In the minds of many, contemporary football kits just aren’t what they used to be. Often baggy, homely, experimental, and cherished as a result, they just don’t make them like they used to.
For that reason and more, award-winning illustrator, Leicester native and classic kit lover Will Wright opted to draw inspiration from a bygone era of kit designs for his illustrated series simply named Classic Shirts. Will recently chatted with These Football Times to give the lowdown on how his series came about and what he believes makes the oldies so special.
What inspired you to illustrate a series of classic kits?
“The classic shirts started as a personal project, just a bit of fun, beginning with looking at shirts that I remembered from when I was younger, especially those of my team, Leicester City. After illustrating a few Leicester shirts and posting them online, people began requesting that I illustrate their favourite team’s shirts.
“Once I had built a collection I was asked by Patterns of Play to sell them online. This led to being asked to illustrate the cover for the Norwich City match day programme.”
With no modern designs in sight, do you feel kits of yesteryear have a certain something that more contemporary kits lack and, if so, what is that?
“I think older kits were just a lot braver, using more vibrant patterns and colours. Having said that, I think this style of shirt is making a comeback, made evident in the designs of Nigeria, Germany and Spain’s World Cup kits, where designers have quite clearly taken inspiration from past patterns.
“The shape of shirts were different as well. Past shirts were baggy with big sleeves and heavy collars. Present day shirts are very slim fitting in comparison. Yesteryear shirts are sentimental to many fans as they hold memories, whether it’s memorable matches, trophies or players, and for that reason, fans relate to classic shirts.
“My first shirt was the Leicester City 1996/97 home shirt and it was massive! Way too big for me, with huge sleeves, but I loved it. This was the first shirt I illustrated as well. As I mentioned previously, this shirt was especially memorable for me as we won the Coca-Cola Cup that year.”
Could you tell us a little about the process behind making your pieces for the project and how you choose which strip or which year to borrow from to represent each team?
“The shirts were selected as personal favourites of mine and by fans from different teams. Some of the selections were no-brainers, like the Manchester United 1998/99 shirt when they famously won the treble or the Arsenal ‘91 away zig-zag pattern shirt. Once I have selected the desired shirt, I draw it out as one piece then manually separate each colour into different layers; a similar process to screen printing. This is then scanned into the computer and assembled.”
Was it liberating or daunting to run with an overarching style across many different pieces?
“The style I used on this project is the same style I would with any illustration, utilising the same layered process. It was interesting taking my style and using it on football shirts, something I had never illustrated before, as some of the shirts were quite complex and intricately detailed, which is somewhat different to my usual style and consequently presented a unique challenge.”
Almost all of the teams chosen for your classic shirts series were from England. Are you tempted to continue the series to include other countries? Maybe something World Cup-related that features classic kits harking back to the storied histories of many of the tournament’s participants?
“With the World Cup just finished, it will be great to do some international kits, especially when thinking of all the memorable moments they would bring. I would also love to explore the kits from leagues in many other countries.
“I went to the Fabric of Football x Classic Football shirts exhibition in London recently and saw some truly amazing shirts from an array of Italian and Spanish teams. There is such a rich history within the world of football shirts and there’s always room to explore more.”
Do you have any other projects that fans of this series would enjoy finding?
“As well as various other football-inspired series, I also have some past projects on trainers and music that fans may find interesting, all of which can be found on my website. People should also check out Patterns of Play as they have many of my football shirts available to buy and a huge amount of other great football artwork.”
By Will Sharp @shillwarp
Thanks to Will Wright for speaking to These Football Times as part of The Gallery. If you’re an artist for whom football remains the ultimate muse, and you’d like to feature in The Gallery, please email us with examples of your work.