The colourful era that was the early stages of the 1990’s remains a very thankful subject for Club 25’s continued coverage. With more diverse manufacturing options becoming available to big and small brands alike, this new decade, which followed the restrained 80’s (speaking from a sports fashion perspective), saw many experimental styles come into use; Walsall was one of many clubs to join in on the craze, and today we are taking a look at their 1992/1993 home shirt, supplied by MBO.
It’s very difficult knowing where to start with kits like these; usually we like to introduce the club first, but the Saddlers’ crest is hardly the most eye-catching facet of this top. Rather, a veritable gaggle of jokes come to mind regarding the overall design of the shirt, from ‘minced sausage straight out of Hell’ to ‘blizzard in a ketchup factory’ to ‘red velvet cake with powdered sugar’.
A previous reader-favourite article of ours was on the most hideous Cambridge United shirt ever produced, and comparing the Walsall top with that one shows how randomized the pattern on the shirt before us today is; where Cambridge (and designs like it, such as Arsenal’s famed bruised banana shirt), had outlandish designs that remained congruent between individual tops, these Walsall shirts seem to be wholly unique between themselves. Although the exact reason for this has been lost to history, we suspect it was due to the garment being cut from large rolls, meaning no two shirts could be alike (a similar production method was employed for Shrewsbury’s unfortunate diamond-beflecked shirt used in the same season)
Of note is that the sleeves look amazingly out of proportion compared to the body of the shirt, which is unfortunate, but also just another idiosyncracy of the early 90’s, where one-size-fits-all seemed to be standard across the lower leagues and skintight was a dirty word (oh, how things have changed since).
The sleeves seem to have been sewn on rather haphazardly in a ninety degree angle from the body of the shirt, where most if not all football shirts since have employed alternative fits to increase comfort for the wearer. A thin white band of fabric denotes where the shirt and sleeve have been joined together, and provides the only detailing on what would have been a thoroughly unremarkable shirt, were it not for the pattern.
Thankfully, with our specimen being matchworn, we are delighted to find the deliciously retro Football League patch on the sleeve, in all its tiny glory; compared to current day league trim, these pieces of embroidery sewed onto the shirt were hardly visible on television, but no less iconic, combining your standard telstar-model football with the colours of the union jack and a lion passant guardant.
As is standard, we find the club crest on the left chest over the popularly conceptualized position of the heart. Rather than opting for a fully embroidered crest, only the band and swift of Walsall’s crest were included here, allowing some of the white to shine through; this closer look also allows us to see the two shades of red used for the top, with the darker shade typically found in triangular shapes and unaffected by the white, whereas the lighter hue is oft afflicted with the powdered effect. Together, these three tones make for a very layered, almost three-dimensional appearance. Two plastic buttons are present to adjust the amount of chest hair visible, with a flappy collar edged out in black (the only place on the shirt where this colour is found) with a red pinstripe completing the look.
We’ve previously referred to Walsall FC as the Saddlers, with the origin of this nickname not immediately apparent from this version of the crest, which had been in use from 1982. In the mid 90’s, however, it was replaced with a shield combining the swift with a hide to denote the town’s connection with the saddling industry that saw its population increase fourty-fold during the industrial revolution. This lasting connotation between Walsall and its former industry was the inspiration behind the Saddlers nickname. The question then remains why a swift has always been associated with this particular team? The answer is as simple as it is historic; Walsall Football Club was founded as Walsall Town Swifts (following the amalgamation of Walsall Town FC and Walsall Swifts in 1888).
The saddle-shield was ditched in 2007 with a replacement very similar to the crest on our top having been introduced; black and gold were introduced as tertiary colours (the former to tie in black, which had become a popular accent colour on shirts) with the swift now facing upwards, presumably the direction that the board wishes to take the club in.
Setting aside the subject of the club for a moment, it is time to consider the good people who brought this monstrosity into the world, namely the folks over at MBO. Club 25 has been unable to find any information on this brand, which seems to have been rather shortlived; Walsall were the only team supplied by them, as far as we are aware, and their deal only lasted for two seasons (beyond our delightful top, MBO provided a halved red and white shirt for the 93/94 campaign, a styling associated with Feyenoord of the Netherlands and Slavia Prague of the Czech Republic rather than Walsall, with halved shirts having never appeared in their kit hamper before and since).
Of note is that the colouration of the embroidered MBO wordmark on the tops of this season denotes whether they are match-prepared or replicas; the kits that were supplied to the team had the three letters in blue, where the club shop sold them with white letters. Once again, we are unsure why this was done, but our best guess amounts to blue having been introduced to ensure that the supplier was decently visible against the red/white garment on the telly.
Where MBO was associated for just two seasons with the club, sponsors Sign Specialists Limited, a family-run business who provide bespoke signs and related services, have shown remarkable loyalty to their local team. Their tenure on the front of the shirt (in raised felt) lasted three seasons (our top coming from the middle of that triumverate of years), with their support having taken the shape of back-of-shirt sponsor, stadium advertiser, and plenty more (for the full deets on Sign Specialists’ sponsoring, head on over to their site).
The back of the shirt is devoid of sponsoring, but misses out on ‘boring backside syndrome’ thanks to the continuation of the pattern and the heatpressed number four present. As was common at the time, a player name is absent, which allowed clubs to field different players under the same number as and when the need arose. Given that 4 is usually divvied out to central defenders, we reckon this particular shirt was worn by one or more of the centre backs present in Walsall’s team that season, which included the likes of Dean Smith (who managed the club for four years before signing for Brentford in 2015, where he remains at the time of writing), Stuart Ryder, and Colin Methven.
1992/1993 Turned out to be a decent season for the club, with the team recording a fifth place finish in the old Third Division (which we now know as League 2), earning a play-off berth. Although Crewe Alexandra clobbered them in the semi-finals 9 to 3 on aggregate, success would not elude the Saddlers for long, with a tenth place finish in 93/94 being followed by a second place finish in 94/95; promoted Walsall would not return to League 2 until 2006/2007, winning the league title at the first try and having been a staple of League 1 since (in remarkably less outrageous shirts).
All that remains for us today is to muse whether the MBO top was the ugliest in Saddler history, and while we are happy to leave that question to you, the readers, we just had to include the 1990/1991 Ribero effort (pictured above) in the discussion. Of note is that that particular design was used for a number of Ribero’s customers, including Carlisle who ordered a set in blue. Speaking on a personal note, we are much more partial to the 1992/1993 shirt, which was positively unique to Walsall, even if its pattern is ever so reminiscent of the dominant fashion trends of its day.
Did you know we also reviewed a more recent matchworn Walsall shirt? Do take a gander!
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