The Evolution of Football Shirts Over the Years


Future, Forever, Victorious

Over the years, football shirts have changed drastically. With each team producing more or less a different shirt each season, and offering both home and away versions, football shirts have become a popular choice for fans. They are the ideal attire to wear when it comes to supporting your chosen team, and have become one of the top revenue makers for football clubs worldwide. Whether you only wear them to matches, or they are a staple part of your wardrobe, football tops have changed a lot over the years. This article is going to discuss the origins of the shirts and how they have progressed since the beginning of the sport, so the next time you don your favourite shirt, you can be proud that you know a little of the history surrounding where it came from too.

Football shirts – The Beginning

Football was originally quite a violent sport. There were no set rules, meaning large groups of people could play, which usually resulted in people getting hurt. But over the years it has become more civilised, and this shift towards civilisation involved the creation of the football shirt and its implementation. Originally, people simply wore whatever they liked, and there was a time when players were identified by other means such as coloured caps or scarves. But it was the English FA cup that finally saw the official introduction of uniforms. Basic uniforms had been around since 1870, but In 1879 rules were created that specified each team must be dressed in a distinct one so spectators could distinguish between players.

The color that each side chose usually related to the public school/university they came from, and each player would have their shirt individually made by their tailor. This meant that the FA cup final became a game largely for men who had some financial wealth, as they were the only ones who could afford to have a shirt made. However, supported by the Catholic church, a variety of teams in Scotland sprang up which resulted in the game being brought to the working class.  Eventually, a demand grew for a manufacturer.

The Production

Bukta were the first sportswear manufacturer and were established in 1879. The shirts they created were often referred to as jerseys, and were usually tight fitting without collars. They also came complete with long sleeves, a style that has since died out for everyone except goalkeepers. Originally, the patterns on shirts were quite basic, and stripes eventually appeared in 1883, but before that self coloured shirts were a more popular option. The original terminology for describing shirts was also different. What we now know as ‘quartered’ was once upon a time referred to as ‘harlequined’, and players who were picked for their country team had their badges sewn onto the shirt as opposed to being supplied with a new one by their club.


Unlike modern football shirts, traditional tops didn’t have sponsors. It is often thought that Liverpool were the first club to sign a sponsorship with Hitachi in 1979, but it was actually southern club Kettering Town who were the first to do this. They were sponsored by Kettering Tyres in 1976, and sponsorships have gone on to become a staple of the football industry with the total number of deals accumulating to over a 100 million since the beginning.

The Style

There have been some interesting style choices made over the years when it comes to the creation of football shirts. Before the 20th century, it was rare to have a team that donned matching tops and shorts, and for a short while, shirts with cowl necks became popular. Evidently, this trend did not last long, but one that has endured is the stripes. As time past during the 20th century, stripes on shirts became wider and wider. Hoops were also popular back then and some even had V shaped designs that can be seen on Manchester United’s 1909 FA Cup final kit.

Shirts were also originally knitted, and the eventual realisation dawned on the industry that perhaps another material could suit the sport better. Most teams shifted to tough materials like cotton and wool. This eventually changed again to the quality we know and love in modern day shirts. Nylon and polyester mesh found their place in the football industry for their comfort during long games.

The Goal Keeper and his Shirt

Up until 1909, the goalkeeper wore the same top as the rest of his team mates. Yet referees and viewers alike found it too hard to differentiate who was the goalkeeper and who were regular players. It was shortly introduced that goalkeepers must wear a different coloured top, which meant another colour was introduced into the game. Before this goal keepers sometimes wore jumpers to keep warm, and even flat caps to protect their eyes from the sun.

The Numbers

Numbers on the back of shirts weren’t always mandatory. In fact, up until after the Second World War, it was unheard of. But once the allies secured victory for the nation, a rule came about that stated each player must have a number. Times were hard due to post war money blues, but everyone banded together and numbers were soon secured on most players shirts.

The Future of Shirts

There have been different shirt materials trialled recently in an attempt to once again upgrade the football shirt to another level. These include insulating shirts and also ones that are more breathable, but the classic mesh is what the players and fans have come to know and love. The future of football and the shirts are ever changing, and the evolution will long continue past what we know in our life times. But for now, football shirts are popular, look good and allow a fan to show they are proud to support their team. What more could anyone ask for?

 This guest article was written by Rachel Jensen on behalf of Camp Retro, your first stop for retro football shirts. Check out the site for the best collection of retro kits.


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About enigma106

An Arsenal fan with a good sense of humor

Posted on October 28, 2014, in Fanzone, Football and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice post.

  2. FootballHouseUK was born for Football Fans because football is more than a game or a sport. Football is much more than just a game where you score a goal or win a match. It’s a relationship where only love prevails. Love for the colours you wear, for that crest you touch right above your heart when you pray and for those boots you lace up in the hope that your legs pump harder than your heart does.

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