To mark the start of the 2015 Six Nations Championships, I thought I would post this guest post that I wrote for my friend Karl’s blog, The Sports Waffle.
Karl is Dublin based Sports Marketer, having worked with some of the biggest sports properties in Ireland, such as the Football Association of Ireland, and Irish Hockey. Karl is also a UEFA qualified football coach and has worked within Women’s Football in Ireland, both at club and national level.
Karl’s blog features lots of in depth analysis of sports such as American Football, Soccer & Hockey, as well as sports coaching in general, and sports marketing, all presented in a very readable, witty manner.
Rugby union is a sport that prides itself on its traditional morals and values. Rugby is known for sportsmanship, humility and respect. This heritage & tradition could be seen in the kits, with players up until as recently as the turn of the millennium wearing heavy, baggy cotton, long-sleeve shirts that had changed very little from the shirts worn by the founding fathers of the game in the nineteenth century.
In 1995, rugby union became a professional sport, and with this change, the image of the game began to change too. One of the most noticeable changes was to the kits that players wore. Initially they gained corporate sponsors, plastered across the front, then in the early ‘noughties’ shirts began to get tighter, in order to avoid them being grabbed by an opposition player. To coincide with the tighter shirts, new man-made fabrics were introduced, which were lighter to wear, and kept players cool by wicking sweat away from the body. Another advantage was that they didn’t absorb moisture in the same way as cotton. Rugby is a sport played mainly during the winter, in the northern hemisphere, and a cotton shirt that has absorbed water can weigh around 6 to 8lbs, which the player then has to carry around.
As shirt design has moved forward from a sporting and technological standpoint, so to it has progressed in terms of visual aesthetics. The dependable stalwarts of block colours, stripes & hoops gave way to ever more elaborate patterns and psychedelic colour schemes. It has to be said that I am somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to rugby generally, as well as shirt design, and I can’t help thinking that as the shirts get wilder and less traditional, the conduct of players and the values inherent in the game get eroded. Only since the introduction of the modern style shirts have we seen blatant cheating in the game, players emulating footballers by pretending to be injured when they are not, and flamboyant try-scoring celebrations.
I have therefore decided to name and shame some of the worst offenders, with a comprehensive countdown of the ugliest shirts, ever to take to a rugby field. The rules that I have subjected my decisions to are as follows:
- Shirts can be either of national teams, or professional clubs
- Shirts can only be from teams playing rugby union
- Only one shirt from each nation/club allowed
With those caveats, I humbly submit to you, the Top Ten Ugliest Rugby Shirts.
- Argentina – Sevens (2014)
Kicking off the countdown, it’s the latest offering from Argentina’s sevens team. As rugby sevens has become more popular recently, and with its impending inclusion in the 2016 summer Olympics, the sport has tried to carve out its own separate image, with many clubs & countries commissioning different shirt designs for their sevens teams.
Los Pumas would usually play in sky blue and white, the colours of the Argentinian flag, however kit designers Nike chose a different inspiration when it came to this year’s sevens kit. The Ceibo tree is the national tree of Argentina, which blooms in the summer months, when sevens rugby is traditionally played, with pinkish-red flowers. Pinkish-red was clearly deemed too tame, and a Day-Glo shade was chosen. Surely Dyno-Rod has missed a trick here by not sponsoring this shirt, but then again, they may be planning another lawsuit over the use of their trademarked colour.
I have placed this shirt in the number ten spot because the overall ‘design’ of the shirt isn’t bad, I just have a problem with the colour. I know the ‘90s are making a comeback, but Day-Glo deserves to stay consigned to the history books.
- Canada – Away (1995)
While the 1995 Rugby World Cup may be remembered for being the first major sporting event to be held in South Africa since the end of apartheid, for Canadians of a certain age, it will be remembered because their embarrassment at not scoring a single point against the hosts during their group game, was increased exponentially by the fact that they had to play wearing this monstrosity.
As the oldest shirt in our countdown, it is the only one to be made from cotton, rather than figure-hugging, sweat-wicking, synthetic materials. While it may seem tame by modern standards, particularly compared to some of the other shirts on this countdown, it was quite unpalatable back in 1995. You have to remember that rugby union was still an ‘amateur’ sport in those days. While most of the top tier nations ran out at RWC ’95 in simple, traditional shirts, usually consisting on one solid colour, and a secondary colour for the collar, Canada opted for an array of multi-coloured maple leafs across one side of the shirt.
On the red ‘home’ shirt the maple leaves were a little less noticeable, but on the white ‘away’ shirt, they were an assault on the eyes you might only expect if Andy Warhol designed a rugby shirt. This shirt was easily the ugliest shirt at RWC ’95, and with the advent of professionalism in rugby union less than three months after Canada’s exit from the competition, it was arguably the beginning of the end for international rugby shirt design.
