Retro Shirt Reviews #7: Shelbourne Fanzine Special

With Shelbourne FC returning to Umbro kits for the first time in 8 years this week when the League of Ireland First Division kicks off, we thought it appropriate timing to upload our most recent Red Inc. fanzine special from last year, which funnily enough includes the first time the Reds wore Umbro in the early 80s. What’s more, a brand new article by ourselves will be in the imminent next issue, RI65, on sale at Shelbourne’s first home game of the season on Friday week.

Red Inc. is the longest running fanzine in Irish football, having been produced by the fan-group Reds Independent since 1999. After a Shels-inspired Pyro On The Pitch installment to start our RI guest slot, our Retro Shirt Reviews series was adapted for RI64, where usually we would breakdown an obscure jersey from our own POTP collection. But for this installment we deviate from that regular format to take a look back at some of the possibly lesser known kits from Shelbourne’s past.

A large thank you to Maurice Frazer and those at Shelbourne FC Photos for picture permission, follow their page if you are a Shels supporter.

Intro:

August 2018: DUBLIN has recently been awash with grown men proud as punch in their new English Premier League jerseys (usually derived from only a handful of clubs), especially when their teams have been playing meaningless cash-cow friendlies in the Aviva Stadium. This is particularly embarrassing when trying to explain to confused, non-Irish friends why there are so many people in Ireland supporting Liverpool for example.

The rise of two certain clubs in the Premier League since the new millennium mean that there are also a lot more blue English league jerseys around than there was in the 90s. But there was a time when the archetypal football club nicknames of “the blues” and “the reds” were synonymous with two native clubs: the blue shirted Waterford FC – who dominated the League of Ireland from the mid-60s to early 70s – and Shelbourne FC of Dublin.

Legends:

Established in 1895, one legend suggests that Shels’ original colourway of red, white and blue was a tribute to the Union Jack, reflecting that football was traditionally a sport of the Anglo-Irish establishment at the time (as opposed to the Gaelic Games associated with “old Irish” communities). Similarly, city rivals Bohemians were known to have close ties to the British Army (as with many clubs from “garrison towns”) and allegedly housed British soldiers during the 1916 Easter uprising. But just like how you would be hard-pressed to find a communist in the fanbase of teams called Dynamo/Dinamo or CSKA in eastern Europe these days, any early links to loyalism were soon long forgotten by the local supporting communities of both clubs.

Another legend states that Shelbourne were true pioneers in being the first Dublin team from any sport to adapt the city’s three castle coat of arms as their crest. There are also theories that the red jerseys used by St. Patrick’s Athletic upon their foundation in 1929 were inspired by an admiration of the already popular Ringsend outfit. Considering the historic connection of the shirt to Irish football history, as well as Shels’ use of red seemingly outdating that of both Liverpool and Manchester United (for whom many of  the Irish public would later develop an infantile fascination), it is no wonder that the club nickname would morph into the “real reds”; and more popular as of late, the “auld (old) reds”.

60s-70s:

In standing with the time, Shelbourne’s kits would remain minimal in design for the next several decades, with white collar variations and cuffs on the shirt being the only possible addition to the crest – if one appeared. A stylishly noteworthy strip that did offer a splash of colour was used at the time of the famous Cup Winners Cup tie with Barcelona in 1963, featuring a crew neck jersey with no trim and a blue crest with gold castles. Ten years later, huge winged collars with v-insets hearkening back to the 30s would again be all the rage. Shels were no exception to the trend with an otherwise plain shirt (crest later added), but like the national team, stripes now appeared on the white shorts.

The club continued to keep up with the ever-evolving kit styles, as by the end of the decade red shorts were employed for the home attire; the v-inset disappeared from the collar; and three elegant white stripes ran the length of each sleeve. But it was the brand of O’Neills that appeared parallel to the badge on the chest, not adidas. The shirt used the same template as the Irish national team jersey, meaning three stripes were also on the turnover of the collar. In what appeared to be clearly a blatant act of plagiarism of the West German company’s famous design – that would go on for decades, with the company shamelessly take “inspiration” from other well known shirt features later – amazingly after much legal battling it was declared that O’Neills would be allowed to continue to produce three striped sports gear, but in Ireland only.

