They say that almost all your favourite ever things – music, films, football teams – are established when you’re young. The logic is that when you start being conscious of things which are your favourite ever, you’ve nothing to reference it against. Your favourite album isn’t so much the best one you’ve ever heard, but the only one you’ve ever heard.
By definition, therefore, your first Oxford United kit forges some pretty clear pre-conceptions of what makes a good kit. Like most people’s first ever game, there is often a difference between the first game you went to, and the first game you remember. My first ever game was actually in 1975. I was 3 and remember nothing of it. The combined forces of Rage Online and kit-porn specialists Oxford Kits tells me that I’d have seen my first game with Oxford in stripes. Perhaps that’s why I was less anti the 2010 recreation than others.
I officially started Oxford around 1980 when we moved to the area (I had family in Abingdon, hence the previous trips to the Manor). The 1980 kit had significance written all over it. The shirt was plain yellow with a lighter, royal blue, trim. It was a colour scheme that we stuck with for the best part of a decade, in fact from my first game in 1975 right through the glory years until it wasn’t changed until the start of the 1985 season; our first season in the 1st division. Navy blue, therefore, says glory years blue to me.
1980 was the last time we had no sponsor. Shirt sponsors were rare, it was more common overseas and Liverpool had Hitachi in the late 70s. But it wasn’t until the early 80s that it took off, although it was still banned on TV. It quickly got out of hand with Talbot cars absolutely destroying Coventry’s kit. The lack of a sponsor meant a number of things; firstly it means the good old days. Also, if a team came on the pitch without a shirt sponsor, it meant that they were going to be featured on TV. TV companies weren’t allowed to trail who they were covering and Match of the Day could have come from any of the top 4 divisions. If your team came out without a sponsor, then you were on. And that was big news.
The 1980 kit was made by Adidas, a brand I’m still fixated with today. Going back, kits didn’t display the manufacturer (all 1966 world cup kits were made by Umbro). When they started to appear on in the late 70s the dominant brands were Umbro, Admiral and to a lesser extent, Bukta. Adidas began to make headway in the late 70s early 80s, it was fashionable in hip hop and breakdance culture (Run DMC released the single My Adidas in tribute in 1986). So, Adidas was foreign and exotic; Nottingham Forest wore Adidas during the European Cup wins, Bayern Munich wore it. It was a very cool brand and still is.
On the pitch, the kit was less remarkable. I remember being really impressed by how far John Doyle could kick a ball during the warm up and how shiny the players’ thighs were (why don’t players daub themselves in vaseline and Deep Heat anymore?). The significance was less obvious. We started the season with Bill Asprey as manager, but finished it with Ian Greaves. Greaves is one of the great unsung heroes of the glory years. He put the team into a prime position for Jim Smith and Robert Maxwell to take over. Three members of the Milk Cup winning team were already in place; Malcolm Shotton, Gary Briggs and Kevin Brock. Andy Thomas (unplayed substitute at Wembley) made his debut. Joe Cooke, Billy Jeffrey, Roy Burton and Peter Foley all played their part in those early years.
The 1980 kit, therefore, was the pre-glory years kit. Both insignificant because we didn’t achieve much wearing it; and at the same time, significant because from its foundations we achieved so much.