Southampton fans have wonderful memories of Matt Le Tissier but unfortunately many of his best goals came in Saints’ most grotesque kit ever

15 February ~ Matt Le Tissier’s catalogue of magnificent goals stands comparison with that of any of the world’s greatest players. In his day the Lightning Seeds’ Life of Riley, the backdrop to Goal of the Month candidates, pretty much became his signature tune. His breathtaking strikes feature in videos, DVDs and YouTube compilations. Fans of other clubs are familiar with them. Blackburn supporters applauded his Goal of the Season at Ewood Park. Surely nothing could tarnish such a wonderful legacy?

Well actually there is something. For the two seasons that were perhaps his most productive – from 1993 to 1995 – Southampton wore what is considered by many Saints fans to be their most grotesque kit ever. The shirt featured a huge chevron across the chest – probably the largest manufacturer’s logo on any kit in history – and a stripy polyester V-neck that looked and felt as though it had been salvaged from a surplus of Saints’ 1980s Patrick shirts.

Meanwhile the sponsor’s name was displayed seemingly as an afterthought on an unsightly black patch. Chants of “what the fucking hell is that?” greeted its unveiling at the final home match of the preceding season. Even worse, the away kit carried the same design in baby blue and turquoise, as we are reminded whenever we recall Le Tissier’s ball-juggling at Anfield and rasping free-kick winner at St James’ Park.

It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed since Saints became one of the first clients of Admiral and moved away from the “classic” regular red-and-white stripes that the players had worn for decades. The 1976 FA Cup final saw a new record being set for the number of manufacturer’s logos on a football shirt, with Admiral’s symbol decorating the sleeve piping.

For the following season Saints wore split “candy” stripes which initially were not to every supporter’s taste, although it’s fondly remembered these days and it’s surprising that the look has yet to make a comeback. The “reverse Ajax” design worn from 1980-85 was adopted principally to give maximum prominence to sponsor logos that were by now permitted on shirts.

The classic stripes were becoming a distant memory when Hummel foisted their Danish bacon look on us in 1987 but a backlash was not long in coming. Fanzine The Ugly Inside launched a campaign known as SICK (Saints In Conventional Kit) and the stripes returned in 1989 to general acclaim. Still, the makers were at a loss to know what to do with the sponsor’s logo, while the away shirt carried a trim in a hitherto unknown hue described as “Solent green”. Brown may have been more accurate.

Since 1995 the home shirt design has seen minor variations on the red-and-white stripes, although in three seasons they were not present. For the club’s 125th anniversary the team wore a commemorative strip of white shirts with a diagonal sash, mimicking the club’s first kit. There was no sponsor logo and the kit was hugely popular.

Erstwhile executive chairman Nicola Cortese showed unusual sensitivity towards Saints’ history on that occasion, before doing the opposite on the club’s return to the Premier League in 2012, whereupon a most un-Saints-like all-red strip was adopted. At least the version produced by Umbro for 2012-13 was unique to Saints at the time, reminiscent as it was of an earlier Nottingham Forest look. The following season Adidas couldn’t even be bothered to supply a bespoke design.

Saints’ European campaigns have stirred another sleeping dog – the interdiction on shirts with striped backs. In 2003 then chairman Rupert Lowe spotted an opportunity to fleece customers (sic) by commissioning a special shirt with a plain red back and a hideous front that resembled a butcher’s apron.

This season’s Europa League shirt – which is not available to buy – also features a red back with white lettering and numbering but is otherwise no different from the standard home kit. It’s a reasonable compromise but the Premier League are again threatening to enforce UEFA’s dictum. TV commentator Gerald Sinstadt even had a whinge about this in a recent newspaper column, suggesting that the home anthem should be changed to “Oh when the Saints go marching in, we’d like to see some clear numbers”.

Well for his information the bold black letters and numbers on the backs of the striped shirts stand out perfectly well for the fans at St Mary’s and nobody connected with Saints is in any mood to give up on the hard-won stripes. Tim Springett

This article was originally printed in WSC 360, February 2017. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more details here

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