Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sat 12 April 2008

Obscure Kits From British Football History #6

Sunderland (home)

We've talked before about how some teams are synonymous with a particular look to the kit they wear. Many teams prefer a bold strip of just one colour (think Real Madrid and Liverpool), others like to wear hoops (a la Queens Park Rangers and Sporting Lisbon) while a distinct minority have adopted an interesting half-an-half appearance (such as Feyenoord and Blackburn Rovers).

For many though, it always was and always will be stripes for their club's kit. One such team that falls into that category is Sunderland, and as you'll all be aware, they consider their red and white stripes to be the perfect antidote to the black and white of their near neighbours Newcastle United.

Those big red and white bands running the full length of the Sunderland shirt have almost always been accompanied by black shorts, except for a spell between 1961 and 1973 when they were white. The stripes seemed a non-negotiable facet to the club's identity, but when Sunderland returned to the old First Division in 1980 after a three-season lay-off, a change to the kit was not far off.

Someone somewhere decided that as this was the start of a new era in the top flight for The Rokerites, the kit should reflect the new beginning that was underway. For the 1980-81 season, Sunderland were to wear a home strip featuring no bold red and white stripes, no black shorts - not even white shorts. This was something utterly different than anything they'd worn before.

The new kit was made by Le Coq Sportif who, back then, were a major manufacturer of football attire for people like Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and even the Argentinean national team. They took on the Sunderland brief and gave them a design which, like all individual and revolutionary designs, would go down in history as either an unsurpassable classic or a never-to-be-repeated aberration.

The new shirt was predominantly white but featured a series of double tramlines in red running from top to bottom. These weren't stripes in the old-fashioned sense, nor were they the pinstripes that were so prevalent in the game around this time. These were 'thin stripes' and they were about as popular as they were visible from not-too-far away.

Even the shorts were red - another dramatic break from tradition - but then that's probably the only colour they could have been as white or black might have looked a bit silly. Finish off the job with a pair of red socks and there you have it - a kit that lasted for two seasons and has never been matched before or since.

It didn't go down well and the design was scrapped in 1983, as were the manufacturers. When Nike arrived as a new name on the British sportswear scene, they did the decent thing and wasted no time in reinstating the thick red and white stripes again. The old kit didn't even have the kudos of being worn by anyone famous (apart from Ally McCoist, pictured) such was the very ordinary team they had back then.

We can therefore say this was just an interesting experiment that's best left in the scrapbook of British Football Kit Design for another twenty-five years until someone else stumbles upon it. Sometimes you just don't win anything for trying to be revolutionary. Tradition is what people like, and more often than not as a football kit designer, you're best of just staying with the tried and trusted. It's just a shame no-one at Le Coq Sportif knew that.

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