From Three-Piece to Track Suits

It’s an often quoted saying that football is nothing without the fans. 

That’s probably never been better evidenced than during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Stadiums stand virtually empty save for essential staff and players, and the void that is created without atmosphere is positively eerie. 

The chatter, noise and terrace chanting are as important a part of the match-going experience as the pre-game pie and a pint and the action on the pitch, though what’s often overlooked is the kaleidoscope of colours that make up the magnificent supporter landscape.

Such vibrancy is a feast for the eyes whilst the strains of You’ll never walk alone or I’m forever blowing bubbles and the like permeates the eardrums. Given the frequency that football clubs bring out kits nowadays – in some cases, such as Barcelona, there are three regular kits and one-off special fourth kits each season – the colourways that populate the stands span the full spectrum. 

The rise of ‘football shirt culture’ is a reasonably new phenomenon of course and began around the mid 1970s when Admiral ruled the roost. Although the market was competitive, it was the Admiral shirts of the day that supporters wanted to be seen in.


England Fans


That was due in no small part to the Leicester-based company executing the first-ever commercial kit deal with Don Revie’s Leeds United, the most successful team in England at the time. It sparked the trend for replica kits and began a snowball effect once other clubs cottoned on to the commercial aspects of selling shirts to their public and making the designs interesting enough to warrant further purchases year on year. Even now, some 40+ years later, Admiral’s ‘braces’ kits remain iconic, and the first ever England shirt to be produced commercially – plain white with one red and one blue stripe down the arm – is an instant Admiral classic. 
The ‘casual’ era came later, with those supporters of a certain age in the early 1980s wanting to replicate street style on the terraces. However, terrace clothing wasn’t always so informal. 
Back in the roaring twenties, when to cut a dash in society meant that you always wore your Sunday best, rarely would you find a football supporter watching their team in anything other than a suit, tie, overcoat and hat.  

Looking back at pictures of the time, it’s noticeable just how smartly dressed everyone in a crowd is. No head is without a hat, be it bowler, Homburg, flat cap or otherwise. Seeing them all thrown aloft when a goal was scored was a sight to behold. 

The ladies in their ‘flapper’ hats, fur stoles and coats and knee-length smart dresses looked quite the picture too, and even the children who would always be placed at the front of the terraces didn’t look out of place.  

Football matches were a really special day out for all the family, working class or otherwise, and it fostered an attitude where one appeared obligated to dress in their finery. 

The 1930s saw the dress code relaxed ever so slightly. Although certain sartorial differences were minimal, for example hats were no longer seen on every head and rain macs or sports coats replaced heavier wool overcoats, it was possible to begin to see a movement towards a less formal way of dressing on the terraces. 

The more working class amongst the match-going fraternity would enjoy the introduction of rosettes, club scarves and wooden rattles as accompaniments, whilst those well-to-do types were consistent in their apparel of choice. 

As a new decade began and war took over, being conscious of what one wore to a football game, as sporadically played as they were, seemed the least of everyone’s concerns. Maybe that’s why, for example, in pictures from England’s 1940 War Cup Final between West Ham United and Blackburn Rovers, a large portion of the crowd can be seen in shirt sleeves.

Suits were still popular though not as de rigueur as they once were, and sweaters, which had been around since the 1920s, the same decade that Admiral made its mark on the sportswear industry, were beginning to be seen as an everyday wearable, and with the fairer sex too.  


In fact, Admiral Sporting Goods had played a significant part in the sportswear industry since the advent of World War I, given that a vast quantity of their beautifully made apparel had dressed the Royal Navy and, indeed, it was at this time that the company gained its Admiral moniker, having been previously known as Cook and Hurst, after the founders, Christopher Cook and Harold Hurst. 

The contract signed with the Royal Navy ensured that they would be kitted out with rugby shirts in white and blue, and subsequently interlock sportswear and bathing costumes became part of their offering up to and including the Second World War. 

Autumnal or wintry hues had been the staple colours for sweaters in the early 40s, but as the decade wore on and with World War II a distant memory, those colours appeared to take a back seat to more celebratory pastel and feminine shades for the ladies or blocks of red, blue and green for the gents depending on which team they supported.  

It was perhaps the first real sign of clothing as supporter garment. Imagine Tottenham Hotspur’s fans wearing a red sweater for instance! 

As the forties turned into the fifties, a regression of sorts took place. As with all fashions everything is cyclical, and a return to a smarter look became the order of the day. 

With the rock and roll era destined to begin in the mid-fifties, however, there’d be another sea-change in attitude where dressing to impress was concerned. Though the older generation would stick to their tried and tested wardrobe, musical icons were beginning to set trends to send shudders across homes Europe-wide. 

The ‘Teddy boys’ - young British men that wore items of clothing loosely inspired by the US rock and roll movement as well as the dandy style from the Edwardian period in the UK - were a fascinating, but rare, site at football grounds. 

It could be argued that they were the forerunner to the mods and rockers of the 1960s, the decade where a real crossover in terms of football, fashion and music began. Success for English clubs in Europe and in the 1966 World Cup also ensured that certain players were feted. None more so than Bobby Moore. 

Kids wanted to play like the West Ham and England captain, men wanted to look like him and women adored him. The same could be said of Manchester United’s genius, the ‘fifth Beatle,’ Geroge Best. Only Sir Stanley Matthews in the 50s had transcended the sport and become a genuine icon, but now there were a whole array of football players put on that pedestal. 

Whatever fashion statements they, and the rock and pop stars of the time made, the football going public followed. Jeans, t-shirts, miniskirts... You name it, no item of clothing was off limits as freedom of expression took over. Where else would you go to ensure you’d be noticed than in a crowd of thousands!  

Words By Jason Pettigrove

For UrbanPitch




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