Four approaches to the design of soccer shirts

A unique philosophy of a club
A marketing campaign by a sport brand
Commercial interest versus shirt design
The power of the supporters and kit sponsor

The design of the soccer shirts develop the way as football in general. The influence of the sponsors are growing and getting more visible. It is common that the name of the stadiums changed into a sponsor name. The sport kit brands introduce their new outfit across the different sport direction and cultural regions. The following cases show the different interests in contemporary shirts beside the mainstream.

Club Athletic (Bilbao) - the bask principle

Bilbao shirt Bilbao shirt Bilbao shirt

Athletic Bilbao is more than a football club, it is a feeling. And as such it's ways of operating often escape rational analysis. We see ourselves as unique in world football and this defines our identity. We do not say that we are either better or worse than others, merely different. We only wish for the sons of our soil to represent our club, and in so wishing we stand out as a sporting entity, not a business.

(Athletic president Jose Maria Arrate’s speech, delivered on the club’s 100th year anniversary)

The new shirt of Athletic Bilbao for the international games 2004 / 05 is designed by an artist. (left) The opposite of a template a real unique shirt made by a bask for the bask soccer player. Athletic Bilbao has a strong idea about their identity. The team has a self defined regulation that just basks are playing in the club - no foreigners, no other players from spain. The club and the supporters see the the club in as a symbol for their wish of a free and independent bask country. And in this line they have a mentality how to deal with a club identity including the shirt sponsor. Beside the shirt (center), which was presented in 1998 for 100th anniversary athletic play traditionally in their red + white striped jersey (right).
On behalf of their self-conception the Club Athletic and the FC Barcelona don't have a sponsor on their shirt.

Cameroon - the indomitable lion

Cameroon Unikit Cameroon sleeveless Cameroon with sleeve

The National Football Team of Cameroon appeared at the 2004 African Cup of Nations in a newly designed one-piece playing kit (the Cameroon UniQT). The top of the kit is skin-tight. The kit design features ‘lion claw tears” (left) on each side along the oblique muscles, referring to Cameroon’s nickname of the ‘Indomitable Lions.’ The ‘Indomitable Lions’, lions which you can't discipline, have come to symbolize confidence, athleticism and sheer power. The marketing campaign is completed by a trailer in a comic / manga style. According to the Fifa this behavior of Cameroon is to be seen as a violation of Law 4 of the Fifa “Laws of the Game”. The Fifa regulation says: A sports kit have a short + a shirt. As a consequence of Cameroon’s failure to comply with the equipment requirements on the field the team was fined with a six point deduction for the 2006 World Cup qualification campaign. In addition the Cameroon Football Association has also been fined CHF 200.000. Later the deduction of 6 points was withdrawn.

The development of the kit began in 2001 along with its predecessor, the groundbreaking sleeveless shirt (center) worn by the Cameroon team in the 2002 African Cup of Nations. The sleeveless shirt was less spectacular but still already a case for the Fifa. According to the regulations of the Fifa the national teams have to wear a Fifa badge on the sleeves. For that reason Puma added a black sleeve. (right) On the dark skin of the Cameroon players it was almost invisible and still looked sleeveless while the badge could be worn at the same time. The Cameroon case is exemplary for Pumas ambition to become a sport-lifestyle brand. They chose an exotic team to introduce their fashion style.

Puma, made a special case out of the Cameroon sports kit. As an exception they created a unique new style for the shirt and played with the regulations of the the Fifa. The Cameroon outfit and the appearance of the Indomitable lions is used as a teaser for their fashionable style in the field of the sport kit brands.

Atletico de Madrid - spiderman

Atletico de Madrid spiderman Atletico de Madrid spiderman Atletico de Madrid

Atletico Madrid has submitted a new jersey (left) to European soccer's ruling body for approval, after its old one (center) was banned because of an oversized sponsor ad. Atletico used a jersey with a spider and its net covering the entire front of the jersey to promote the 'Spiderman 2' during its season opening-game. The club didn't receive a fine for using the jersey. Because they immediately accepted to cooperate and change it to a new version in proper size.

Atletico has carried movie titles on its jerseys since last season. While changing during the year the ads, their traditionally striped shirt (right) had become a kind of billboard.

This is actually the opposite way of the idea of their sport kit sponsor, Nike. The american brand introduced a global design for their shirts. This kind of template with a high recognizability reflects the individual character of the teams just by its filled in colours. At the Euro 2004 four teams played with this jersey. Beside Croatia, who added their characteristic square pattern, the teams of Portugal, Russia and Netherlands played with an identical shirt.

Ajax Amsterdam - stripes

Ajax Amsterdam Ajax Amsterdam Ajax Amsterdam

In the year 2000 the Ajax stock trade was temporarily shut down. In an official press statement, Ajax's kit sponsor Adidas announced that the three stripes on the sleeves (center) that had only been introduced earlier would be removed again from the new jersey. This was due to ongoing criticism by Ajax fans who didn't like the stripes and wanted the traditional white sleeves (left) back.

The stripes were later re-introduced on the shirts for the international games of the club.

For the season 2004 / 2005 Ajax presented a set of three new shirts. Beside the traditionally red / white version a black and a yellow jersey. The three shirts show very clear the different influences on the design and color by Adidas, the club’s main sponsor ABN-Amro Bank and the historical club identity. The new yellow striped shirt (right), is based on the color of the main sponsor. Compared to other striped jerseys the ajax version is reduced to three stripes like the kit sponsors trademark.