1980s:

The peak of Shelbourne’s later success would coincide with the club’s association with English kit-masters Umbro. But few are aware that Umbro were also briefly around as Shels began to embark upon the 1980s, a decade that  would see them hit their lowest ebb until that point. By this time jerseys were changing from heavier materials to sleek, streamlined and slim-fitting polyester, and an away game to Bohemians in 1981 shows a shiny white alternate shirt featuring a modern (for the time) red v-neck and cuffs, with Umbro diamonds and wordmark. The earlier-used diamond-only Umbro logo appears on the red shorts, which are accompanied by red socks with white trim. We can assume that the home shirt was a straight reversal. Although great, the unfortunate lack of a crest prevents this becoming an all-time Shels classic.

Shelbourne would soon be donning the three stripes again, but while O’Neills would later return, this time it wasn’t them. Much is made of Cork City’s early Guinness sponsored Adidas kits – a partnership that made sense since there was a factory producing Adidas licensed kits in the city – but again many modern fans may be unaware that the Reds wore Adidas before Cork City had even been founded in 1984. As well as a trefoil, a sponsor appeared by 1983 on a Shelbourne shirt for what seems to be the first time, in the form of Iveco.  This was an impressive combination as the van and truck company’s name was also being seen on the Adidas shirts being worn by Bayern Munich at the time, with their red and white colourway making some versions virtually indistinguishable from a Shels jersey if it wasn’t for the addition of the corporate name Magirus underneath.

In addition to the white sleeve stripes and Iveco sponsor, a home strip from this time featured a turn-over collar and a shield crest, which was apparently placed over the Adidas logo. The reason for this, as seen through other versions of the shirt, was that the trefoil on these basic teamware templates was positioned to the left where a badge usually would be, and so instead of going with a reversed “off” look it seems it was decided to put the crest there instead. The real beauty was the magnificent all-white away strip, which differed in it’s red v-neck and cuffs, red stripes, and a trefoil, but lacking a crest. The absence of this meant that the Adidas logo was placed on different different sides on different players jerseys, the likes of which was not uncommon at the time.

If Shelbourne were moving surprisingly well with the times, 1984 would see a slight step back. While still “shiny” material, a template was used that brought back the wing-collar/v-inset to an absurdly large degree, rivaling any huge collars from bygone eras. This was because the design was actually from several years before, as worn by Limerick FC in their in League winning 79/80 season. Their FAI Cup final version of the same year also displayed a black trefoil within the v-inset as well as chest (and humorously the clearly shoddy print job meant that even as the teams lined up the L and C in “Limerick Savings Bank” had fallen off several players’ jerseys) while Paul McGrath-era St. Pat’s also employed the template. Shels’ identifiable Iveco version was used as part of a lesser seen kit colour combination for the club, in red shirt, red shorts and white socks.

Another new strip was brought in for 1985 as a turn-over and v-neck collar returned, and delightfully pinstripes were seen on a Shelbourne shirt for the first – the most quintessential feature of 80s football kit fashion. Also freshening things up was the revival of white shorts, while Iveco was replaced on the shirt with a white panel containing the logo of “Corona Holidays”. But now, there was no sign of either crest nor trefoil, again possibly depriving this kit of a higher place on the pantheon of the club’s greatest gear. While the three stripes should still have left no doubt as to who the manufacturer was, as we have seen the O’Neills situation could have made things a little less clear if it wasn’t for the classic Adidas sweatshirts used by the subs.

The following year of 86, the remarkable turnover of kits continued with what was to be the Reds last Adidas offering, but what a way to go out it would be. Again pin stripes were the theme, but beautifully used to divide red shadow stripes, meaning alternating shades of vertical red strips. A tidy white v-neck was used, with the Adidas trefoil returning again in the “badge position”. Another significant change was the addition of popular Irish clothing retailer Penneys as sponsor. Like the previous shirt, their wordmark appeared in a white panel across the shirt. Red shorts were also used again with the home strip. Even without a crest, the ensemble was a marvelous piece of art thanks to a jersey that many supporters today would be undoubtedly willing to part with large sums of money to get their hands on.

