England’s World Cup campaign gets underway tomorrow when Gareth Southgate and his side face off against Iran, with the Three Lions set to be kitted out in their latest white and blue home strip for their first game of the tournament.
The Three Lions’ kit colours for the tournament in Qatar have stayed true to those they have become synonymous with down the years; their white and blue home kit being complemented with a red away number this year just like in the majority of previous major international tournaments.
There have been some exceptions to the rule, however. As recently as 2020, they donned a light blue away kit.
You have to go back to the early 2010s for another variation of coloured kit, with navy colour schemes in both 2011 and 2012, while who could forget that iconic grey strip from Euro ’96? We’re sure Southgate himself has tried his best to.
But if you cast your eye far back enough, you’ll come across England’s lesser-spotted yellow kit from back in the 1970s. It’s a colour that has typically been reserved for goalkeeper kits in recent years and that will be the case in Qatar this month. But there was a time when the Three Lions ran out in the unrecognisable strip.
In fact, they only wore the yellow shirts in full internationals three times, with the first being this occasion against Czechoslovakia (as they were then known) during the end-of-season tour in May 1973.
With one eye on the upcoming year’s World Cup in Germany, Sir Alf Ramsey decided once again to experiment with a lighter alternative to England’s red away kit. Believing a lighter colour would reflect the heat better than red, and with sky blue out of the question following its unsuccessful debut at the 1970 World Cup, Ramsey asked Umbro to produce a yellow Airtex shirt.
With the Czechs playing in their traditional red shirts, white shorts and blue socks, this was the first time England had intentionally changed their colours despite there being no clash with their traditional white shirts and blue shorts, and the bright yellow kit – worn with blue shorts with yellow trim and yellow socks – was conspicuously unfamiliar.
Following the 1-1 draw with the Czechs in Prague, England travelled to Katowice for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Poland with the group finely balanced. With the Poles in white shirts and red shorts, England played in this yellow kit on a disastrous afternoon for the team and Sir Alf Ramsey, losing 2-0 and leaving their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread. A 1-1 draw at Wembley in the return match against the Poles meant England – World Cup winners just eight years earlier – would miss out on the party in West Germany and Sir Alf Ramsey’s reign as manager was at an end.
The yellow shirts were worn for one final match – against Italy in Turin for another 2-0 defeat when there was no colour dash – and they were never seen again. The shirt’s short lifespan means that match-worn examples are extremely rare and highly sought-after by collectors.
This fine example was worn by Manchester City’s Colin Bell against Czechoslovakia in Prague. Capped 48 times by England over a seven-year period, Bell was one of the country’s finest midfielders. his incredible stamina earning him the nickname “Nijinsky’ after a famous racehorse of the time.
This extract is taken from the book Three Lions On A Shirt, published by Vision Sports Publishing, out now (£40 RRP). For more information see instagram.com/threelionsonashirtbook and twitter.com/3lionsshirtbook