WHEN WE WORE BLUE

From OWC issue 17

It’s not known when Northern Ireland, or Ireland as they were then referred to, first wore blue.

What’s certain is that in our earliest days, we wore a number of different colours, including blue, white and, even on occasions, green. However, by the time that international football returned after World War One, blue was our established shirt colour and remained so until 1931. In 1931, the shirt colour was changed to green and the rest is history.

So how come we wore blue in the first place, an early example of Linfield influence in the IFA? Maybe so, but blue has been the national colour of Ireland since the 12th century. The Normans used the 'Colour of Leinster' to signify the whole island.

Don’t know if the blue shirts improved our performances on the pitch or not. Certainly we had some good players who wore it - including Billy Gillespie, Joe Bambrick & Gerry Morgan who, as a Catholic (contrary to Keane’s recent claims) captained Linfield to their 7 trophy success in 1922. The period until 1931 saw some memorable matches also, including a 7- 0 victory over Wales at Celtic Park, Belfast in 1930 (with Bambrick scoring 6) and, in 1927, our most recent home victory over England.

Why the change from blue to green in 1931? The official reason at the time was that, due to Scotland’s navy, they were forced to wear white shirts in games against us. Back then, this would have represented one-third of their games so their grievance was maybe understandable (though they should have been grateful to get away with white - back in the early 1900s, their first choice colours were yellow and primrose hoops but that’s another story for another day).

Probably as influential, though never quoted as an official reason, was the off-the field contest between the IFA and the Free State side to be recognised as the ‘true’ national side of Ireland (up until the 1940s, both associations were selecting players from across the island - though come to think about it, the FAI still are). The Free State had been recognised by FIFA as from 1923 and by the late 1920s, they had already participated in the Olympic Games (prior to the 1930 World Cup, the highest profile international tournament) and had played against established international sides including Italy, Hungary and Belgium.

Whereas, the IFA blue shirt had an old-style celtic cross badge with a harp in the middle, the Free State shirt badge was of shamrocks. The IFA changed their shirt badge to shamrocks in the mid-1930s. Consequently, the IFA & FAI shirts look very similar in style right up until the early 1950s when the IFA re-instated their celtic cross style shirt badge. In 1958, the harp was removed form this badge and the celtic cross was modernised to give the badge the look that we know and love today.

Although green has remained our first choice colour since 1931, over the past decade or so, blue / navy has made a re-appearance. This started with an Umbro away shirt in 1990 - a horrible looking navy and white diamond effect and everyone will remember the green & navy quarters’ home shirt of the mid-1990s. More recently, our last away shirt was navy.

Shirt enthusiasts may be interested to learn that the blue international shirts of the 1920s were supplied to the IFA by the Athletic Stores, who continued to supply the international shirts until the 1960s. In these early days, the shirts were usually manufactured by Bukta, though this changed to Umbro in the 1960s.

Shirt collectors, looking to pick up an original blue shirt, can expect to pay approx. £1,000 at auction (Christies & Sothebys have both sold blue international shirts in recent years), though the price will be largely determined by the player who wore the shirt & the provenance behind it. For those who don’t want to spend just so much, Toffs (and, therefore, probably Flynets) sell a replica of this shirt - it’s quite a good similarity, though won’t cause as much damage to the bank balance.

CC

www.ourweecountry.co.uk