- Leicester Tigers – Away (2012/13)
The Tigers are a team with a proud history, hailing from rugby’s historic heartlands in the East Midlands. Their shirts reflect this, usually opting for hooped shirt designs of some sort, using their club colours of green, red and white. In recent years however, with clubs relying on shirt sales to boost their ever increasing budgets, shirt designers have been tasked with making clubs’ shirts noticeably different each year, in order to encourage people to buy the latest shirt.
With this in mind, the guys at Canterbury put their best minds on the job. Unfortunately their creative brainstorming session only got as far as “They’re called the tigers… tigers have stripes… why don’t we put tiger stripes on the shirt?” In the club’s traditional ‘home’ colours, the shirt was almost passable, but the ‘away’ shirt, using blue, aquamarine and black stripes, looked like something you might wear to go scuba diving, particularly with modern shirts being so tight. This was a rare mistake for a team that can usually be relied upon to produce pretty solid shirt designs.
- Blue Bulls – Away (2014)
Yet another piece of lazy shirt design comes courtesy of South African outfit, the Bulls. After just failing to make it to the Super Rugby league final last season, kit designers Puma decided to give the Bulls an extra advantage when playing those tricky away matches. This kit would allow Bulls players to blend seamlessly into their surroundings, making them nearly undetectable to opposition players.
The only situations where camouflage is acceptable as clothing, is if you are actually in the armed forces, you are playing paintball, or you are at a rave in the early ‘90s. Outside of those three options, it is wholly unacceptable for casual wear, and certainly not acceptable for sports kit. The ‘home’ shirt was less offensive, with the camouflage being made up of a variety of shades of blue, but the Bulls have previous form for bad kit design, with their 2013 kit being responsible for at least a dozen epileptic seizures in Pretoria alone.
- Calvisano – Home (2006/07)
At number six, it is a shirt from probably the least well known team on the list. Calvisano are an Italian team playing in the grandly titled National Championship of Excellence, the highest tier of the national rugby union competition in Italy. In the early noughties, before any Italian teams had been inducted into the Pro12 League, then known as the Celtic League, Calvisano had a reasonably successful run, qualifying for the Heineken Cup six seasons in a row. At that time rugby was struggling to compete with soccer in Italy, in terms of funding. So Calvisano decided to take advantage of their relative success & European TV exposure, by packing as many sponsors as possible onto their shirts.
Even today the Calvisano shirts still have a higher-than-average number of sponsors on them, despite their recent lack of European rugby, and I suppose you can’t really blame them. Keeping your club competitive, by drawing in decent players on the miniscule budgets available to ‘second tier’ clubs is a challenge. However, their shirt from the 2006/07 season has earned its place in our countdown, not only for the bare-faced commercialism, but also for the combination of colours and Italian logos, that have left it looking more like a jersey of a Tour-de-France cyclist, than a rugby player.
- Perpignan – Third (2010/11)
The first French club on our countdown sneaks into the top five with this visual violation. Perpignan are based in the Catalan region of Southern France, and as such their traditional ‘away’ kit is red and yellow, like the Catalan flag, whereas their ‘home’ kit is blue and white. The shirt here though is part of a recent phenomenon of clubs producing a third shirt, for use in European competitions like the Heineken Cup or the European Challenge Cup. This is yet another way for clubs to increase revenues by selling more shirts, and the onus is on shirt designers to make them distinctive enough that fans will buy them even if they have the ‘home’ & ‘away’ shirts already.
Kit manufacturing minnows Errea, certainly made Perpignan’s third shirt distinctive, but whether anyone would buy it is a different matter. They have amalgamated the colours of both the ‘home’ & ‘away’ shirts into this monstrosity, that I can only presume is inspired by the flamboyant Mediterranean ceramic tiles of the region, or maybe I am giving Errea too much credit. Unfortunately instead of conjuring up images of Catalonian seafront villas, this shirt simply makes the players look like court jesters.
- Ospreys – Training (2011)
Since the late ‘noughties’, Welsh region Ospreys have sought to combat the rather dismal fact that they play their rugby in “Britain’s wettest city”, by taking to the pitch in an array of bright and bewildering shirts. There was the orange ‘away’ shirt in 2008/09 that featured an abstract flock of Ospreys taking flight, the black shirt that featured a bold flash of pink stripes across the front, and the shirt from 2010/11 that featured numerous starbursts. But those shirts pale into insignificance when measured against the shirt in fourth place on our countdown.
I have a slight admission to make; this isn’t a shirt that was worn for competitive games, it is a training shirt, and as such, was worn for training sessions, and pre-match warm-ups. However, as it was worn on the pitch by Ospreys players, in front of fee-paying fans, and sold to unwitting supporters, I do feel that its inclusion is justified for that reason, let alone its overwhelming unsightliness. Much like ‘away’ shirts, and ‘third’ shirts, training shirts are an arena where designers can flex their creative muscles, think outside the box and be a little bit daring. The designer responsible for this monstrosity obviously went to all his art history lectures, and decided to distil his vast knowledge of 20th century art into this masterpiece. The palette and intersecting lines are clearly homage to Mondrian’s neoplasticism, while the influence of Kandinsky and even Matisse’s later works are also evident. Or perhaps they just let their infant child design it.
- England Sevens – Alternate (2013/14)
The second rugby sevens shirt in this countdown, which could if truth be told, have been entirely populated by sevens shirts. I tried to keep the majority of the list populated by shirts from the more well-known fifteen man code, but I just could not write a countdown of ugly rugby shirts without including this psychedelic nightmare.
The ‘home’ shirt is slightly more respectable, with red and green triangles against a white background, although it does somewhat resemble the world map on the HSBC advert. The ‘alternate’ shirt on the other hand is such an affront to the eyes, even Jorge Campos would consider it too offensive to wear. It resembles the sort of interference you used to get on old analogue televisions, or those magic eye pictures that tormented people throughout the 1990s. In fact, if you stare hard enough at this shirt, you can almost make out the anguished face of the designer, who was driven mad by exposure to the pattern.
As if the pattern on the shirt wasn’t enough to consign this shirt to the number three spot on this countdown, and believe me it is, the colour scheme on the shoulders and sleeves is the icing on an already incredibly unappetising cake. If it had just been black, it probably would have helped tone down the otherwise garish shirt, but the addition of the yellow collar and sleeve cuffs makes the top section of the shirt resemble a not unjustified hazard warning sign, for the pattern below.
- Edinburgh – Third (2009/10)
Just missing out on the top spot is this offering from the Scottish capital. As mentioned previously, many teams are now producing ‘third’ kits, for use in European competitions, but Edinburgh have not been hugely successful in Europe of late, having only progressed past the pool stages of the Heineken Cup once in the last ten seasons. Their solution was to start producing a special edition ‘third’ shirt for their 1872 Cup matches; rugby union’s “oldest derby fixture” between Edinburgh and Glasgow. This cup is contested by the only Scottish teams in the Pro12 League, on their home & away fixtures, each season. Unfortunately the shirt didn’t bring them much luck on the field, as Edinburgh lost both their ‘home’ and ‘away’ fixtures against Glasgow that season.
The shirt itself is made up of large multi-coloured versions of the Edinburgh Rugby logo, overlapping in a haphazard manner. The ‘pop art’ influence is clear to see, with the repetition of a logo in a colour palette of neon pink, yellow and blue that clashes badly. Not only is this shirt visually offensive, but it seems to be trying a bit too hard. The designers have obviously tried to design a controversial shirt that will receive press coverage for the club, and maybe boost attendance at Edinburgh games. Perhaps, rather than relying on gimmicks like this, Edinburgh should focus on improving the quality of rugby that they play, as that is the only sure-fire way to improve match-day attendance. Unfortunately they didn’t learn from their mistake, and put out another ugly shirt for their 1872 Cup matches the following year. This time it featured a multi-coloured camouflage pattern that resembled the contents of an extremely groovy lava lamp.
- Stade Francais – Third (2011/12)
The number one spot goes to this monumental affront to taste and decency from Parisian powerhouses, Stade Francais. Anyone who is familiar with European rugby will not be surprised that it is a Stade Francais shirt that has topped this chart. In fact, if I had not restricted myself to only one shirt from any club or nation, Stade Francais would probably have dominated the entire top ten. The club has a chequered history of crimes against fashion, ever since club president and media mogul Max Guazzini began to use his influence to change the image of the club. In 2005, Guazzini changed the club’s colours from red, white & blue, the colours of the French tricolour, to dark blue and pink.
The introduction of the least used colour in sporting attire, opened the floodgates of fashion, and all notions of taste and decency were washed away by the fuchsia tsunami. Some notable Stade Francais shirts that just missed out on inclusion in the countdown, but deserve a special mention include the beige ‘home’ shirt adorned with pink lilies, the pink, blue & green tie-dye effort, and the Warhol-esque shirt featuring multi-coloured portraits of King Louis VIII’s wife. The winner however, is much simpler than those shirts, but its directness is the reason for its offensiveness. The combination of one of the tackiest patterns in fashion, with the campest colour in existence, makes for a shirt so ugly that even Keith Lemon would consider it gaudy. The only saving grace for Stade Francais players, who have to wear these abominations, is that most of them are so tall and muscular that few opposition fans would have the guts to insult them to their face.
I am sure that many of you will have opinions about the shirts included in this countdown, and I know there are plenty of ugly shirts out there that didn’t quite make the cut, so get involved and give us your opinion using the comments section below.