Newcastle 1995/97 Kit: Second Best Has Never Looked So Good

Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand, the best-dressed strike force in Premier League history
Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand, the best-dressed strike force in Premier League history | Ben Radford/Getty Images

The 1990s was, in many ways, the time for football.

A heady cocktail of the continued proliferation of colour TV, the advent of worldwide broadcasting of domestic leagues and big-money international transfers, as well as a clampdown on hooliganism in the stands and a rise in the wealth of the average European fan changed the image and culture of the game at a rate never before seen.

As a result, top-flight players who still shared pints with supporters in the bar after the game were suddenly being shepherded into an era of superstardom, as the world's most popular sport started to become the richest and most commercialised.

An advert for the newly rebranded Premier League in 1992 featuring Vinnie Jones
An advert for the newly rebranded Premier League in 1992 featuring Vinnie Jones | Getty Images/Getty Images

Many books, articles, podcasts and more have been dedicated to the weird crossroads that was the 1990s in football history. However, whatever debatable progress came next in taking the beautiful game further away from the average supporter, one positive of the commercialisation boom was the kits.

Oh God, the kits.

After generations of essentially plain, unchanging shirts, the tentative design expression which began in the 70s and 80s (incidentally, the BBC and ITV only agreed to broadcast teams whose kits had sponsors after 1983) exploded into full technicolour with all the vibrancy and weirdness of an acid trip in the early 90s.

Newcastle shirts in the Adidas Factory in 1995 Wonder how many of the shirts in this photo we've had in stock Via 1892.culture (twitter) #newcastleunited

Posted by Classic Football Shirts on Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Names were also added to the backs of shirts with the advent of the Premier League, while polyester replaced cotton as the replica industry took off - with clubs everywhere bashing out fresh designs annually to capitalise on an important new revenue stream by kitting out the entire stadium, city and beyond.

German sportswear behemoth adidas were at the vanguard of football's first concentrated effort at fashion - embracing the bold, brash look that defined the last decade of the millennium.

And the best kit to come out of this groundbreaking, colourful new era was, naturally then, black and white...

Geordie icons Ant and Dec at the Newcastle kit launch with Kevin Keegan in 1995
Geordie icons Ant and Dec at the Newcastle kit launch with Kevin Keegan in 1995 | Getty Images/Getty Images

Newcastle's 1995/97 home shirt is, essentially, a perfect football kit.

Beloved upon its release, it remains near-universally adored 25 years on, topping just about every internet ranking for the best ever Premier League clobber - including Bleacher Report, the Mirror, FourFourTwo and even 90min.

The shirt, launched at St James' Park in the summer of 1995 with help from an almost foetal-looking Ant and Dec, is not loved in an ironic, jokey way, like many other kits of the age. It genuinely just looks great.

The grandad collar sits perfectly against the chunky stripes, while the written-out adidas logo is a touch of nostalgic pornography. Despite the recent shift to more breathable fabric, the shirt material also looks dense - giving a new, more literal meaning to the common footballing cliche that certain clubs' kits weigh heavy on the wearers.

David Ginola was one of many players forever associated with the kit
David Ginola was one of many players forever associated with the kit | Getty Images/Getty Images

But the kit's pièce de résistance - what elevated Keegan's team from looking like 11 particularly well-dressed boxing referees to cultural icons - is, of course, that oval stamp from Newcastle Brown Ale.

Even in the 90s few clubs had a shirt sponsor with local ties, let alone one that actually depicted the city's skyline. Newcastle Brown Ale was the city, and the logo became an extension of the club badge.

It showed - at least superficially - that sponsorship didn't have to mean selling out.

A rare UEFA Cup version of the kit in 1997 - bound by rules on promoting alcohol in France - featured a Centre Parcs sponsor instead. The overall aesthetic of the kit is simply not the same. It's not even close. It's like seeing a childhood crush with a dodgy haircut.

Peter Beardsley, Warren Barton
The lesser seen (and vastly inferior) Centre Parcs version of Newcastle's iconic kit | Mark Thompson/Getty Images

There were rumours in 2016 of talks to reinstate Brown Ale on the Magpies kits but, like much in recent years for the club, it came to nothing.

Beyond the sponsor, the collar and the width of the stripes, the kit's legacy is made untouchable - and latterly unaffordable on classic shirt sites and eBay - by those who played in it and the moments it tailored.

This is, after all, the uniform of Les Ferdinand, Peter Beardsley and Rob Lee, of the world-record £15m arrival of Alan Shearer, of David Ginola's sublime and Tino Asprilla's ridiculous, of Philippe Albert's chip, Keegan's rant and the 4-3 at Liverpool.

It is the kit of gung-ho attacking football; the kit that twice finished second in the Premier League to Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United.

It is the kit of glorious failure, in a decade as remembered for shortcomings - from Gazza's tears to Baggio's penalty and Ronaldo's pre-final mystery breakdown - as successes.

Being second-best has never looked so good, and neither has the Premier League.

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