England 1990 Third Kit: The Shirt That Helped Kickstart English Football's Redemption

Gary Lineker wearing one of the best England kits of all time
Gary Lineker wearing one of the best England kits of all time

1990 was one of those years.

Politics was changing with Thatcherism fraying at the edges in the wake of the Poll Tax riots. Music was changing with the ecstasy-fuelled Madchester scene cementing Britain's place as the dance capital of the world.

Most importantly though, football was changing.

The 1990 World Cup holds a special place in the hearts of all fans of the beautiful game and, for better or worse, it changed the sport forever. At the centre of it all was a football shirt. Not a home shirt. Not even an away shirt. But a third shirt?! A jersey that wasn't even worn by the Three Lions at the tournament.

WORLD CUP-1990-ARGENTINA-WEST GERMANY
West Germany eventually won the 1990 World Cup, also while wearing a very nice kit | STAFF/Getty Images

Yes, it sounds unbelievable and before we convince you that some stitched together nylon helped to kick start a footballing revolution in 1990, let us first give a little bit of context.

It's hard to imagine now but prior to Italia 90, football enjoyed nowhere the level of social acceptability that it does now. These days politicians boldly boast about supporting a Premier League team - or two sides if you're David Cameron - but in the past the sport was seen as taboo.

The narrative pushed by the elite was that football fans were not to be trusted. It was pursuit for dangerous, working class hooligans to be confined to decaying stadiums and cash-strapped clubs owned by white men.

English football's international reputation was also at a low ebb. A five-year ban from Europe following the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 had deprived First Division clubs of any continental appeal. The national team were similarly viewed as unsophisticated, reliant on physicality and long balls to get the job done.

So yeah, overall English football was in a pretty dire state. However, in 1990 the winds of change had started to blow.

Margaret Thatcher
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attempted to ban football fans from travelling to Italia 90' | Tim Roney/Getty Images

Although it had not disappeared completely, major incidents of hooliganism were becoming rarer and UEFA's ban on English clubs playing in European competitions had also been lifted. Then there was the makeup of the Three Lions squad. While several stalwarts of the old smash and grab style remained, the emergence of mercurial talents like John Barnes and Paul Gascoigne gave the side a much needed dose of swagger and sexiness.

The potential was there was a genuine footballing revolution. All England needed was a spark to ignite it. That spark came in the form of a football shirt which was at the centre of one the strangest but most magical football and music collaborations in human history.

There had been plenty of World Cup songs in the past but quite frankly, the majority of them were terrible. Cases in point, 1970's Back Home, 1982's This Time and 1986's We've Got the Whole World at Our Feet. In 1990, things would change courtesy of New Order, Keith Allen and of course, Barnes teaming up to produce World in Motion.

The story of the anthem is a curious one as it could have so easily not have happened. Several members of New Order have since admitted to having no interest in football and only a handful of England players decided to leave the pub and turn up to the recording session.

Just Barnes, Gascoigne, Des Walker, Peter Beardsley, Steve McMahon and Chris Waddle were featured on the track and upon arrival they were shocked to discover that they would be recording with one of the biggest bands in the world at the time.

After laying down their vocals, New Order told the players that they wanted someone to rap. Barnes beat off stiff competition from the Walker and Gascoigne to earn the right to spit the bars that have gone to become England's unofficial national anthem.

Then came the video - that glorious video. Facing considerable competition, the third kit that was proudly adjourned by New Order lead vocalist Bernard Sumner, stole the show. A pop star wearing an England shirt was an entirely new concept and it played a key role in accelerating the sport's integration into pop culture.

However, things would not have gone anywhere near as well if the shirt wasn't an absolute beauty. The diamond inspired, powder blue design did not look out of place among the wavy garms present on the Hacienda dance floor and it continues to be a favourite of music festival goers and football fans alike to this day.

Add to that the mod-inspired colour and subtle sleeve detailing and Umbro were on to a winner that will set you back many hundreds of pounds to get your hands on these days. A quintessentially English kit and celebration of an island-nation finding its cultural feet after a decade of Thatcherism imposed drought.

While its stunning design and Sumner's cool factor played a role in crafting the shirt's legend, England's performances in the tournament itself cemented its place in history. Despite being panned by the press before the tournament, a string of encouraging performances saw Bobby Robson's side navigate their way to the semi finals.

It was on that night, in front of a television audience of 25.2m - many of whom would have been wearing that third shirt - the English football's redemption would be complete.

West Germany took a second half lead through Andreas Brehme before England equalised to send the game to extra time through Gary Lineker.

Paul Gascoigne
Paul Gascoigne cries at the end of the semi final against West Germany | Inpho Photography/Getty Images

During this additional period, Gazza received a yellow for a typically overexabarent tackle. The caution would keep him out of the final if England got there and he struggled to contain his emotions in the immediately aftermath, sobbing on the pitch. There would be further tears when, despite having some great chances, the Three Lions were defeated on penalties.

Paradoxically, the defeat was one of the best things to ever happen to English football.

To understand why the game had such an influence, you have to put yourself in the shoes of one of the many people watching football for the first time that evening. Prior to the game, they would have been inundated with the narrative that football was the sport of hooligans and not suitable for anyone with more understated sensibilities.

The semi final challenged these notions. This was sport as nail biting entertainment. Heartbreaking soap opera with Gazza acting as the sympathetic, vulnerable protagonist and Gary Lineker the salt of the earth concerned father. It made non-football fans understand the beautiful game's timeless appeal.

Vinnie Jones
Vinnie Jones helping to advertise the newly formed Premier League in 1992 | Getty Images/Getty Images

The influence this played in softening football's image in the eyes of the masses cannot be overstated.

Football's redemption and new found coolness helped several English players secure moves to the cash rich Serie A and also convinced First Division clubs to build a league of their own to challenge the Italian's hegemony for top class talent. Thus, in 1992 the Premier League was born.

The process of English football's resurgence proceeded over the following decades and the many people who have profited big bucks from the game's explosion owe a great deal to Umbro. Without that memorable third shirt, things may have been very different.