89. Le Coq Sportif 'Quest' (1980-86)
Growing up as a kid in London in the early 1980s, the kits worn by European club teams always seemed more interesting than what we saw at home. From the few glimpses of continental football offered to us on TV or in magazines, foreign clubs always looked a little more modern and dynamic somehow. Personally, I blame Le Coq Sportif.
By the end of the previous decade, kit design in British football was starting to look a little stale. If a team didn't wear shirts with Umbro logo taping on the sleeves, they probably wore the multi-line trim of Admiral on the cuffs and collar. Failing that, Bukta's logo taping probably wouldn't be far away, either. Cotton shirts, logos, fussy details... The trend was well underway and didn't look like ending any time soon.
Thankfully, back then, Britain was open to the positive influence of its European neighbours. (Oh come on... Don't say you've forgotten what that was like?) Several manufacturers were providing kit that was founded on a refreshingly different set of design ideals, many of which were making inroads into the British football scene. One of them was French sportswear company Le Coq Sportif, and they had some new ideas on how to sweep away the tired look of British football shirts.
From left: Ajax Amsterdam (1981 away and 1982-83 fourth), Gent (1981-86 home (1981-82 shown)).
In 1980, one of those ideas made its debut in the French First Division, worn by Saint-Étienne. Based around pairs of thin horizontal lines spaced out at regular intervals down the shirt, it was produced in a short- and long-sleeved version. Each had a different collar; winged with a triangular inset panel on the long-sleeved shirt, a simple v-neck in a contrasting colour for the short-sleeved shirt.
For me, the long-sleeved option is the one that really catches my eye, and my primary focus is drawn to it here because of the collar. In a conceptual sense, it helps bridge the gap between the old styles of the 1970s and the new styles of the 1980s. In an aesthetic sense, the triangular panel just below the neckline also adds a delightful splash of colour that the wingless collar can't match.
From left: Gent (1981-86 away (1981-82 shown)), Lausanne-Sport (1981-82 home), Saint-Étienne (1980-84 home (1980-81 shown)).
Once the backbone of France's 1982 World Cup squad had broken the template in for Les Verts, other teams quickly followed suit. Saint-Étienne's rivals in France, Tours, wore it in pale blue and black the following season. Ajax wore it in red as part of their 1981-82 away kit, then, for one match only, in blue for a European Cup tie against Celtic in 1982-83. In Belgium, Gent wore the template domestically and in European competition, while Lausanne-Sport did the same in Switzerland. Standard Liège wore the template home and away during a two-year spell during which they were Belgian First Division champions. If you didn't see this template in the early 80s, you probably weren't watching European football very much.
As with most template designs, subtle variations can be found if you look hard enough for them. Standard Liège, for instance, chose not to have the triangular panel below the neck in a contrasting colour, while every other team did. Furthermore, some clubs (like Tours and Ajax) appeared to have a version of the template with fewer sets of horizontal stripes than those of other teams. It's difficult to confirm this with 100% certainty, but the scant amount of archive photography available seems to back this up.
If any technical criticism can be made of this design, it's that those pairs of stripes sometimes get in the way of a sponsor logo and vice versa, but it's a small price to pay for finesse. Come to think of it, the Saint-Étienne home shirt of 1980-81 has become something of a cult classic; partly because of Le Coq Sportif's styling and partly because of the Super Tele sponsor logo that inexplicably looks perfect in context.
From left: Standard Liège (1981-83 home and away), Tours (1981-82 home).
In 1983, the template was tweaked to remove the winged collars and provide a third colour in between those stripes, and it was worn on the away shirts of Aston Villa and Chelsea around that time. Though they looked great in their own right, they amply illustrated the term 'gilding the lily.' Extra colour wasn't needed, and the winged collar was what helped the original look so good.
No matter. Le Coq Sportif had created one of the first great shirt templates of the 1980s. Confident in its styling, it helped the French manufacturer gain a foothold in the British kit market that would last for most of the next three decades. Based on the evidence of this design, they remain much missed.