When did goalkeepers jerseys get so boring?

In the now annual summer ritual of new kit releases it is not unusual to see a full range of emotions on display; from eager expectation to full-blown anxiety. Fans queuing outside the club shop on the appointed release day may do so with a sense of Christmas-morning excitement, or with a sense of resignation that, like a bad haircut, it will only be a short time until it’s time for a new one. Any failure to respect established club traditions is also likely to result in much controversy – Southampton fans are still recovering from the trauma imposed by the brief hiatus of the clubs red and white stripes.

By contrast, even in an atmosphere as highly charged as this, the unveiling of the design for the goalkeeper’s kit is highly unlikely to stir anything more than fleeting interest. Perhaps this is because few fans will ever purchase one – aside from the sort of aspiring goalkeeper types usually seen milling around local 5-a-side centres – but perhaps this is because goalkeepers kits these days, have become so bland, so boring even, as to be virtually unnoticeable.

Today’s range of conservative keepers kits are a far cry from the flamboyant jerseys which predominated in the 1990s. This was the time when new printing technologies provided designers with greater possibilities and although there was an existing traditional grammar for goalkeepers kit – mainly of muted greens, blacks, greys and the occasional yellow – few clubs or fans, had any real preference, or investment in one colour combination, or pattern over another. With looser rules there was therefore greater freedom to innovate. Along with third kits, which also provided designers with a blank-slate unimpinged by a need to heed tradition, goalkeeper’s jerseys were in the vanguard of a headlong rush towards garishness.

The most famous exponent of this movement was Jorge Campos, the Mexican international goalkeeper who reputedly designed his own kits and whose acid-trip fluorescent jersey and shorts combo, were a highlight of World Cup USA ’94, and which make him a cult figure to this day. Such luridness had though been the norm and was embraced around the globe; from the highly popular explosion-in-a-paint factory look, as seen on Huddersfield Towns 93-94 ‘keepers shirt, which manages to combine pink, yellow, green, red and blue among other shades, to the Estonian national team’s 1996 design whose Aztec-like patterns were positively headache inducing. Special mention also deserves to go to Sunderland’s 1994-96 goalkeepers shirt which featured the outline of a pair of hands and which was, being charitable, the best thing that could be said about the kit.

Indeed many of the goalkeeper’s kits of the era were hideous monstrosities, therefore the eventual counter-reformation which saw a return to a more traditional plainness should surely be seen as a welcome development. But with even Jorge Campos’s successors in the Mexico goal now reverting to a more muted colour palate the passing of the era of garishness should instead be mourned.


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