100. Umbro 'Plume' (1991-94)
Where football kit design is concerned, the 1990’s was a fascinating decade. It began with short shorts and ended with baggy shirts, but an emphasis on refined style and the embracing of creativity was the mantra adopted throughout. It took a while for those values to become more widely perceptible, but a few kit manufacturers led the way in setting the agenda that others would follow.
One such company was Umbro who shook many football fans awake by sending Tottenham Hotspur out onto the pitch with unfashionably long shorts for the 1991 FA Cup Final. Bold but brilliantly cohesive, the Spurs home kit worn at Wembley helped to close the book on 1980’s football kit design and signalled the way forward for more and better to come.
Curiously, Umbro opted not to apply the vintage styling of that kit to the accompanying away outfit, choosing instead to forge a new path where abstract patterns and imagery would be prominent. One of the first shirts to show off Umbro’s vision of 90’s flair was worn by Tottenham away from home between 1991 and 1994 (and as a third kit in the 1994-95 season).
It was one of only two kits based on the same shirt template, the other being worn by Napoli as a third kit during the 1992-93 season. The single most dominant element of the shirt design is a combination of two entities; the first, a skewed chequerboard pattern on the right sleeve, the second, a series of conjoined, distorted triangles across the right shoulder.
On Tottenham’s version of the shirt, the effect is that of a magpie meeting an untimely end as it flies into the visor of a winning Formula 1 driver crossing the Finish line. The shattered dispersion of black and white fragments is rendered only in white on the Napoli version, thereby avoiding comparisons of a similar nature. Their version uses red on the lower part of the triangles to reduce the impact of the design, although it remains eye-catching all the same.
In both cases, the shirt features a modest buttoned-down winged collar and complex shadow pattern, but Umbro allowed room for customisation on the part of both teams. For the collar, the decoration on Tottenham’s collar takes the form of a solid line where Napoli’s is broken. As for the shadow pattern, the Italian side had to make do with a generic shadow pattern of lines and triangles where Spurs got their club initials incorporated into the design.
It seems Tottenham Hotspur were much more committed to their version of the template than their Neapolitan counterparts. As the basis of an all-yellow ensemble (including a repeat of the abstract shoulder flash on the opposite leg of the shorts), they wore it as an away kit between 1991 and 1994 and as a third kit in the 1994-95 season. Napoli, meanwhile, had far less of a need for it. With a predominantly white away kit in the locker, their red third kit was seemingly only worn against Pescara (with whom they shared a similar colour palette) and Paris Saint-Germain in a UEFA Cup second round second leg tie during the 1992-93 season.
Whichever version you prefer, both shirts fulfilled Umbro’s brief of ushering in a distinctly new style ethic for the 1990’s. Neither look like a product of the 1980’s, yet sadly both would arguably have started to look outdated even by the end of the Nineties. That’s rather a shame as the trend back towards ordered conventionality robbed us of more designs like this that give more than a nod to the works of Wassily Kandinsky and Fahrelnissa Zeid as guiding spirits. Our loss.
I'm very grateful to Jim Hearson and Andy Rockall who confirmed that the feathery flash on the Tottenham away shirt is in fact coloured sky blue and navy blue. Clearly my eyesight or powers of observation are in dire need of improvement... This detail was mentioned in 'The Spurs Shirt: The Official History of the Tottenham Hotspur Jersey', a wonderful book that I remain hopeful of owning one day.
Jim goes on to say that he's seen several of these shirts from Umbro but notes that the collar appears to have buttons that don't actually button down. They appear purely decorative. Well spotted, Jim...
All that said, I genuinely hoped this series of blog posts would help to confirm specific details about football shirts that weren't known before, and already my hopes are being fulfilled. I therefore encourage any of you possessing information about any of the designs featured to drop me a line so that I can pass that knowledge on to a wider audience.