Shirt Stories: It’s Good to be Grey

With Nike’s new England kits splitting opinion between those who want to see more and those who’ve seen too much, we offer a warm “welcome back” to Wigan Athletic fan Steve Halliwell for a tribute to his all-time favourite Three Lions shirt.

Over to you Steve!

Back in 1996, Manchester United changed their grey away shirts at half-time during a 6-3 defeat to Southampton.

That “invisible” shirt has since gained notoriety and has become a collector’s item.

The same could be said for England’s own grey kit from Euro 96 after their ill-fated semi-final penalty shoot-out against Die Mannschaft.

England, Umbro, Grey, Euro '96
Umbro’s England away shirt for Euro ’96

Both kits were made by Umbro and the Three Lions’ version was hailed not so much as a genuine footballing alternative to the traditional red kit, but as a fashion accessory for the hipsters to wear with denim jeans while still being ‘one of the lads’

Remember football in general in the UK had started a renaissance after the hooligan element of the 80s and early 90s, and with Baddiel & Skinner all over the airwaves, optimism was in overload as Terry Venables’ team edged towards potential glory.

Officially indigo blue, the away shirt was only worn in public four times.

Once before Euro 96 in a 1-0 home friendly win over Bulgaria, an unofficial match winning 1-0 against a Hong Kong XI, the infamous Germany game, and finally in a 2-0 away victory over Georgia in Tbilisi in a World Cup qualifier in November of 1996.

When the shirt was released I dithered about purchasing one, changing my mind several times a day, my footballing colleagues at work, in the pub and even family laughed at the very suggestion and to buy another round instead of “wasting the cash on trash.”

The shirt in these pictures is from Sartorial.Soccer’s very own maximum security vault (OK, box in the garage)

Plus “we have never seen you in jeans anyway so what’s the point” they guffawed. It was true I never wore denim except for work in the engineering world, plus the shirt wouldn’t have been visible under my boiler suit.

As days turned into weeks towards the competition kick-off I plucked up courage and the mental reserve to go and buy said shirt and stuff the doubters.

Alas all the sports shops in & around Wigan, Preston, Bolton, Manchester, Blackburn & other North West districts had sold out. I was absolutely gutted about not handing over the cash for my unique football shirt.

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Plus the internet was nothing like what we have now, back then at best the web was only used by scientists and scholars using floppy discs, the cumbersome tower computers did start to become found in homes but you needed a dial up connection via AOL to start your surfing, a far cry from today’s technology.

However the lack of shirts in the shops proved I wasn’t on my own with the love of the ‘semi-final shirt’ as it came to be known, other mortals on this planet had a similar opinion on Umbro’s unique uniform design & colour scheme for the Three Lions.

I often mused to myself in quieter moments whether the shirt was grey to allow keeper David Seaman to turn out in the the garish garb of the red “tube of Refreshers” he wore in the same game (not a bad conspiracy theory eh?)?

Best worn with jeans?

As the tournament unfolded I expected to see five-a-side teams in the local Soccerdome filled with two tone indigo blue and the pubs awash with white, red and grey attire.

Nope not one, whoever had purchased the shirt were hiding their embarrassment and not going public, I was all alone again after feeling part of a community who I never knew or met.

As years rolled on and fake football shirts appeared in holiday hotspots abroad I rekindled my interest but none of the beach knock off shops had grey (OK, indigo blue) in their luminous collections.

The grey England away shirt was only worn four times

Eventually a half decent copy became available at a half decent price from a trusted seller on a well known auction site and I got my holy grail of material.

Mine is worn on a regular basis on my five-a-side forays and whilst I know David Bowie was a fellow fan of the shirt, to this day I have never seen anyone wearing this shirt outdoors either at home or abroad.

Are you a fan of the indigo-blue England kit and have you worn yours outside the house?

Please let us know in the comments section below!

Also, don’t forget to follow Steve on Twitter! You’ll find him @Aspulliter!

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