Euros fever is well and truly upon us.
Turkey vs Italy, the opening game of Euro 2020, is a matter of hours away, and Phil Foden stoked the fires of excitement further by doing a Gazza and getting his hair dyed blond this week. With a three year gap since the last major tournament, the sense of anticipation is palpable on all fronts.
As we look ahead to the opening match and beyond, I thought it’d be fun to also look back on the European Championships of summers past, specifically the winning shirts of each competition.
Which Euros winning shirt is the best of all time (for brevity I’ll be focusing on the shirts worn in the final only)? What sort of standard do the shirts of 2020/21 have to live up to, when one of them enters the eternal pantheon on the 11th July?
15. Portugal 2016 – Home
Portugal head into Euro 2020 as the reigning champions with one of the better tandems of home and away shirts but their 2016 effort is, in my mind at least, the worst shirt to have ever won the Euros.
In truth 2016 was a nadir across the board, with Nike’s pedestrian template efforts for all their nations struggling to separate themselves from one another. It just goes to show how far we’ve come in a short space of time.
14. West Germany 1980 – Home
Germany have had some stone cold classics across several major tournaments, but the 1980 home shirt was not one of them.
Curiously, the Germans actually switched shirts mid-tournament during Euro 1980, abandoning the Erima shirts they had worn on route to the clash vs Belgium in favour of a new shirt from parent company adidas (sans trefoil on the front of the shirt).
Despite being a new design, there were still all the hallmarks of the previous Erima design (most notably the black piping), and on reflection it’s a shame Erima were denied their moment in the sun, even if it was their ‘parent’ who stole the show.
13. Greece 2004 – Away
The triumph of Greece at Euro 2004 is one of the great underdog stories in football. Facing a determined Portugal side in their own backyard, Ethniki pulled off an upset for the ages wearing an understated shirt which matched their relatively low-key status on the pitch.
If we’re being honest however, this shirt had no chance of repeating the heroics of the Greek team when it came to these rankings. The early 00s wasn’t a strong time for adidas by their own high standards, and indeed the white away shirt which Greece wore in the final had a significant ‘training shirt’ vibe to it, and not in a good way.
12. Germany 1996 – Home
From a shirt perspective, Germany couldn’t have been riding higher during the late 80s and early 90s. Their designs from the period have rightly been held up as some of the most important and influential of all time, but by contrast the Euro ‘96 shirt isn’t worthy of being in the same room as its celebrated predecessors.
The black shield background behind the DFB crest looked more like the pocket of a referee’s shirt than anything else, and the only thing saving this particular kit from a lower spot on this list was the memorable typeface that accompanied the design.
11. Spain 2008 – Home
At the risk of sounding too much like an adidas hater (don’t worry, they’ll have their moment in the sun later on), Spain’s 2008 home shirt misses out on the top 10.
The gold secondary colour (which matched the distinctive away Euros shirt worn during the tournament) ended up being a prophetic design choice, but I could never quite see this particular design as anything other than a weaker version of the Nike Total 90 template. There was also little development on the previous 2005/07 shirt, which had benefited from the addition of pinstripes throughout the body.
10. France 2000 – Home
Euro 2000 featured arguably the most innovative kit of all time, but Kappa’s game-changing outfits for Italy were left in the dust on the pitch by the great French side of the millennium.
France’s 2000 home shirt suffered the same fate as Spain’s 08 kit in that it was preceded by a much better design that did the same thing it was trying to do, only better. In general though, the red stripe across the chest is a great ongoing motif in French kits, and it’s pleasing to see its return for this year’s Euros shirt.
9. Spain 2012 – Home
After experimenting with a variety of secondary colours including gold (2008), navy (2009) and blue (2010), Spain returned to the tried and tested yellow as the dominant shade alongside the red of the home shirt for Euro 2012, and it worked a treat. The subliminal sashes throughout the body of the shirt were a nice touch too.
