Following on from our Top 5 Rugby League books, we thought we should move on to a subject very close to our hearts: shirts. TACKLE COUNT are all about rugby league shirts, so it’d be crackers if we didn’t tell you about our favourites.
The five listed here all have one thing in common: Wembley. They’re the shirts that stick in my mind from the game’s showpiece events in the capital - all via the BBC, direct to my front room. When I look at these shirts as an adult, I can almost hear Ray French’s commentary and taste me mam’s sausage sarnies.
All these shirts (and thousands more) can be found on the brilliant website www.oldrugbyshirts.com. They are reproduced here with very kind permission from Phil and Mark, the site owners and archivists.
So, without further ado, let’s dive straight in....
The Widnes team of the early 90s were incredible entertainers. Watching Davies, Goulding and Offiah on our Ferguson telly (Dad insisted on buying British) was magical. This particular shirt is from 1993 Challenge Cup final - by this stage Offiah had by then switched to Wigan for a record £440,000 fee the year before.
Can anything be more 90s than those lightning flashes? And that manufacturer: Umbro. Shirts used to be made by globally-recognised brands. The other thing to note in the sponsor. Of course, Widnes are the Chemics. But for them to be sponsored by one of the biggest companies in the world seemed perfectly normal to me as a kid. A reflection on the high profile rugby league used to enjoy when a Challenge Cup final was one of the jewels in the Beeb’s sporting crown, perhaps?
From the same era is this Wigan shirt. For a solid decade, Wigan were such a fixture at the Twin Towers that Wembley Way was an extension of the A577. With a team including Lydon Gill, Gregory and Edwards, it’s hardly a surprise.
This is another Umbro effort, but I remember it more for the JJB sponsorship. I now know the obvious connection, but as a nipper, the fact that JJB sold everything I could ever dream of, plus sponsored the nation’s premier team, meant it was a match made in heaven. Wigan were forced to wear this change strip in the 1989 final (where they beat St Helens 27-0). When I think of Ellery Hanley, it’s him wearing this shirt whilst lifting the famous trophy.
Not a Challenge Cup this time, but a test match. I had this shirt. It was one of the best Christmas presents I ever had. But then I wore it once and the white cotton was knackered forever. Nevermind, I still loved it and pulled it on to watch the first test against the Aussies in 1990. Garry Schofield ran the show that day, pulling off an historic win that nobody saw coming.
But take a look at the shirt for a moment. Everything you could hope for in a RL shirt. The V on the chest, the XIII logo that shirts of that era all sported, and that sponsor: British Coal. Could there be a more 80s/90s rugby league sponsor than that?! This was the era when players were permitted to wear ridiculous shoulder padding (Jonathan Davies could hardly see over the top of his) hence the weird shape and ¾ sleeves. Still one of my absolute favourites
I’ll be honest, I could hardly tell you what colours London play in these days. But in 1999, when Richard Branson led the team he owned out at Wembley, the future looked very bright. To give it its proper title, it was the 1999 Silk Cut Challenge Cup final. Can you imagine a fag company sponsoring a sports tournament now? But this was still the era when the Rothmans book was the go-to guide to League.
Made by Canterbury (is it just me who thinks of them as a union brand) and with the classic Virgin logo - obviously! - this is the third shirt in a row we’ve listed that has a Martin Offiah connection. Fair play to the designer; the black under the armpits is a useful design feature for when it’s 90 degrees and you’re wearing thick polyester. Looks like today it’d be worn by an undergraduate to third-rate music festival. Not aged well, if I’m honest.
Let the record clearly state, I think John Kear is a genius. What he has achieved with the resources at his disposal back my statement up. And nowhere was this more obvious than 1998. The year that the Eagles ripped-up the form book and defeated the all-conquering Wigan.
Now, onto the shirt: You wouldn’t have thought that Oasis were riding high in the charts when checking out this Avec effort. They certainly push the Eagles brand: there was two “Eagles” and two pictures of eagles on the front! In truth, this isn’t exactly the shirt that Sheffield played in that day. They rush-released a commemorative special that is even more ‘meh’. But for the achievement associated with it, this shirt is special
Just missing out: An honorable mention for the Castleford 1992 shirt (Hickson sponsored; Steadman/Crooks worn; shoulder-pad accommodating). Another belter of its time that just failed to make my Wembley Top 5.
And if all that shirt reading has got you in the mood, why not check out TACKLE COUNT’s own brand of shirts and accessories: www.tacklecount.com/collections/all