Away Colours: Swindon’s Third Choices
Replica kit collector Dan Castle of swindontownshirts.com reflects on the history of Swindon Town’s third choice kits
Is the third or alternative shirt, unnecessary, a marketing gimmick, or another opportunity to show your teams colours? To understand how the third kit has been developed you need to go back to the early 90s.
Beginning in 1988 but more blatantly in 1990, the English FA and Umbro realised that more and more fans were buying replica shirts in adult sizes. What had been the preserve of kids to resemble their idols kicking around a ball in the park was now increasingly being worn by adults in the grounds. More importantly for the marketing men, as an item of leisurewear like a T-Shirt.
Italia 90 made a whole new generation take to football and they wanted to clearly show their association with the team. England produced a home, away (red) and a third (blue) shirt for the tournament despite not needing a third shirt to wear. A year later they produced another pointless blue shirt with huge lions on it just for good measure.
So a trend was created, as well as the home and away shirts, fans could splash the cash and get a third shirt for that season, despite it being unlikely to ever grace a match.
Swindon and Spall had already released three shirts in one season 89-91 red/white and yellow and blue. This third shirt was clearly unloved by any Town fan who would not willingly wish to dress in the colours of Oxford. One can only imagine that there was lots of stock left over at the end of the 91 season.
Next up was Loki in 1994. Swindon had not needed a third shirt in their one season in the top flight but when they fell back to Division One, they had a white 3rd kit to cover those clashes. This actually was a nice shirt in my opinion with subtle red pinstripes that brought to mind the classic Macari era shirts.
In 1995-96 Swindon won the Division Two title. As a result of this a ‘petrol green’ 3rd shirt was released. This was a piece of football marketing about 10 years ahead of its time, pre-empting what other larger clubs would do later. The shirt was actually a very clever piece of branding for the sponsors petrol giants ‘Castrol’ who used this exact tone of green in their product labels, and the club, which had its badge and ‘Division Two Champions’ printed into the weave of the shirt.
It was a while before Town ventured another third shirt, when Xara started their two year stint in 2000. Where the Mizumo 3rd kit had been quite shocking and modern in its colour and style, the next third shirt was totally simple and understated. This was a return to a white third shirt with a small amount of red trim and was worn where there was a clash against teams in red and blue colour combinations. Strikeforce then repeated this colour with an almost identical white third shirt in 2004.
At the end of the 00s a new colour was added to Swindon’s third shirt list, black. In 2007 and again 2008 Lotto launched black 3rd kits. The 2008-09 shirt was a really odd choice of colour as it was pretty much the same tone as the dark navy away shirts the team wore that season. This did appear to be a real case of a totally superfluous kit.
When Adidas took over in 2009 it produced some of the best shirts the club had worn in years. The third shirts it produced were no exception. The 2009 third shirt was a stunning blue shirt and was worn memorably against Charlton in the play off semi at The Valley that produced one of Town’s most memorable performance in the last ten years. A black away shirt followed the next season and for the first time Swindon used their shirts to promote three different company sponsors in one season Samsung/Four Four Two/EA Sports.
The final entry to the third shirt list is also perhaps the most surprising. Last season the purple third shirt was considered unlucky. Worn in a series of games that yielded awful results, the kit was considered a jinx by fans and this idea of an ‘unlucky’ shirt was repeated by the local media. However at the later end of the season a win at Doncaster and then an epic ‘smash and grab’ job at Sheffield United in the playoffs promoted the shirt to a something of a late cult status.
Rather ironically though this time the club was not able to make money from the shirts late popularity as it was decided not to sell the shirt for public release
Kit images courtesy John Devlin