8. West Germany 1972 – Home
A lot of people lament the ubiquity of the crew neck in football shirts, but when I see a shirt as beautifully simple as the Germany 1972 I’m reminded again how effective the style can be. In combination with the memorable DFB crest and some chunky black cuffs, the ‘72 look would be retained for the later 1974 World Cup triumph. Even the legendary 1988/91 shirt can’t claim such a pedigree, on the pitch at least.
7. Czechoslovakia 1976 – Home
Czechoslovakia’s momentous victory over West Germany in the 1976 European Championship final will forever be associated with the original ‘Panenka’. Images of Antonín Panenka’s audacious penalty continue to be seen whenever a penalty shootout occurs during a major tournament, and the shirt he and his teammates wore that day is notable during each watch on account of its centralised crest.
With centralised crests making something of a mini-comeback in 2021, perhaps we ought to refer back to the Czechoslovakia shirt of 1976 more alongside the Panenka.
6. Denmark 1992 – Home
The early 90s was a golden age for football shirts, and Denmark’s 1992 home shirt was a worthy torch-bearer as the Euro 92 winning design. Though not held in the same regard as Holland’s 88 shirt, or indeed the team’s own 1986 classic, the geometric affair was nonetheless a pleasing representation of the sort of football shirt creativity which epitomised the era.
The fact the Euros shirt was manufactured by cult favourite manufacturer hummel only adds to its story.
5. Italy 1968 – Home
Italy’s impossibly classic all blue affair worn at Euro 1968 was essentially used for 14 years by the Gli Azzurri during the 60s and 70s. The makers of the shirt remain unknown, and though a similar design would be written off in today’s busy world as ‘boring’, the longevity of the kit is testament to how effective the shirt was.
Of course as we already saw with Germany’s shirt at number 8 of the list, the 60s and 70s were relatively ‘clean’ across the board, and Italy were hardly the only team to essentially wear plain, one colour shirts with a crest. But don’t let that take away from what is, without a doubt, the purest Italian football shirt we will ever see.
4. Soviet Union 1960 – Home
The Soviet Union’s all red home shirts with the letters “CCCP” across the front were other worldly, despite their relatively simplicity in the light of the modern game.
Given the lack of sponsors on international football, and indeed the absence of sponsors from club shirts throughout the 60s, the 1960 Soviet Union shirt was more distinctive than you might think at first glance.
Puma’s controversial new international away shirts with their team names on the front can only dream of being as iconic as the Soviet shirts of yesteryear.
3. Spain 1964 – Away
Throughout their history, Spain made superb use of various shades of blue for many of their away and third kits. Though a number of recent designs have wandered off the path, a look back at Spanish kits of old confirms the fact that blue is best.
The ‘truer’ blue used for the 1964 Euros shirt was beautiful, and it makes a mockery of the darker navy away shirts preferred in later decades. If I was working at the RFEF, I’d be banging the table for a return to the glory days of blue away shirts to perfectly complement La Furia Roja.
2. France 1984 – Home
If you have a spare 5 minutes, go and look at France’s 80s kit history. It’s a frankly ridiculous stretch of grade A designs which is arguably the best decade of shirts from any one nation in history. Every single shirt is a hit, and the 1984 shirt was arguably the cream of a very good looking crop.
There’s a reason France returned to the theme of the 1984 shirt in subsequent designs. That those future designs would also be worn by trophy winning French teams only solidifies the legacy of the original 80s edition.
1. Netherlands 1988 – Home
Have you ever experienced Holland 88 fatigue? We’ve seen this shirt so many times that we can easily become numb to the design. Every single ‘best shirt of all time’ list includes it, most people refer to it or the shirt it beat in the semi-finals (Germany’s iconic 1988, flag-inspired design) as the gold standard of shirts.
Whatever you think of the shirt itself though, and no matter how fatigued you might feel, we will never be able to escape the legacy of the orange adidas design, and I would argue we ought to embrace it.
The Netherlands ‘88 shirt is a wonderful creation which expertly captured the zeitgeist of late 80s football shirt design. Not only was the geometry of the look (adidas’ bread and butter) a sight to behold, the grainy texture throughout added a significant depth to proceedings.
Shirts like this helped ignite the industry we see today, and I for one am thankful for it.
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