1987 saw a new make and a new sponsor, as O’Neills took back over the reigns and a company called TransIrish replaced Penneys. It was the most unremarkable Shels jersey in years, as besides the two companys logos there is little else to mention; even the v-neck and cuffs were red. White shorts again returned, and the away strip was a straight colour reversal. The kits nearly were actually quite nice in a minmalist  sort of way, but one thing definitely of note was the team tracktops, which were mostly red but featured a white inner hood with white strings, and a white horizontal section on the torso and sleeves, with “Shelbourne FC” in the centre. A crest and white O’Neills logo appeared above, while a squad number was placed around the left ribs section. Great stuff.

Although TransIrish remained as sponsor for another year, Shels changed kit provider for the third consecutive season as 1988 brought possibly the most intriguing shirt yet. The O’Neills tracktops also stayed but the kit was now being produced by little known brand Union Sport, who also made kits for Bray Wanderers ,Dundalk FC, and, in a similar red and white style to Shels, Sligo Rovers. The kicker is that Union Sport’s logo was a literal Confederate flag (minus a couple of stars), which did appear on the chest of a Shelbourne shirt. With said flag being a common symbol of far-right white nationalists in Europe (this came up last time too), it is especially hilarious considering the Union fought against the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

Another change was the crest, which was now permanently on the chest for the first time in years. The white shield used since the 70s was gone, leaving three larger white castles standing independent over the red background of the shirt. A Union Sport wordmark was also used instead of the flag logo, but white bars running down the sleeves and sides of shirt were interjected by the flag. From afar, this gave the appearance of Denmark’s 1979 Hummel kit which had chevrons in the same places, as well as a similar collar and the same colourway. It seemed that once again Shelbourne were in a plagiarised template, as well as politically incorrect by modern standards.

1990s:

As the 1990s dawned, Shelbourne made a deal with O’Neills for the third time. After the four different kit providers of the 1980s, the Irish brand would retain some stability by staying around for the next eight years, coinciding with Shelbourne’s return to league and cup dominance. A new era dawned with many of the jerseys worn fondly remembered today. But the teams lack of success in the decades before, coupled with poor coverage of the League of Ireland in general, meant that many of the shirts we have looked at are sadly less recognised; particularly Shels’ Adidas era.

Before Shelbourne did win finally win the league again in 91/92, O’Neills provided a perfectly 90s piece for 90/91, which was slightly understated compared to the “geometric shards” shirt that would come a couple of seasons later, but suave enough to make it an absolute classic. With a smart collar and button combination, white “flecks” appear all over the red of the shirt. An O’Neills logo joined is by a new sponsor, SpeedWay, who’s red and white logo fits seemlessly into the overall design. But most significantly, a new crest which incorporated the blue background and gold castles of the past was introduced. The white away shirt with red shorts was a perfect match.

The 90/91 kits may be among O’Neills greatest work in football, slightly redeeming themselves for their indiscretions. The above mentioned 1992/93 shirt was also a crazy classic. But around the same time they would be up their old tricks with another shirt that was extremely familiar, using identical shoulder bars and general layout on a white Shlebourne away shirt to that of the Adidas Equipment range, used by the likes of Spain and France at the time. Before O’Neills left for good – to be replaced by Umbro in 1998 – they proved that it wasn’t just Adidas that they were prepared to rip-off. The FAI Cup final and subsequent replay of that year was significant for another another rare appearance of a red-red-white kit, but in classic O’Neills-level subtly, the shirt looked suspiciously similar to what Brazil were about to wear in the 1998 World Cup.

*

Pic sources: British Pathé YouTube; the41.ie; finnharps.com; corkpastandpresent.ie; Sportsfile.ie; Shelbourne Cult Heroes books by Séan Fitzpatrick with photos courtesy of Maurice Frazer and the Frazer family; Getty Images; Shelbourne vs Shamrock Rovers 1987 progamme thanks to @1895Barry; The Bar At Tolka (framed team photo); vintagefootballshirts.com; 1993 FAI Cup Final preview; retroloi YouTube.

*****

 

 

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