The coolest football shirts of the 1990s: My definitive top 10

Nostalgia

The nineties were great for many reasons, not least the football shirts. Here are my 10 absolute favourites from the decade…

Croatia, 1998 World Cup, home shirt

So as not to surprise us with its beauty, Croatia gave us a glimpse of their superb kit design during Euro 96, when their tablecloth shirt became one of the iconic images of the tournament.

Two years later, they fine tuned the red and white checks and refined the home shirt into something truly magnificent.

The main design represents the edge of a flag being waved over the shirt, while the collar and sleeve edging are reminiscent of that wonderful white polo shirt you spent too much money on at the age of 18 and never wanted to throw away even when it turned grey.

Never let it be said that Lotto didn’t know what they were doing.

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Marseille, 1991-92, home shirt

Yes, adidas. Yes, you wonderful, clever, funny, sexy people.

It’s Chris Waddle with a mullet, lounging around the opposition half before doing something breathtaking. It’s Jean-Pierre Papin in his pomp, and a midfield that includes Didier Deschamps and Abedi Pele as well as the Waddler. It’s Basile Boli in central defence.

And they are all wearing that astounding shirt, with the stripes coming over the shoulder and including the logo in the middle stripe as a wonderful touch.

And the Panasonic logo is also that sky blue because of course it is and why wouldn’t you want everything to be perfect. God I miss the past.

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USA, 1992-94, home shirt

And when adidas found a good thing…

Most lists contain the USA’s World Cup ‘94 kits in lists like these, and there’s no doubt that fit the razzmatazz of that tournament perfectly.

The away shirt was a denim colour with large white stars as detail, while the home kit had red and white waves, like you were watching at Atletico Madrid match when half-cut.

Yet I much prefer the pre-World Cup shirt, a replica of the Marseille design but with red and blue detail.

It lacks the neck detail of the Marseille version and places the logo centrally, which is a shame, but makes up for that with the colour-coordinated association badge and the perfect blend of understated detail and blank colour.

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Milan, 1993-94, home shirt

Let’s be absolutely clear: this was not easy. The Milan shirt from 1990-91, made by adidas, sponsored by Mediolanum and with the little picture of the European Cup below the star as a special edition was something deeply beautiful.

Yet to make it 2-2 between the two manufacturers, it has to be the 1993-94 home shirt with the over-sized Motta logo with that stylishly crossed double ‘t’.

The plunging collar adds extra points, as does – after deliberation – the simple star rather than European cup.

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Newcastle United, 1994-95, home shirt (special edition)

The only British club shirt on the list. Any arguments about that can be dispelled by looking at photographs of British people in the 90s; this was not an era of sartorial elan.

This is actually a slight cheat, given that this Newcastle home shirt was only used for a brief period before McEwan’s came and spoiled it all.

Yet if a kit can ever be included for its sponsor, it is this. The blue star of the Newcastle Brown Ale logo, complete with its silhouette of Newcastle’s skyline, was front and centre on the home shirt, and even thinking about it makes me cry with nostalgia.

Newcastle also get bonus points for their 1995-97 shirt, with the full Newcie Brown logo, the tremendous adidas design and the buttoned up grandad collar.

Many English clubs experimented with the weird and wonderful during the 1990s, and some with very pleasing results. But, from a personal view, understated will always be sexiest with football shirts.

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Ajax, 1995-96, home shirt

You can’t have a cool kit list without Ajax, so the saying goes, and I wouldn’t even dare. But Umbro actually made some wrong turns in the 90s by messing with their own logo and also tweaking the detail on the sleeves and increasing the width of the red band down the centre of the shirt.

However, in 1995-96 they nailed it. The club badge was front and centre, the Umbro logo minimal size and contained within the red and the detail on the sleeve edging a really nice triple red stripe.

The wonderful bonus came on closer inspection. This was Ajax’s last season in their old De Meer stadium and the white area of the shirt had the names of the legends to play in that stadium etched into fabric. Swoon.

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England, World Cup 90, home shirt

Instructions for this section:

1) Go and buy/borrow/fetch All Played Out by Pete Davies.

2) Read from cover to cover.

3) Come back and stare at that kit.

4) Reminisce about those footballing hopes and dreams, a simpler time when we truly did believe rather than going through the motions for another cover of Baddiel and Skinner’s song.

5) Feel that punch of nostalgia hit you in the stomach like a train driving into your soul.

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West Germany, World Cup 90, home shirt

6) Be safe in the grim knowledge that not only did West Germany beat us on penalties, ruin those dreams and make Sir Bobby sad, they didn’t even need to wear the coolest kit of the decade.

Every now and then a kit designer lands upon something truly defining, and for adidas that came with Germany and their three-stripe ribbon. Straight lines were used to make something truly alternative without being overly busy, thanks to the perfect base of their traditional white shirts. It spawned several spin-offs, but none would ever come close.

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Sampdoria, 1989-90, home shirt

If we’re talking 1990s fashion, there had to be a space for Kappa.

I’m not talking about those tracksuits you begged your Mum for – and then she could only find an orange one which you wore and then got laughed at but who cares, it still counted – but their supreme Italian kit design.

Juventus came close but miss out due to neither Upim or Danone really being a sponsor that improved the shirt. Instead it’s Sampdoria that get the nod.

Sampdoria actually had their kits made by Asics by 1990-91 but creep into contention for the kit they wore in the first half of 1990.

The ERG sponsor logo enlarged and pushed above the detail giving it a retro feel, while the Kappa logo and oversized collar also gave the kit a 1970s feed.

Sampdoria will always gain marks for their red, black and white stripes, but the touch of putting the club badge in the middle of the shirt and having the badges printed within the material were masterstrokes.

The strikeforce of Roberto Mancini, Gianluca Vialli and Enrico Chiesa wasn’t bad either.

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Fiorentina, 1998-99, home shirt

Fiorentina’s famous shirt shouldn’t work. Purple isn’t a colour that screams cool, the chevrons and auxiliary club badges on the sleeves are slightly ungainly, and the sponsor badge hardly tries to buy into the spirit of things.

The reason it does work, and works so emphatically, is that this shirt is a time warp, a pocket of 90s culture that will forever live on. It was made by Fila, sponsored by Nintendo and worn by Gabriel Batistuta. Had you been told that there was a button you could press in the collar and Wonderwall would be played on repeat I’d believe you.

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By Daniel Storey

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