Jumpers for Chapman’s Iconic Kit Design
Recently, Andy and myself had a long chat with Patrick Barclay about Arsenal stories for his impending and eagerly awaited new book on the greatest manager of all time: Herbert Chapman.
One of the topics we discussed was the change of the shirt design from red to red with white sleeves, and below we highlight our recent findings where the shirt was not as expected, or indeed close, to what is worn nowadays.
The Arsenal kit of red football shirts and white sleeves first appeared in 1933 when then manager Herbert Chapman devised the design.
The first set of red shirts with white sleeves, were actually white shirts with a red sleeveless pullover on top!
Arsenal’s iconic design was initially an away shirt with a 55% woollen red jumper over it, as can be seen here in a report of the new kit. It is instructive that both the papers called it a “costume” and not a kit, and the Nottingham Evening Post referred to it as a three piece suit of “white shirt, red pullover and white shorts”.
Chapman went straight to the Viyella manufacturer for the order. Viyella was made of 55% merino wool and 45 % cotton, which had been developed by Hollins & Company, spinners and hosiers whose main offices were in Nottingham. It was a branded fabric blend first woven in 1893, and registered as a trademark in 1894 in England
The new design had been previously approved on 20 February 1933 by the Football League in one of their regular management committee meetings.
However, they did not wear them in their very next game against Derby, but waited until the Liverpool home game on 4 March 1933.
They must have been uncomfortable. In the first four games with the new design Arsenal drew one and lost three, finally winning against Aston Villa on April Fool’s Day. It seems the change almost derailed the title challenge but all was good in the end.
Neither the reason nor the timing for the kit introduction is entirely clear, but Tom Whittaker’s Arsenal story on pages 100-101 has this useful section on the matter:
So there you have it, the modest beginning to what has become the most iconic football shirt there is.
The books by the site authors:
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches