We live in an era where football shirts are redesigned annually. Each club appears to have about a million different shirts — home, away, third kit, special one-off anniversary issue, a shirt to thank the groundsman and the kit man, the list goes on. The definitive version of a club shirt is often derived from the days when a single design might last a decade or longer: the all white of Real Madrid, the all red of Liverpool, the red body and white trim of Manchester United, the garnet red and blue stripes of FC Barcelona. But when it comes to Barcelona there is a problem.
A hooped version was released for the 2015/16 season and it looked plain wrong. 2008/09 saw a two-halves design and 2012/13 a central garnet ‘spray paint’ affect. Following this near decade of kit designers clutching at straws in an attempt to find something new, it is a wonder any straws were left. Yet Barcelona has a tradition of shirt re-design. Unlike the majority of the world’s biggest clubs Barcelona have never actually settled on a definitive version of their shirt. The issue is the central stripe and whether it should be garnet or blue. The central stripe dictates the matching colour of the collar and cuffs. The club has flirted with both options throughout its history. For any person yearning for closure on this most essential of conundrums (there is at the very least one — me) the debate must be aired, a definitive answer sought, the docket filed away.
What should be the criteria to settle on an answer and overcome this decades-old indecision? What are the differentials? I can think of three core criteria:
- Superstition: Which option has brought with it most success on the pitch?
- Aesthetics: Do the matching collar and cuffs look more stylish in garnet or blue?
- Association: Which option do we associate with the greatest stars during the pre-modern, definitive-style-defining era — Ladislao Kubala, Luis Suárez (the 1950s version), Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona?
La Liga champions 1947/48 — blue central stripe
1950 — garnet central stripe
Ladislao Kubala 1950 (his statue stands outside the Nou Camp) — garnet central stripe
The 1951/52 ‘Five Cups’ winners (arguably Barcelona’s most successful ever season) — blue central stripe
First game at the Nou Camp, 1957 — blue central stripe
Different shirts, different stripes.
So, is there a definitive FC Barcelona shirt design? Garnet or blue central stripe? In terms of the number of years each design has been in use here are the figures:
- Blue Stripe 69
- Garnet stripe 38
- Blue/Garnet halves 15
- Hoops 1
Perhaps in true Zooligan style FC Barcelona just don’t give a shit and prefer to throw all options up in the air every season, shut their eyes, and whatever lands butter-side up that’s the stripe option for the season done.
For me, I was about to settle on a decision, a blue central stripe with matching collar and cuffs. The players I associate with the shirt in the definitive-defining era all wore this combination — Kubala, Suarez, Cruyff, Maradona. The club’s success increased greatly when they moved to a central blue stripe in the mid-1950s and it coincided with a move to their famous ground, the Nou Camp. It is also the most prevalent. But then I was sent a curve ball.
The image below — an image from the 1948/49 season shows a central blue stripe with non-synched collar and cuffs. Other than a flirtation in recent years with a yellow collar, Barcelona had at least seemingly been consistent with stripe/collar/cuff synchronisation. This new option would need to be entered into the mix and its impact carefully considered. Before taking two paracetamol and going for a long walk, I considered the possibility that the colourist who produced the image may have fudged the sometimes tricky job of interpreting the colours of black and white photos.
I decided not to trust the colourist, and was once again well on my way to filing the Barcelona shirt docket under D for Definitive, when I stumbled upon a final image. An image that for me ended the debate there and then. The shirt in this image looks simply awe inspiring — a garnet central stripe fusing seamlessly into a semi v-neck collar made of that cotton material that looks like wool. The garnet and white of the badge contrasts perfectly with the blue stripe. The colours are muted yet striking.
The definitive Barcelona shirt?
A quick look back at earlier images confirms matters. Zooligans puff out their chests, slick their hair back and let their lucky gold chain hang proudly around their necks, offset by a beautiful central garnet stripe.