‘Tis the season to be merry! Christmas is knocking at the door, with much of the world set to celebrate this old December tradition with presents, copious amounts of food, and families being reunited for a few days of festive fun! Unfortunately, here at Club 25 ’tis the season to be confused as we are tackling a shirt that represents neither a club nor a country. Join us as we take a look at…. the Football League XI?
We’ve had a wonderful calendar year here on the site, with shirts ranging from beautiful to a bit dull to downright bizarre, and this latest shirt is certain to bring 2018 to a close in style. Pardon the white Christmas joke, but wearing this top to the family dinner is probably your best bet in evoking a blizzard. Of course, you’ll also spoil any group photos made that evening but then that is an integral part of the full Christmas experience (Christmas sweaters are a thing, after all).
All joking aside, we have to be honest with our readers; this is the first time we have no idea where to begin with a shirt! Snagging it off eBay for a tenner a few months back was the first time we learnt of there having ever been such a thing as a ‘Football League XI’. The concept of a representative side consisting of a league’s best players is hardly an alien one; indeed, teams of this kind have annual outings in North America (MLS All-Stars), Australia (A-League All-Stars), Hong Kong (Lunar New Year Cup), and Singapore (Sultan of Selangor Cup). Still, the fact that the Football League had such a representative side was news to us.
We’ll forgive ourselves for the ignorance on this particular topic, as the Football League XI is a distant memory of a bygone age. A bit like the photograph above, of the 1910 XI. We would have most certainly preferred to show you a picture of the 1992 side, who wore our shirt during a tour through Italy in 1992, but we are talking about such levels of obscurity that no pictures of the team exist on the internet today (or at least not to our knowledge).
The Football League XI dates back much further than ye olde photograph above, to 1892 to be exact. The eponymous organization, founded four years prior, devised the XI as a way to square off against similar teams from other Associations in an age where international matches on club level were non-existent outside of the odd Scottish team making waves in the English FA Cup (like Queen’s Park FC did on occasion). Where the early international matches (England v. Scotland) are well-documented, no such honour befalls the XI, which was of second importance to the national sides. Indeed, forming just once a year, this ‘supranational’ side, if you will, mostly played in exhibition matches of which most came against the Scots, a decent few against other Home Nations, a handful against an Italian Serie A all-star side, and one high profile match against the ‘Rest of the World XI’ captained by Maradonna.
Beating the Rest of the World team in 1988 at Wembley, as a celebration of the Football League’s centenary, was perhaps the last hurrah for the XI; it had been increasingly starved of attention at that point as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and European Cup (precursor of the Champions League) were slowly reaching critical mass in terms of popularity ever since their start in the 50’s. In fact, 1992 was probably the season the Football League XI truly ‘died’; the 1992/1993 season firstly fractured the Football League itself, with the Premier League breaking away and leaving the EFL to form the second through fourth tiers, and secondly saw the birth/rebranding of the European Cup to become the Champions League. TV money poured into both of these ‘new’ competitions, and the face of European football was changed forever (for better or worse).
Who made up the 1992 side? What sides did they play in Italy? What were the scorelines for their matches? We’d love to know, honestly, but it seems that decades of apathy towards this particular bit of football history have won out against the collective efforts of internet historians. We could only find records of the 1991 XI, which included the likes of Lee Nixon, Ian Rush, and David Seaman; they faced a Serie A XI featuring Lotthar Matthäus, Marco van Basten, Diego Simeone, and Paolo di Canio. For readers inclined to a more visual experience, match highlights can be found right here.
All we know for sure is that, at the peak of the early 90’s acid-and-crack-cocaine-inspired-patterns craze, the Football League’s best players looked the part in this absolute monstrosity of a kit.
For once, we’re happy to see a reasonably unprinted back as this gives a good view of the pattern, which combines two major components to form what can best be described as a particularly trippy Rorschach test.
Even without seeing the red patches on the sleeves and the supplier’s logo on the front, you could easily hazard a guess as to which brand made this shirt without fear of missing the mark. Good ol’ hummel, who have featured heavily on Club 25 recently, have been a little less obsessed with their trademark chevrons in recent times, but really went all out with this one by including them in a thick, scratchy gray up and down the shirt. That same gray is then applied to what we’ve coined as ‘flowers’ – the oval shapes that sit between the chevrons on both the horizontal and vertical planes.
