Since Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A started ripping off Irish goalkeeper Packie Bonner’s fashion style circa 1994 and Noel Gallagher rocked Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona jersey on stage at the Nou Camp, the humble football shirt has finally achieved some resemblance of fashionable credence. This has become evident in recent years with works, specifically that of Russian fashion designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, being directly inspired by 80s and 90s football apparel. As such, we have seen the emergence of a renewed interest in retro and vintage football shirts, with sites like Classic Football Jerseys and Copa Football selling thousands of jerseys every year to anyone, from the casual fan to the football shirt nerd (a category to which myself and Ciaran would belong). Remarkably, you no longer look like a chav wearing a football jersey out on a Friday night.
With recent exhibitions raising classic football shirt design to the level of an art-form, where shirts such as the 1986 Denmark and 1998 Mexico are revered as masterpieces, what has often been ignored or omitted – save for the DDR and USSR shirts of the 60s and 70s – is the amazing amount of iconic kits that have come out of Eastern Europe. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the post-socialist era has been a far less successful period football-wise for the Eastern bloc nations that no football jerseys have built much of a cult following, but it hardly means that there isn’t some classics. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best football jerseys over the years from the region for you to enjoy. Check them out!
The last ever shirt to be worn by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1992) was a stone-cold classic. This unique, lightning-bolt style Adidas number was used at Italia 90 and during the ill-fated Euro 92 qualifiers, in which Yugoslavia, due to the civil war that had broken out in the country, were thrown out of the tournament shortly before it was due to commence. Cast adrift by Uefa and Fifa for over 2 years, Yugoslavia wouldn’t play again until 23 December 1994, when they dropped the ‘Socialist’ part, along with the cool ‘six torches’ crest.
Another ‘last ever shirt’, the uniform worn by the Soviet national team prior to the dissolution of the USSR saw Adidas dispense with the iconic ‘CCCP’ block letters on the chest that had been a feature for decades, deciding instead to go a bit avant-garde. Paying homage to El Lissitzky’s painting ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ and the Soviet passion for chess, it’s another unique and brilliant design. Worn during qualification for Euro 92, the unified post-Soviet team subsequently played under the title of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) for the championship finals in Sweden, before going their separate ways.
Another Adidas offering, the Belarus home (white) and away (black) shirts for 2016-2017 are notable for the traditional Belarusian design on the chest band. This feature came as a result of the Belarusian football association’s desire to “look at various ways of establishing links with our literary heritage and cultural traditions”, which also included changing the national team’s nickname to the ‘White Wings’, after The Land Beneath White Wings by Belarusian writer Uladzimir Karatkevich. The kit is also notable for the absence of any green, which has been a feature of the national team’s kit since playing their first game in 1992.
Georgia, boasting the likes of Temuri Ketsbaia and Giorgi Kinkladze, looked like being a formidable force when they participated in their first qualification campaign as an independent nation in 1994. Despite some notable results, including a 5-0 trashing of Wales in Tbilisi, they were dogged by inconsistency and were unable to overcome Bulgaria or Germany to reach Euro 96. The white Adidas template shirt that the side wore, featuring the colours of the original, post-Soviet Georgian flag, was, like the political situation in the country at the time, harsh yet memorable.
Zenit St Petersburg (2011-2012)
Zenit may be a club that is supported by a number of racist shits and backed by a scummy, corrupt gas giant (Gazprom), but they’ve tended to have some great jerseys down through the years. The Nike-manufactured home shirt for the 2011/12 season was eye-catching for the subtle ‘windmill blade’ style motif and the Cyrillic lettering to the sponsor.
Lotto rarely dip in standard when it comes to football shirts and they created a classic with the red and white chequered shirts worn by the Croatian national team for their first ever qualification campaign, Euro 96. The quality of shirt, uncomplicated yet striking, did justice to the legends that represented the Vatreni, as Boban, Boksic and Suker helped their country to the quarter finals in England.
Dinamo Tbilisi (2013-2014)
The legendary Georgian club’s 2013/14 home shirt was beautiful in its simplicity; darker than the usual shade of blue and untainted by a sponsor, having shed Ukrainian bank PrivatBank from the previous season. The iconic ‘D’ club crest was topped by a star commemorating the club’s Cup Winner’s Cup triumph in 1981 and saw the modern incarnation retain the Georgian league title.
Czechoslovakia’s shirt at the Italia 90 World Cup was a pixelated, Nintendo-esque stunner, once more by Adidas (as was the case with most of the shirts at that tournament!). As with many of the national sides representing former socialist states around the late 80s and early 90s, the crest was an issue: the Velvet Revolution had taken place the previous year and the old communist badge that the national side had worn for decades was replaced by the nation’s flag.
Kazakhstan have been pretty mediocre since joining Uefa from the Asian Football Confederation in 2002, regularly finishing bottom of their qualification group and being on the receiving end of some hidings. The yellow ‘V’ on their current home shirt, worn for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, may be an attempt to subliminally inspire some more victories. Either way, it is a tidy jersey by Adidas, utilizing the bright colours of the Kazakh flag to great effect.
Slovenia have always been kitted out nicely in white and dark green, be it with Adidas, Kappa or Uhlsport. However, the shirt worn at the 2010 World Cup Finals, produced by Nike, was understated yet beautiful; the mountain motif across the chest a great feature.