The Laws of the Game state that
"the two teams must wear colours that distinguish them from each other..."
Therein lies the problem. That is all that is necessary for a game of
football to take place, and it appears that no-one had the foresight to
record in any detail what was actually worn
in each match. The Football Association, even to this day, do not see it as
their responsibility to maintain any records relating to England kits.
Back in 1872, no such rule existed,
but it made sense to wear the same colour as your
team mates. It was often only the shirts that matched though, and even then there
were situations where significantly different designs were used by the
same team in the same match. This still happened occasionally in international
football as recently as
1977, when Johan Cruyff's sponsorship deal prevented him from wearing the adidas insignia sported by his Dutch team-mates.
Victorian England was a world far
removed from the multi-million pound football shirt industry that we know today, where great lengths are gone to in search of the latest
moisture-sapping technologies, where sponsors' names appear on kits under strict
guidelines and where marketing teams regularly manage the release of new designs
to gain maximum exposure amongst the replica-buying public.
This would all have been
unrecognisable to the eleven gentlemen that turned up at Hamilton Crescent in
Glasgow on 30 November 1872 to represent their country against Scotland in the
world's very first international match. Arnold Kirke Smith wore a woollen
jersey (pictured above) with a diamond motif on the chest (this was not an early Umbro logo!).
We have no way of knowing if all of the team wore this exact design or if they
were each responsible for bringing their own kit, but the
emblem looks to have been carefully embroidered onto the shirt beforehand,
probably in Mr. Smith's household. It was obviously intended to
be kept as a souvenir of what was, even then, a big event and we are thankful
that this particular shirt has now survived into its third century.
Fortunately for us, England have
been relatively consistent in their attire over the years, though we have
precious few artefacts to go off when attempting to identify exactly what was
worn in the nineteenth-century. For the first game, England's hosts, Queens Park
Football Club, attempted to
hire a photographer to capture the historic moment, but the man in question
insisted that he would only attend if the players would each buy a copy of the
photo. When the teams met again, just over three months later, at The Oval in London, a photographer did attend, only to be frustrated by the antics
of an England player who kept pulling faces at the camera! The England team were eventually
photographed in 1876, but unfortunately they were dressed in their suits!
So, we were denied photographic
evidence of the England kit in action. We do, however, have illustrations from
those early encounters, which appeared in periodicals of the time. The players
look similar to modern-day jockeys. It is fairly
clear from the pictures that England wore knickerbockers. Most seem to be white, though
some appear to be of a darker colour. The stockings also varied, with each
player wearing his own identifying colours. These were published on match cards,
and enabled spectators to pick out each player.
probable that it was left to the individual to provide their own attire for the
lower half (at least) and this remained largely the case up until 1935, despite
English clubs kitting out their players with complete uniforms from a much
earlier time. The England team
also wore caps in this first game, probably navy blue.
As the 1870s progressed, it seems
that uniformity was not a high priority. A few photos exist of players wearing
club jerseys, with England crests sewn on to the left breast. When they faced Scotland in 1875, the
Leeds Mercury reported that, "The Englishmen, who represented different clubs,
adopted various costumes..." In 1879, a Birmingham newspaper correspondent
suggested that uniforms should become standard as it was confusing for
spectators to distinguish between teams. The F.A. listened to these complaints
and bought a set of jerseys for the new decade. It was a decision that would set
the standard for an incredible 68 years.
If you have any rare
England pictures or shirts from this era, please do
get in touch and help us
build a more comprehensive record of what was worn in these early years.