22 March 2018

HOW RIBERO COST US TOP FLIGHT FOOTBALL

I spent this morning educating my Sunday League football team about Ribero via WhatsApp. This was quite the task, especially amongst the younger chaps who weren’t even born when the erstwhile kit manufacturer went out of business halfway through the 1993/94 season.

Of course, this has significant relevance to us Albionites: Ribero presided over three of the worst Albion kits in the club’s history: the home kit with matching blue and white shorts (the ‘deckchair’), the away kit that was a red and white mess (the ‘chewit wrapper’) and the home kit where they inexplicably included blue and white pinstripes.

For two seasons (1989-91), our kit was produced by Sports Express who, as my TSLR co-editor once told me, was the Albion’s invented brand. I’m hopeful my esteemed co-ed will write a book on that ill-fated in-house manufacturing experiment one day (this 2013 NSC thread concluded that Margaret from the club shop was Sports Express). Now, the Sports Express home kit for those two seasons was OK but the away kit was pretty ugly: tiny, little red and white squares.

Maybe it was because of this appalling kit (modelled here by club captain, Dean Wilkins, courtesy of the excellent Seagulls Programme website) that the club decided to employ an actual kit manufacturer in the summer of 1991. Well, actually, the decision to hire a professional manufacturer must have been taken before the end of the 1990-91 season because the Ribero ‘chewit’ kit was debuted at Wembley for the biggest game of my life (up until last season that is).

For a moment, let’s just explore this Sports Express advert and the clobber on offer a little further. The tracksuit modelled by the poor lady on the left was iconic around Nevill Road in the late 80s / early 90s and I really wish I owned one. I was a little late to the tracksuit party but I would soon be in an official club shellsuit (if I remember correctly, the flammable ‘matching’ trousers were about three sizes bigger than the shellsuit top. I suppose this was the era of MC Hammer).

Moving onto Deano, the shade of red on the shirt didn’t exactly match the glowing red short shorts and notice how the NOBO logo is red. This advert is taken from the first match of the 1989-90 Division 2 season so Margaret - sorry, Sports Express - quite possibly saw this and thought twice about using a red lettered logo on a predominantly red shirt. The one modelled by Wilkins, here, was quite possibly a prototype as the history books record the NOBO logo as blue (though it appeared in black at the 1991 Play-off Final). Confused? Yeah, me too.

One thing I really disliked about my shiny red shorts (I honestly don’t know how they made the shorts quite so shiny) was that they had a blue trim. The reverse was true of the home shorts: the overly glossy blue shorts were given a red trim. This had one serious problem: the shades of blue and red used were almost identical to the shades worn by C*****l P****e in the 1990 FA Cup Final and, even at 7 years old, I knew that they were just a bit, well, P****e-y.

And, as for the casual wear thrown on the floor in front of our models, whilst you can barely make them out, you can be certain that the Albion’s in-house team were most likely behind these designs. Though, 29 years and four different football grounds later and that situation has hardly been rectified (maybe that’s why so many people love our designs!)

Right, so where was I? Ah, yes, the club’s decision to employ Ribero which, as I mentioned, must have taken place sometime during the 1990-91 season. What a season it was, too, almost culminating in that last home match at home to Ipswich and actually terminating at Wembley a few goals against Millwall later. That Wilkins free-kick against Ipswich at the Goldstone and those Play-off Semi-final matches against Millwall meant that the Sports Express kits were synonymous with the kind of success they simply did not deserve.

At this point, you can only imagine that Sports Express / Margaret from the club shop / the Albion must have been cock-a-hoop with the Robert Codner, Mark Barham, John Byrne et al. They were, quite simply, putting the brand into the public consciousness - perhaps this designing your own kit experiment would pay dividends and we would soon be making kits for football teams the world over.

But, perhaps all the stitching had become too much for Margaret. This was, after all, a time before cheap labour from eastern Europe. So the club’s Directors, D.C. Sizen (Chairman), J.L. Campbell (VC), G. Appleby, R.A. Bloom (hurrah for your nephew), B.E. Clarke, P.F. Kent and G.A. Stanley (boo, hiss) came up with a cunning plan. They shopped around and, no doubt impressed by Ribero’s impeccable 1985 offering for Carlisle United, asked the company to design the Albion kits from the beginning of the 1991-92 season.

No doubt Greg Stanley chimed in with: “As I’m such as wonderful businessman, why don’t we get these Ribero chaps to design our new away kit for the trip to Wembley, even though it’s strictly speaking still the 1990-91 season? That should help sell a few more replicas.”
So it became that our match against Notts County under the famous twin towers will forever by associated with an abject display from a team surely too fixated on their hideous new kit to concentrate on winning a single football match that would seal promotion to the top flight. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Ribero and the mismanagement of our football club (and probably not even close to being the worst element of mismanagement that season) cost us top-flight football for 18 years. And if you don’t believe me, just look at Clive Walker’s face in the photo above - he looks more embarrassed than when he got caught ‘accidentally’ revealing his naked body to that poor newspaper delivery girl.

Having lost our dream ticket to the big league, we would then discover the next treat that Ribero had in store for us: a traditional blue and white home shirt that was coupled with the unimaginably bad identically striped shorts, modelled here by an awkward John Byrne. And, as for the black NOBO lettering in the Play-off Final, we'll probably never know.

Looking back, what is even funnier is the record that these kits had. Including the 1991 play-off defeat, compare the Albion’s record under Ribero (1991-94, including the Play-off Final - Played: 165, Won: 55, Drew: 40, Lost: 70) to that of Sports Express (1989-91, excluding the Play-off Final - Played: 107, Won: 44, Drew: 22, Lost: 44). Sports Express kits made a Play-off Final and secured a win percentage of 41.1%. Ribero kits lost a Play-off Final, presided over a relegation the following season and only managed a win percentage of 33.3%.

But that wasn’t quite it for the Ribero kit crimes at the Goldstone. There was still time to produce a kit that was a twist on an Albion classic. They decided to produce a 1993-94 home shirt with pinstripes, modelled here by Kurt Nogan. This is, for me, right up there with the only two other home kit design disasters I’ve experienced: the one big blue stripe Super League effort from a very forgettable season at the Priestfield (1997-98) and when Dick Knight attempted to help Argentine striker sensation, Federico Turienzo, feel at home by swapping to a lighter shade of blue (2004-06).

Luckily for all of us, Ribero were dissolved halfway through the 1993-94 season and Margaret was allowed to appoint her preferred choice. Admiral had already made Steve Foster look stunning for England in Spain 1982 then pulled off one of the greatest ever Albion kits in 1995: our first ever third-choice kit of turquoise and black. I think the team only wore it once in a 0-3 pre-season defeat at home to Tottenham but I wore it far more than that - Nevill Road was teeming with them.

And that, kids, is the story of Ribero’s foray into making Albion kits. To be fair, at least they gave it a go and avoided the identikit trap that so many kit manufacturers (and stadium designers) fall into these days. Incidentally, I was a huge fan of the Sports Express goalkeeper kit, modelled here by the superb John Keely.

1 comment:

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