Claret and Blue
(pic courtesy of Castleberry Hill AC)
While interviewing members of the Castleberry Hill Athletic Club for the SoccerNomad podcast, I asked, “What was the inspiration of your colors?” I assumed they had fans of Aston Villa or West Ham in their numbers (didn’t figure there were too many Burnley fans running around Atlanta), but was told, “We just liked the colors.” This led to a discussion about teams who wore claret and blue which caused me to start researching the history of that color combination.
Based on my research, I found four English teams that use claret and blue for their home strips and another one that used the combination in their past. I also discovered several Irish teams and even a Turkish team that wear these colors.
According to the sources I used, Aston Villa were the original wearers of this color combination. The Villains wore several different colors ahead of their adoption of claret and blue in the late 1880s. John Chandler author of the wonderful book Picking up the Threads, chimes in with: “The style of having contrasting body and sleeves was introduced in the late 19th century by Ollie Whateley. The distinctive design became very successful and it was often referred to as the Villa style.”
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Aston Villa 1890/91)
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Aston Villa 2016/17)
West Ham United started their history as Thames Ironworks in navy blue (released as a special shirt for the 16/17 season). The club even used a royal blue shirt for a couple of seasons but at the turn of century the team adopted their current name. The new color scheme for the team may have arisen from a bet or the company’s colors or a little bit of both. The original shirt for 1900 was sky blue and a claret band was added across the middle of the shirt the following year. In 1903 a claret shirt with light blue sleeves was introduced (as well was the sky blue yoke similar to Aston Villa) and has been used in some form to this day for the Hammers.
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, West Ham United 1901-1903)
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, West Ham United 2016/17)
Burnley’s color palette and shirt design was all over the place for about twenty years, including a white/sky blue horizontal half and half top, a white shirt with a navy blue sash, and shirts with black and amber vertical stripes, pink and white vertical stripes and even a red jersey. In 1900 the club switched to a green shirt, which they used for almost a decade. One of the first yo yo teams of English football, Burnley chose claret and blue sometime between 1910 and 1911, inspired by the success of Aston Villa or possibly because, as John Chandler notes, “green was once considered an unlucky color.” Something happened because the club won their first FA Cup in 1914.
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Burnley 1910-1915)
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Burnley 2016/17)
The story of the Scunthorpe United is a little confusing. A combination of two teams created Scunthorpe United in 1899, then that team merged with North Lindsey United in 1910 to form Scunthorpe and Lindsey United. With me so far? Eventually the club became Scunthorpe United in 1958.
North Lindsey United had been wearing a claret body/light blue sleeved/light blue yoke shirt similar to West Ham and Aston Villa in the early 1900s and the newly formed club used this for the first couple of years before switching to vertical stripes of claret and sky blue from 1913-1923. The club nicknamed The Iron reverted to their original design and this took them to 1959 when the team switched to a white shirt with blue or white shorts and white socks for a decade before changing to an all red strip until 1982. Normal service was resumed in the 82/83 season.
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Scunthrope and Lindsey United 1911-1913)
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Scunthorpe United 2016/17)
John Devlin, author/illustrator of the True Colours books on football kits, reminded me that Crystal Palace have also used claret and blue in their kits. This was news to me so I did a little research. The London based club was formed by workers of the Crystal Palace Exhibition and the Eagles have explored all four divisions of English Football during their history and have finished as FA Cup Runners Up twice (1990 and 2016). Turns out Aston Villa helped sort out the club in terms of their kit in the early days. Based on images at Historical Kits, the kits of the two teams were identical from 1905, when Palace was founded, until 1908, when Palace starting tweaking their strip, something that remains to this day.
I have to say that few clubs that I have encountered have undergone as many changes as Crystal Palace. The claret body and pale blue sleeve/white shorts scheme was used until 1937 when claret and pale blue vertical stripes were introduced. That look lasted one season and then the club switched to some sort of white shirt and black shorts until 1963 except for a brief return to the standard from 1949-1954. After that the kit design and color palette was all over the place and I’ll just leave it right there.
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Crystal Palace 1905-1907)
(image courtesy of Historical Football Kits, Crystal Palace 2016/17)
Drogheda United FC are another team wearing the claret and blue. The club play in the League of Ireland and were originally founded in 1919 as Drogheda United. In 1962 another team was founded called Drogheda FC and eventually the two teams merged in 1975 to create Drogheda United FC. The Drogs have had recent success winning the FAI Cup in 2005 and the League of Ireland in 2007.
(pic courtesy of Drogheda United FC)
Twitter follower Sean Dwyer (@Doug_Groovy) brought the Cobh Ramblers to my attention. Formed in 1922, not much to highlight in the club’s history except a run to the FAI Cup Semi-Finals in 1983. Cobh finally got to the top division of Irish football in 1988 and have enjoyed four seasons in the top flight. Manchester United legend Roy Keane played for the club during the 1989/90 season before his move to Nottingham Forrest.
(pic courtesy of Limerick Post, Cobh Ramblers 2016/17)
(pic of Roy Keane courtesy of Daily Mail)
Sean also mentioned Galway United. The club started in the 1930s as Galway Rovers and joined the League of Ireland in 1977. The mid 80s and early 90s were a time of great success for the club. Renamed Galway United FC in 1981, the club were Runners Up to double winners Shamrock Rovers in 1985 and qualified for their first European competition, the 1985/86 Cup Winners Cup, falling in the opening round to Lyngby of Denmark. Galway United almost won the League of Ireland title the following season but fell just short, making it into the 1986/87 UEFA Cup where they hammered by Dutch side Groningen. The team finally won a major trophy, winning the 1991 FAI Cup. Their European adventure only lasted one round as Odense knocked them out in the First Round of the Cup Winners Cup. Financial problems caused the club to lose League of Ireland status in 2011. However, efforts were made to reform the team and Galway United returned to the League of Ireland in 2014.
(image of 2016/17 home shirt courtesy of Galway United)
From what I could find, both Irish teams use the colors of claret and blue but in different styles. Sometimes one color dominates the body with the opposite color being used a trim. Full kit histories were hard to come by but if readers have resources, please let me know.
Moving outside Britain, Trabzonspor are one of the most successful Turkish teams outside of the big three Istanbul teams—Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş. Trabzonspor were formed in 1966 after three amateur teams came together in the city of Trabzon, and their original colors were red and white. After a dispute with İdmanocağı, a new club was formed in 1967 and used the claret and blue. After several years in the second division, the club achieved promotion to the top flight and in 1976 became the first club outside Istanbul to win the league title. From there the team enjoyed a decade of success winning five more league titles, finishing runners up three times plus celebrating three Turkish Cup wins. 1984 saw their cycle capped with a domestic double and since then they have won the Turkish Cup five more times.
Trabzonspor are another team that chose their colors in honor of Aston Villa. “TS” is the short name for the club and these letters are creatively incorporated into the club crest along with a ball and the club’s year formation.
(image courtesy of Trabzonspor)
(image of 2016/17 home shirt courtesy of Trabzonspor)
So Castleberry Hill AC join a long and storied group of clubs wearing claret and blue. Let me know what I got right, what I got wrong and who I forgot. And if your team (Sunday league, semi pro, lower league, whatever) wears claret and blue, give me a shout and maybe we’ll get you on the list.