95. Asics 'Akin' (1993-96)
It wasn’t that long ago that the world of British Light Entertainment had a liberal sprinkling of ‘characters.’ Often loquacious and exuberant, they were among the most genial of personalities, although it’s fair to say not all of them were fine upstanding members of the community. Either way, they could easily be identified by that most distinctive of garments, the stripey blazer.
Often accompanied by the straw boater (especially in the vicinity of a Lord’s Taverner’s cricket match or the Henley Regatta), the striped blazer was worn by those exuding self-confidence, style (up to a point) and discernment. It’s therefore a little odd that such an idiosyncratic look hasn’t filtered through to the world of football more often.
While the stripiest of stripey blazers are, to put it mildly, an acquired taste, those with an occasional candy stripe certainly lend themselves well to a decent football shirt design. Certainly someone at Asics thought so as their 1993 template made a virtue of the well-spaced stripe... although why they were initially offered to a team not known for wearing stripes is unclear.
From left: Aston Villa (1993-95 home), Blackburn Rovers (1994-95 away), Girondins de Bordeaux (1994-96 home),
Girondins de Bordeaux (1994-96 away).
Aston Villa’s break with tradition for the 1993-94 season was all the more remarkable as their previous Umbro kit had been based on Villa’s uniform of the early 1900’s. It was, at least, based on the standard look of ‘claret shirts with sky blue sleeves,’ but Asics somehow persuaded them to switch to candy stripes only. The look was a strong one, if not designed to placate the traditionalists, but it wasn’t until the start of the following season that other teams followed suit.
When they did, the template was employed largely as a change kit option. Aston Villa themselves used a similar design for their away kit, but the narrower spacing allowed for extra red stripes to separate their green and black vertical bands. The original template, however, was worn in a variety of two-colour high-contrast variations by Blackburn Rovers during their Premier League-winning campaign as well as Millwall, Portsmouth and Heart of Midlothian.
From left: Heart of Midlothian (1994-95 away), Millwall (1994-95 away), Newcastle United (1994-95 third), Portsmouth (1994-96 third).
Distinctive colouring was perhaps the unspoken key to this fundamentally subtle design, and it didn’t need to be high contrast either. A Kevin Keegan-era Newcastle United team wore a fetching green and blue version, but perhaps the most interesting application of the template was worn by Bordeaux. Their home shirts were maroon with navy blue stripes, while the away shirts simply reversed the colours. Both were worn with white shorts and maroon socks, sometimes with an alternate shirt sponsor when Bordeaux competed in the 1995-96 UEFA Cup competition.
Despite looking relatively simple, Asics allowed for a little tweaking here and there to introduce additional detail for each iteration of the shirt. Much of this centred on the collar which, in the case of Blackburn Rovers, included a stylised placket, although Newcastle United and Portsmouth managed to acquire small cuffs on their sleeves where others seemingly didn’t. Portsmouth even had the word ‘Pompey’ printed on theirs.
In the wider picture, the accompanying shorts and socks also came in different styles, but the shirt was clearly the star of the show here. Based on little more than a few stripes and a collar, Asics proved that although many interesting football shirts would be spawned by the 1990’s, not all of them needed to be scatterbrained in nature to catch the eye. A stylish, confident design concept was paramount and not for the first or last time, Asics succeeded in creating a template that was bigger than the sum of its parts.