Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 15 January 2007

Obscure Kits From British Football History #3

Jmmy Hill was a bit of a pioneer in his time. Most people think of him as the pointy-chinned presenter of Match of the Day or the pundit who practically coined the term 'sitting on the fence' by his own words and deeds. Yet from the 1960's to the 1980's, Jimmy Hill could always be relied on to think out of the box, and often with one eye on his beloved Coventry City.

He became director of the Midlands club in 1974 and soon after turned Highfield Road into the country's first all-seater stadium. Unfortunately his misjudged slogan of "You can't be a hooligan sitting down" rather backfired when fans began ripping up the seats to use as missiles, but there you go - you can't have everything.

He also proposed to team up his club with Coventry car company Talbot and rename them 'Coventry Talbot'. Although that scheme was booted into Row Z, one aspect of it survived in the form of a change to the kit design. For the 1981/82 season, Coventry City wore arguably the most revolutionary strip ever seen in England. It was based almost completely on the logo of Talbot's car company.

Shirt advertising was banned in England until 1983-84 but until then Hill was insistent on forging the link between his club and the local giants of the British car industry up the road, so a kit was designed to show Coventry City's allegiance to them. The result was what you see in the image on the right.

It was bold, brash, and ultimately illegal - at least in the eyes of the TV companies that wanted to show Coventry's football matches. They wouldn't allow Coventry City to be seen displaying such blatant sponsorship on their kit, so Jimmy Hill's side had to wear an alternative when the cameras came to town. The rather unimaginative version is shown on the cover of the programme below.

All of which rather took the wind out of Jimmy Hill's sails, yet ironically within a matter of a few years, shirt sponsorship was made legal anyway. It goes to show that Hill was actually ahead of his time, although quite whether we'd like to see football kits bearing enormous company logos on that sort of scale is another matter.

Regardless of that, Coventry's 'Talbot' kit of 1981/82 has without doubt attained notoriety over the years for being so distinctive without actually being seen by a huge audience at the time. It hasn't stopped it becoming a favourite among City's fans, though - the club moved to relaunch the kit in replica form in 2000 after demands for it to be made available again.

So there you have it - the kit you could only see if you went to watch your club in person but not on TV. A real one-off the likes of which have never been seen since.

(Coventry City 'Talbot' kit image reproduced by kind permission of John Devlin at True Colours Football Kits.)

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