99. Pony 'Affirm' (1993-95)
Whatever the logo, each company had the idea of using it to great effect on the upper part of the football shirts it was making. In this regard, American sportswear manufacturer Pony were not dissimilar. Between 1993 and 1995, they made sure British football fans knew what its own logo looked like, although at what expense to its reputation is unclear.
Although Pony arrived on the English football scene in time for the start of the 1993-94 Premier League season, they’d already dipped their toe into Scottish football some nine years earlier with Premier Division Morton. Though the kits they supplied at that time were somewhat ordinary in conception, their return in the 1990’s was altogether more eye-catching.
A large chevron across the upper chest was the main feature of their shirts for Southampton and West Ham United. A shadow pattern made up of the same device from the Pony logo (rotated 90 degrees) was also present, but focusing on it wasn’t easy when the main design was so bold.
From left: Southampton (1993-95 home), Southampton (1993-95 away), West Ham United (1993-95 home).
In the case of West Ham, the big tick looked like an unequivocal updating of Admiral’s multi-lined chevron from the late-1970’s. Less complicated and a welcome change of direction after Bukta’s offerings, the London club took to the field in a kit that genuinely looked contemporary for the time. For Southampton, it wasn’t so easy to make such a positive case for Pony’s new shirts.
Pony shadow pattern, 1993-95.
While some West Ham fans may have bemoaned that unavoidable ‘V’ on their own teams’ outfit, fans of The Saints had more reason to be anxious. The problem was those stripes. It’s not easy to crowbar a wide chevron into such a configuration, but Pony did it... technically. Whether they should have is another matter, and the fact that they did will forever be a cause for anger on the part of many Southampton supporters.
Those traditional red and white stripes had to be truncated on the diagonal to allow space for that Pony tick, and the addition of thinner black parallel edges here and there didn’t really provide any clarity, let alone solace. Southampton’s ‘93-’95 home shirt also sported a wrapover collar that had a repeating red-black-white stripe which drew the eye. By the time you’ve included the club badge, sponsor logo and regular-size Pony logo, the whole thing really did look like a winning competition entry where the challenge was to ‘design a football shirt with leftover elements of other shirts.’
And yet for reasons I feel unobliged to explain, I really like it. Of course I can say that as someone who’s never supported Southampton, so that makes things easier, but I find it a genuinely interesting design. I loved the West Ham shirt so much that I bought it immediately on first sight while holidaying as a 21-year-old in 1993, despite its unflinching promotion of the Pony brand. I like the Southampton home shirt because it continued the trend perpetuated by Patrick and Hummel of giving fans something more advanced than the conventional striped offerings. I also like Southampton’s away kit, despite the almost-too-bright combination of sky blue and royal blue. It even had a different wrapover collar to the home shirt, as if the rest of the design wasn’t interesting enough.
As much as anything, though, I think the basic ‘big tick’ template would have looked good in a variety of team colours, providing those same teams would have been willing to adopt it. It’s fair to say that striped shirts aren’t suited to the basic design framework, but that aside it embodies many of the qualities we associate with the football kits of the 1990’s. Challenging yet dynamic, it’s one you probably either love or hate - which I think is a good thing.
The ever-knowledgable Les Motherby (of Hull City Kits) has reminded me that the name of US sportswear brand Pony should in fact be capitalised. The reason for this is because PONY is an acronym of 'Product of New York.' Les assures me that the capitalisation is somewhat deliberate in its contrast to adidas, all of which makes perfect sense from a business point of view.
My thanks to Les for pointing this out, although I should forewarn him that I'll probably be spelling adidas with an initial capital letter in subsequent articles. This isn't because I'm being deliberately awkward. It's because I am archaic and incapable of changing my spelling habits without a long course of expensive hypnotherapy. Apologies in advance for any offense this may cause...