While the styles, colours and materials of clubs’ shirts have changed dramatically over the past century and a half of football, uniformity of kit between members of the same team is something we have always been able to take for granted. Right?
Actually no, and it was no ordinary club playing hard and fast with one of football’s most basic conventions either. Those famous Glaswegian bastions of amateurism, Queen’s Park, seemed to be able to win the Scottish Cup more often (ten times between 1874 and 1893) than they could put out a team in which every outfield player sported identical hooped shirts.
Queen’s Park’s officials specified that their club shirt should be formed from 32 black hoops on a white background, a commendable attention to detail and desire for standardisation that was undermined by their steadfast refusal to supply these very specific shirts to players on match days.
This stance had its roots in the club’s amateur principles. So avowedly resolute was Queen’s in sticking to the notion that players should play for the love of the game and not for reward, supplying them shirts to wear in games was frowned upon at it was considered an indirect form of recompense for their services. So players had to supply their own strips which, inevitably, brought its own complications.
This was not an era when you could just walk into a gentleman’s outfitter and buy a replica football strip, so players had to improvise and turn up on Saturdays wearing something as close to the official Queen’s Park design as they could muster.
The photo above dates from 1888 and shows the somewhat motley results such a haphazard policy brings. Some players successfully manage close approximations of the Queen’s shirt, albeit with hoops of widely variable thicknesses; others can do no better than black and white stripes. The provenance of these shirts is wildly variable too with most sourced from rugby clubs or even ordinary menswear shops.
This club policy continued right the way through to 1911 when officials relented and finally started to supply kits for their players to wear. The iconic black and white hooped jersey was standardised in the form we see in this later 1970s shot of Malky Mackay Senior. As well as this important concession to uniformity, there was a similar allowance made for modernity too. As shorts gradually became shorter and lower-waisted in the early part of the last century, so the number of designated hoops on a Queen’s Park shirt was reduced from 32 to 28 to accommodate these changes.