We say vertical, as you could consider this top to be striped rather than a horrific whirlpool of abstract shapes (as seen on other shirts of the time such as those worn in Norwich, Wolverhampton, and Walsall). As one can note, the thick gray chevrons and flowers repeat themselves from top to bottom (or bottom to top), betrayed by the latter shapes shyly popping out at the shoulders in the same vertical lane as they appear in lower on the shirt. Following this observation, one can discern 7 individual stripes across the front, and 7 across the back. Not quite the uncontrollable blizzard of a pattern it would appear as upon first seeing it, then.
Flipping the shirt back to the front again, we find a very, very nice rendition of the Football League’s crest in a coarse material. The sight of this should excite any collector of matchworn shirts as this logo is the first thing you look for on a shirt from the early 90’s, as it was applied to the shoulders of shirts up and down the league as embroidery (as seen on our old Walsall top).
Besides being a telltale sign of having struck shirt-gold when finding this as a patch on a top, the logo (or crest as it is used here) is beautiful in its own right; a Telstar-styled ball sat inside a circular representation of the Union Jack (wouldn’t St. George’s Cross be more apt?) with the lion passant on top.
On the opposite chest, we find hummel’s retro logo, with the old bumblebee that is so sorely missed on many modern shirts made by the Danes. 1992 (or more specifically, 1992/1993) was the final season in which this member of the genus Bombus (a fancy way of saying ‘bumblebee’) appeared on most hummel shirts, being conspicuously absent from tops in the following seasons. This, of course, excludes those shirts that were retained for 1993/1994.
Whether they liked it or not, the original incarnation of Airdrieonians more or less shared this design with the Football League XI, albeit only in terms of the pattern. This Scottish shirt, with sewn-in chevron on the front and back, ended up much more fondly remembered than its English cousin by virtue of being worn in the 1992 Scottish Cup Final, in which Airdrieonians were beaten by Glasgow Rangers. Because the Glaswegians had already qualified for Europe through the league standings, Airdrieonians played their only European matches ever the following season, against Sparta Prague with these shirts being worn once more.
Back to our shirt, and back down to the South of the British isles as we find the tag inside the collar to bear that magic phrase we almost never see anymore; ‘Made in England’. A button-up collar, with that familiar stretchy fabric commonly found in shirts of the time, rounds off the ensemble. If your favourite club was kitted out by hummel back in the early 90’s, this collar will be very familiar as it was shared between a fair few teams throughout the league system.
One such team to wear hummel back then was Watford, who wore the famed Danish Dynamite design (popularized by the Danish national team at Euro ’92) between 1993 and 1995. We happen to own that shirt, and although it has yet to receive an article of its own on the site, we are quite happy for it to make a cameo here to provide contrast to the Football League XI shirt.
Shadow texturing is notoriously difficult to catch on camera, but it appears ever so faintly here; the XI shirt features downward pointed chevrons where on Watford’s top they are accompanied by a wavy pattern. From a design standpoint, this reflects the shift from overt complexity (the ridiculous patterns) to a more subtle approach (even crazier patterns, but incorporated in a less obvious way) that took place around 1993 as technical suppliers decided to drop the more outrageous design philosophies of the age without fully giving up on intricate details.
Happy to see the back of this shirt? Happy to see the back of Club 25, perhaps? After all, this is our final article for 2018 – the first full calendar year of the site being live.
Without spoiling too much, it’s been a year of ups and downs that, on the whole, can be seen as a great success. A rougly 150% increase on pageviews despite fewer articles being posted, with numerous articles being featured by actual football clubs and a partnership with Berwick Rangers of the Scottish League 2. A full review of the year, along with more accurate statistics, will be posted on our Twitter page soon.
For now though, we leave you with the promise that we are fully intent on making 2019 an even more amazing year! Articles will be of higher quality as we gain more experience, photography will hopefully be better, and the quality and quantity of shirts should increase compared to 2018. In concrete terms, we have no fewer than three Poppy shirts, a brand spanking new national team shirt (a category we fully passed by this past year), a trip to Mauritius, an overhaul of our horrible Shirt Archive (by far the worst part of the site at the moment), and hopefully plenty more lined up for your continued enjoyment. Curious about the first article of 2019 already? Without giving too much away, it will be about a club that’s been featured before, and we are hoping to turn it into a bit of an annual tradition!
As a final thought, thank you for your amazing patronage and support this year. It means the world to Club 25, to us, and to me as Editor-in-Chief. This site would not exist without our readers, who make this labour of love worth every second that is poured into it. We wish you a very happy and healthy 2019, and we can’t wait to see you again!
Everyone involved with Club 25 Football.