These days a lot of thought goes into the kits that national teams wear at the FIFA World Cup™, with careful consideration given to every detail. As FIFA.com recalls, however, there was a time when shirt selections were not quite so well planned, giving rise to some fascinating stories.
Mexico held the 1970 and 1986 world finals, and on both occasions the teams taking part were concerned at the effect the heat and humidity would have on their players. At the first of those competitions, and at the request of their team doctor Neil Phillips, reigning World Champions England placed an order for shirts made from Aertex, a lightweight fabric with minute holes for added ventilation.
The English did not stop there. Though they had won the world title in 1966 in red shirts, they opted for an all-white outfit as their first strip and an unusual sky blue uniform as their second, the idea being that the lighter colours would reflect the blazing Mexican sun and help keep the players cool. The red kits were available as a third choice.
In their final group game against Czechoslovakia, Sir Alf Ramsey’s side stepped out in their sky blue shirts. But with the Czechs in white, the England manager had trouble making out who was who in the sunlight, as he later explained:
"I think the choice, and it was my choice, of pale blue, as a second colour was a bad one. Where I sat looking from the shade into the sun, it was very difficult to distinguish the players."
Ramsey's choice also caused problems for TV viewers around the world, most of whom were watching in black and white and were barely able to distinguish the two sides. When they faced West Germany in the quarter-finals, the English reverted to their famous red top, only to wilt in the searing heat of Leon and go down 3-2 after extra time.
Argentina also turned to Aertex in 1986, but only for their iconic blue-and-white-striped first-choice jerseys. When they beat Uruguay 1-0 in the round of 16, they did so in a blue cotton top that gave coach Carlos Bilardo cause for concern: such a garment would prove anything but comfortable for their quarter-final showdown with England in Mexico City’s soaring afternoon temperatures.
Bilardo asked Argentina’s kit manufacturer to come up with lighter blue shirts, an impossible request given the short deadline. With just three days to go before the match, he sent out Ruben Moschella, a member of his coaching staff, to scour the shops of the Mexican capital for a suitable kit. He returned with two different blue shirts, which they subsequently weighed but were unable to choose between. It was then that Diego Maradona appeared. Pointing to one, El Diez said: “That’s a nice jersey. We’ll beat England in that.”
Moschella returned to the shop and bought 38 of the shirts chosen by the Albiceleste skipper. A designer fashioned some makeshift Argentinian Football Association (AFA) badges, which were then sewn on to each jersey, with silvery American Football shirt numbers hurriedly ironed on to the backs. A few hours later, Maradona scored the infamous “Hand of God” goal followed by one of the finest solo efforts ever seen in a world finals, all in a shirt hastily sourced from a backstreet shop in Mexico City.
Les Bleus go green and white
On the afternoon of 10 June 1978, France and Hungary prepared to face each other in Mar del Plata in their final Group 1 game at the world finals in Argentina, with both sides having already been eliminated from the competition. There was half an hour to go before kick-off when Bleus midfielder Henri Michel’s attention was drawn to what the Hungarians were wearing beneath their tracksuit tops.
The Nantes captain promptly approached opposing striker Andras Torocsik and asked him: “White shirt?”. “White shirt,” came the reply. “But France are playing in white,” retorted Michel. Torocsik was having none of it, however, and was adamant that it was the Magyars who were supposed to wear white.
Realising there was a problem, Michel raised the issue with the members of the French delegation, who agreed with him, saying they had each received a FIFA memorandum stating that France was indeed to wear white.
I think the choice, and it was my choice, of pale blue, as a second colour was a bad one. Where I sat looking from the shade into the sun, it was very difficult to distinguish the players.
The discussions continued until national team supervisor Henri Patrelle suddenly realised he was to blame for the confusion: “It’s all my fault,” he admitted. “There was a second memo amending the first, and I never read it.” The problem for the French was that their blue first strip was 400 kilometres away in Buenos Aires and that they had no replacement kit to hand.
