also lends itself to those shirts that today demand decent money by collectors. Its notoriety has, inevitably, come full circle to the point where it's now something of a cult classic, and rightly so. It was brilliantly designed, looks wonderful and has no fear of being forgotten by many generations of football shirt fans to come.
Immediately after publishing this post, I was contacted by Les Motherby (top brain at Hull City Kits and co-presenter of The Football Kit Podcast) who advised me that this template was officially named Parma upon release. I'm always pleased to use the official names of templates where they're known, so out goes my provisional name of 'Surge', and in comes the real name! Thanks Les...