56. Matchwinner 'Piazza' (1993-94) *
Since this series began, we’ve seen many kit templates and many individual kits. We’ve also assessed the work of many kit suppliers, names tripping off the tongue including Adidas, Nike, Umbro and Puma. This series, however, is nothing if not an altar at which we drop to the knees and give thanks to the 1990s, a crucible of creativity where many a great kit template was born... Yet when have we ever mentioned the kit supplier whose name was associated so much with the 90s - Matchwinner?
Let’s fix that now. Matchwinner made one of the most eye-catching and contentious kit templates from that golden era thirty years ago. Worn by only a small handful of teams (and even then only as an away kit), it was a kaleidoscope of colour, tone and graphical structure. ‘Piazza’ (as I’m referring to it in the absence of an official name) was new, exciting and, for many people, deeply unpopular.
The trouble is, football is full of traditionalists, and this template design was about as far away from tradition as it was possible to get. The key point to note, however, is that tradition gets boring after a while, and the hankering for something wildly different inevitably gathers momentum with every passing moment. It’s why we ended up with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or the Sex Pistols. Things get stale, and someone eventually says ‘Stop that - this is getting silly.’
From left: Bristol Rovers (1993-94 away), Greenock Morton (1993-94 away), Lincoln City (1993-94 away), Oxford United (1993-94 away).
So that’s where Matchwinner comes in. Having made their Football League debut with Birmingham City during the 1986-87 season, they slowly added more teams to their stable with every successive campaign. The 1992-93 season was the very peak of their popularity in England and Wales; more than one in every five Football League teams were wearing Matchwinner kits, and the brand was notably gaining prominence.
One reason for that was the originality of Matchwinner’s kit designs, to say nothing of their vibrant, daring templates. For the 1993-94 season, they offered another - ‘Piazza’ - and several teams happily adopted it. What made it so different was its dismissal of the regular formats of the past - plain shirts, stripes, hoops, etc - in favour of something far more inventive.
A single strip from the 'Piazza' pattern (rotated 90 degrees).
For this shirt template, Matchwinner produced chevrons within alternating stripes, but each chevron was made up of staggered strips of colour fading from one to another, and another again. Arranging five of those strips in an arrow formation was what made the chevrons, and those arrows were repeated vertically in columns upwards and downwards across each shirt.
Gradient filled strips repeated to form the 'Piazza'
Thanks to that gradient fade effect, every one was made up of not just a few block colours, but hundreds of incrementally different shades and hues. This was the secret to its difference from other shirt designs - the inclusion of colour detail we associate more with photographs than football shirts.
Whether the uncompromising intensity of the template put off many of Matchwinner’s suitors, we’ll never know. Some teams did, however, sign their names on the dotted line by wearing ‘Piazza’, and British football was all the better off for it. Three of them - Bristol Rovers, Lincoln City and Greenock Morton - opted for the same palette of teal, white and black, while Wigan Athletic and St Mirren swapped the teal for red. Oxford United and Preston North End extended the colour possibilities with their own shirts, but curiously all were worn for one season only - 1993-94.
The following season saw Matchwinner part company with more than a third of its Football League teams as other suppliers, including Mitre and Reebok, made their own gains in the kit market. The season after that, Matchwinner were left with only two clubs, and a year further on, the brand had disappeared altogether in England and Wales.
From left: Preston North End (1993-94 away), St Mirren (1993-94 away), Wigan Athletic (1993-94 away).
Quite what caused Matchwinner to vanish so soon after reaching their zenith remains a mystery, but it’s sad to think of their absence from football in the latter half of the 1990s. They’d have surely contributed more brilliance to the game had they continued, adding something distinctive to the kit histories of many other clubs.
Alas it was not to be, but templates such as this showed an urgency to do something that hadn’t been done before, shaking the tree so that all the old, rotten fruit fell to the ground. Matchwinner could always be relied upon to do that, and they did it brilliantly.
While the colouring of the shirt is similar to that of St Mirren and Wigan Athletic, Sligo's shorts in that final were white with a single thick red band near the bottom hem. You can see how that looked now that I've included the Irish team on the 'Piazza' gallery page.
My grateful thanks to Jack and Denis, and as ever, if you know of any other kits I've missed that are based on this template, please drop me a line with all the details. Your feedback is very much welcome.
* Unofficial template name