Crap or Classic? Abstract Australia by KingRoo

Here’s a kit that legend has it was so bad that opposition players refused to swap shirts with the Socceroos in the early 1990s. 

Since then, this abstract Australia kit has acquired a cult status with football shirt enthusiasts across the globe.

Appreciation for art doesn’t always arrive in an artist’s lifetime.

Think of the romantic ideal of the tortured, penniless painter who only finds success and acclaim long after his death, and you may come to understand a little of the sadly defunct Australian sportswear firm KingRoo.

With their wild, unruly brush strokes, some might say these early 1990s expressionist kits are not worthy of a place in the pantheon of great football shirts, but we’re a wide church here at Sartorial.Soccer.

When we playfully call a kit “crap” it shouldn’t necessarily infer that the shirt in question should be burned or that we hate the kit, just that the design is more of an acquired taste.

“SPEW SHIRTS”

The thing about art is that it represents different things to different sets of eyes and KingRoo’s kits have acquired the unenviable nickname of the “spew shirts” among Socceroos fans. 

Australia, Socceroos, spew shirt, KingRoo
The so-called Socceroos “spew shirt” by KingRoo

Before the internet, international shirts did not get anywhere near the same attention as they do today outside of the main leagues and World Cup cycles, so this kit came to the attention of a wider audience following a game against England in 1991.

The English FA agreed to a close-season tour of Oceania with games against the Socceroos, a double-header with New Zealand and a friendly versus Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

An unconvincing England limped to a 1-0 win over Australia in Sydney thanks to an own-goal from an unfortunate Ian Gray, and the tabloids back home were not happy with Graham Taylor’s side’s lacklustre performance against the relative minnows.

Those newspapers carried pictures of Gary Lineker, David Platt, Stuart Pearce & Co in a resplendent all-white version of the Umbro Italia ’90 kit but what really caught the eye was the shirts of the Socceroos.

What the actual f*ck were they wearing?

The abstract Australia kit was worn by a host of well-known Socceroos between 1990 and 1993 including former Rangers and Middlesborough man Tony Vidmar, Blackburn Rovers’ title winning midfielder Robbie Slater, and Ned Zelic, the man once described by then QPR manager Ray Wilkins as being as “versatile as an egg.”

Robbie Slater, Socceroos, Spew Kit
 Robbie Slater in the “spew kit”

Whilst the Socceroos have qualified for each of the last 4 World Cups and won the 2015 Asia Cup, the spew kit coincided with a period when the national team were on the periphery of world football.

Perhaps the greatest footballing memory of the kits came when Ned Zelic’s sensational goal against Holland sealed qualification for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, where the Olyroos would narrowly miss out on a Bronze medal at the Camp Nou.

Each of the so-called “spew shirts” was slightly different as KingRoo were unable to regulate the printed pattern across a range of sizes. The shirt was also a template which saw kits produced for Australian clubs in a range of colour schemes.

As outlandish and daring as this iconic impressionist kit was, leaked images of Australia’s kit for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup hint towards the Matildas wearing a set of shirts carrying more than a little of KingRoo’s DNA.

Great art has the ability to shock and inspire in equal measure, and love them or loathe them, those abstract Australia shirts are now appreciated by many football kit connoisseurs as one of the defining works of the era.

What do you think of the Socceroos’ spew shirt and the Matildas’ update of the look for this year’s Women’s World Cup?

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