Northern Ireland have had some great shirts down the years, full of variety and imagination.
Heroes like Gerry Armstrong and Pat Jennings have sewn Northern Irish fabric into football fans’ memories.
Although international tournament qualification often evades Northern Ireland, the Green & White Army have punched way above their weight. In fact, they are the least populous nation to have qualified for more than one World Cup, to have won a match and to have qualified for at least the second phase. Not bad eh?
The history of football on the island of Ireland is long and complex and for further reading, we’d heartily recommend Gunshots and Goalposts by Benjamin Roberts.
Speaking of complexity, between 1880 and 1931, competing under the name of Ireland, they played in “St Patrick’s Blue” before changing to green to avoid the constant kit clashes with Scotland (honestly, give the book a look for more!).
From George Best to Will Grigg, here’s a nostalgic tribute to Northern Ireland’s most memorable and iconic shirts, as well as some of the great characters who wore the green.
George Best’s Jersey
No tribute to Northern Irish football could ever be complete without tribute to the roguish Belfast boy who became a romantic hero and icon to fans across the globe.
It’s difficult to overstate the cultural importance of George Best to our beautiful game or to the people of Northern Ireland where he is still loved and appreciated across the community.
Best won the Ballon D’Or in 1968 and is arguably the greatest footballer never to have played at a World Cup (only Alfredo di Stéfano can rival him for that crown) and this jersey is still one of the most popular around Windsor Park.
World Cup 1982 Gerry Armstrong
In 1982, Billy Bingham’s Green & White Army qualified for their first World Cup since 1958.
Seventeen year-old Norman Whiteside became the youngest player to play at the World Cup finals before Northern Ireland traveled to Valencia to face hosts Spain at the Mestalla.
Gerry Armstrong’s name was forever immortalised in football folklore when he snatched his chance to give his side a lead they held onto for a famous victory, despite being reduced to 10 men.
Armstrong, arms aloft in the white adidas shirt with green pinstripes is the iconic memory of a Northern Irish run only ended by Michel Platini’s France in the 2nd round group stage (which effectively doubled as the Quarter Finals).
Billy Bingham’s men made their way to Mexico in 1986 for their second World Cup finals in succession.
With a diagonally striped pattern woven into the shirt, classic v-neck and 3-stripes on the sleeves; this easily ranks as the modern Northern Ireland home shirt all others are judged by.
Mexico ’86 was the first World Cup this page’s author can remember and one of my earliest heroes was the late, great QPR defender Alan McDonald.
Growing up in the 80s I thought that McDonald and his international team-mates would always be at major tournaments.
Pat Jennings and the boys drew 1-1 with Algeria, before Spain exacted revenge for 1982 and Brazil beat them 3-0 to end their World Cup dreams.
Never Worn Football Shirt Porn
A shirt that’s popular among collectors and kit connoisseurs but was never worn in an international match.
Other Northern Ireland shirts probably have greater hold on our memories than this 1990 shirt which carries much of the same DNA as classic Umbro shirts of the time in terms of cut, collar and use of individual graphic design flair.
If this was a piece of architecture, there would certainly be those calling for its demolition and those petitioning for its importance to be recognised through listed status.
Carbuncle or classic? You decide!
The mid-1990s were a special era for kit design and one of our favourite manufacturers of the time was Japanese firm Asics.
Asics brought smart clean lines and bold colours to club sides including Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and Aston Villa and their second set of shirts for the Green Army re-introduced blue to Northern Ireland’s home colours.
In our opinion, the best Northern Ireland shirts of the past 25 years have carried navy blue and having taken over the contract from Umbro, Asics’ second set of shirts represented a high point in those designs.
Their was an outcry when these shirts were launched by Adidas for France 2016 with supporters calling the shirts too “busy” and bemoaning the re-introduction of navy blue across the chest and on the sleeves.
Michael O’Neill’s men progressed through the group stage beating Ukraine in the process, before losing to Wales in the last 16 of the expanded European Championships.
Followed by a fanatical support who brought noise, colour and a huge 90s dance remix chant about a substitute striker to an international audience, we include this as much for Norn Iron’s fans as for their team’s heroics on the pitch.
What do you think of this selection of classic Northern Ireland shirts?
Are there others we should cover on Sartorial Soccer?
We were delighted when friend of Sartorial Soccer, Nigel Johnston contacted us on Facebook to suggest we post a nostalgic tribute to Northern Ireland’s most memorable shirts.
We’d be pleased to take your request!