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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press photos A customer looks at a variety of national soccer team jerseys on display at a shop in London. With just days to go before the FIFA World Cup, some winners and losers have emerged among the often wild and wacky designs.

  • A Nigerian national soccer team jersey is displayed at a shop in London. It’s an updated version of the kit the team wore during its first World Cup appearance in 1994.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 1:00 am

World Cup kits take center stage

More attention paid to teams' garb

LEANNE ITALIE | Associated Press

NEW YORK – Spain, your asymmetry is showing. Nigeria, you're so bright I need shades! Croatia, Russia's fresh out of Big Boy restaurants.

No worries, though, your party duds will be just the ticket once the World Cup gets underway June 14.

Those countries are among several of the more festive standouts in jerseys for the global soccer showcase, with loads of sentimental touches in the designs of the 32 teams.

With millions in exposure and retail sales at stake, the World Cup kits of 2018 can be categorized, generally speaking, like this: Team Plain, Team Retro and Team Cool Kid on the Pitch.

“We didn't used to care so much,” said Roger Bennett, who is half the wacky British duo of the “Men in Blazers” soccer show on NBC Sports.

“What's changed is the fusion of the World Cup and the Premier League and the Champions League and television as a global platform, and advertising, which has essentially transformed them from being just functional garments, nothing to see here, just polyester, everybody move along, to the single-most lucrative billboard in the world,” he said. “They may as well be spun from gold in terms of the impact that they have on the sports manufacturing brands that propel them.”

Or, in the case of Australia, gold with a riot of jagged lines on shoulders and sleeves of home jerseys. The algae green lines celebrate waves and the country's proximity to various oceans and seas, said Nike football apparel senior design director Pete Hoppins. The away kit is all green with a diagonal slash of yellow in tribute to Australia's 2006 jerseys.

Soccer fans have been buzzing for weeks about Nigeria's shirts, to the delight of supplier Nike but not so much among folks back home who consider the $85 price tag out of reach. The away shirts are a screeching bright green, white and black with trippy jagged edging on a chevron pattern that may just be the World Cup's shining Rorschach moment, along with an ode to the country's style.

The we-have-arrived look is a modern reinvention of Nigeria's 1994 kits, the first time the country qualified for the World Cup. The new shirts sold out in minutes on the first day of sales in some spots, including Nike's flagship store in London and online, Hoppins said, after stakeholders decided early on to go bold and market the strips in a collection that also includes hats, T-shirts and jackets.

“We've never seen anything like this before in terms of excitement, in terms of people queuing around the block,” Hoppins said.

To Simon Doonan, soccer nut and creative ambassador at large for Barneys New York, when it comes to out-there World Cup shirts, you're either in or you're out.

“The ones you remember are the ones that are crazy, but some leagues are risk averse,” said Doonan, author of the new book “Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness.”