There was no option but to delay the start of the game, much to the chagrin of the fans in the stadium, while a police car sped off, with sirens sounding, in the direction of Club Atletico Kimberley, one of Mar del Plata’s longstanding footballing institutions. The club kindly donated its green-and-white-striped shirts to the French, though they had only 16 of them, with Dominique Rocheteau, one of Les Bleus’ goalscorers in their 3-1 win, taking to the pitch wearing No18 on his blue shorts and No7 on his back.
France are not the only World Cup finalists to have donned the shirts of a local club because of a colour clash. At Brazil 1950, for instance, Mexico wore Cruzeiro’s blue-and-white-striped top in their match against Switzerland, while Argentina kicked off Sweden 1958 against West Germany in IFK Malmo’s yellow strip.
Just like watching Juve
Italy 1990 proved to be an unforgettable experience for Costa Rica, who stunned everyone on their tournament debut by reaching the last 16, a memorable campaign that also featured an unscheduled wardrobe change.
After opening up with a surprise 1-0 defeat of Scotland, in which they wore a red shirt with white collar, Los Ticos then faced a Brazil side boasting the likes of Careca and Alemao. Though there was no apparent reason for them to change their kit, the unfancied Central Americans ran out at Turin’s Estadio Comunale in Juventus-style black and white stripes.
The Costa Rican Football Association had decided to take the kit to the world finals in tribute to the country’s oldest club, CS Libertad, which had gone out of business, though there was another reason behind its appearance that day against the Brazilians.
“Bora [Milutinovic, Costa Rica’s coach at Italy 1990] suggested we wear that shirt because of Juve,” explained Alexandre Guimaraes, a member of that Tico side, in conversation with FIFA.com.
As wily as they come, the Serbian strategist decided to change the kit because he wanted the people of Turin to identify with his team and give them their support. There was only one problem, however, as Guimaraes pointed out: “It didn’t work out because the stadium was packed with Brazil fans.”
Costa Rica lost the game 1-0 but donned their Vecchia Signora outfit again four days later to beat Sweden 2-1 and unexpectedly advance to the knockout rounds.
Give me a V! Give me an I!
Bolivia provided one of the most curious of all shirt-related anecdotes at Uruguay 1930. When they walked out on to the pitch for their first game, against Yugoslavia, the Bolivian players each sported white shirts with a letter sewn on the chest. The reason why only became clear they posed for the photographers, with the team lining up to form the words Viva Uruguay.
The South Americans went down 4-0 and were unable to repeat the pre-match gesture in their next outing, as opponents Brazil were themselves wearing white shirts. The host nation came to the rescue by lending the Bolivians a sky blue kit.
Symphony in yellow and blue
Brazil played in white between 1914 and 1950, when they hosted the world finals. But after losing in traumatic circumstances to Uruguay in the final match of the tournament, the newspaper Correio da Manhã argued that the blue-collared shirts the side had worn for the occasion were cursed. In conjunction with the Brazilian Sports Confederation (CBD), the paper organised a competition in which readers were asked to design a national team kit in the colours of the Brazil flag.
The winning entry was sent in by an 18-year-old writer and illustrator by the name of Aldyr Garcia Schlee. Hailing from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the teenager designed what has gone on to become the most famous kit on the planet: a yellow shirt with green trim, blue shorts and white socks.
The now-legendary outfit was unveiled at Brazil’s opening game at Switzerland 1954, a 5-0 defeat of Mexico. That result was a sign of things to come, with A Canarinha since going on to win five world titles in Garcia Schlee’s original design, though the first of them, which came at Sweden 1958, threw up yet another of the World Cup’s sartorial tales.
Brazil’s opponents in that Final were the hosts, who wore yellow, which meant that lots had to be drawn to decide which of the two teams would have to wear a change strip. The Brazilians lost.
Rather than wear ill-fated white again, the Brazilian delegation resolved two days before the big game to go shopping for a replacement shirt in Stockholm, eventually finding one in blue, the colour of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s patron saint.
The badges were removed from the jerseys and CBD ones sewn on, with Pele and Garrincha working their magic in them as Brazil won 5-2. As well as a maiden world title, it was the start of another tradition, one that has seen A Seleção wear blue as their change strip ever since.