Shirt Tales | Chapter 4 - Perfecting the Template

Football shirt templates aren't necessarily a bad thing, as the early 00s show.

Shirt Tales | Chapter 4 - Perfecting the Template

Chapter 4 - Perfecting the template


To most, this is basically a swear word when it comes to shirts.

If your club ends up with a template kit, it’s time to get the pitchforks out and march to the doors of the CEO’s office, right?

In reality, templates have always existed in the shirt world. Back in Chapter 1, we celebrated Holland’s 1988 shirt which was itself a template (interestingly named ‘Ipswich’ by adidas!). Indeed, the three stripes pioneered a number of looks in the 90s which were shared across multiple teams.

But as the influence of adidas and Nike grew more and more moving into the millennium, the time was ripe for a new generation of templates which built on the approach of the early 90s in a modern way.

Shirt Tales series menu

This blog is part of our Shirt Tales series. Check out the rest of series below.

Ch. 1 - King of the Hill | Ch. 2 - A Challenger Appears | Ch. 3 - The Phenomenon's New Clothes | Ch. 4 - Perfecting the Template | Ch. 5 - Demons and Doritos | Ch. 6 - Diamonds are Forever | Ch. 7 - Welcome to the Jungle

Warriors and eagles

Japan/South Korea 2002 was perhaps not the most vintage tournament in terms of standout matches, but it did give us some superb shirts.

Hosts South Korea left one of the biggest impressions on the tournament with their run to the semi-finals, and it was a welcome thing too given how beautiful their kit was.

South Korea at the 2002 World Cup
Image from

Nike’s 2002 template featured a crisp, geometric design which framed the front panel of the shirt. This front section, typically left plain for most of Nike’s teams at the World Cup, was given a fresh injection of flair by the Taegeuk Warriors.

Waves of thin lines combined across the front, a unique design which added a strong sense of movement to the shirt. Also notable was the pinky-red hue chosen, a colour which looked fluorescent in a certain light.

It was a similar story with Nigeria’s home shirt. Their bright green number was a key inspiration behind this year’s home shirt, and the departure from the usual darker green was a nice touch.

Though the Super Eagles shirt didn’t feature a graphic on the front like South Korea, small differences could be found with an additional white triangle on the front of the neck, the removal of the two small triangles either side of the neck and additional white detailing on the underside of the sleeves.

Nigeria at the 2002 World Cup
Image from

It was subtle differences such as these which helped give life to the 2002 template, despite its use across multiple teams.

Look for example at the shirt of winners Brazil. Unlike Nigeria and South Korea, there is no collar on their home shirt. Then there is the USA, whose home shirt includes a third band of colour on the sides of the shirt.

adidas also showcased this approach to templates in a more subtle way. Differences could be found in the size of the side mesh panels and the approach to colour of the three stripes.

You would be foolish to argue that the shirts of 2002, at least as a collective, were as exciting as than those seen in 1990 and 1994. But, as we discussed in Chapter 3, the increasingly commercial side of the shirt industry meant that more ubiquitous designs across a brand’s portfolio were here to stay. And it was great to see brands still mix things up in small ways, despite the changes that were happening to the industry.

Tears of a legend

In 2004, Portugal missed out on the European Championship in the most shocking of circumstances. But, despite their loss to Greece they sported arguably the best version of the most famous template of them all, the Total 90.

Taking lessons from 2002, Nike’s latest template was even more streamlined. Gone was the panel look, and in its place was a design which required even more of an eagle eye to spot variations in details between teams.

For some teams, like Holland or Brazil, the trim around the front of the shirt joined together neatly further down. In contrast, for teams like Croatia the trim ran down to the bottom of the shirt. Once again we saw differences in neck design, whilst some teams opted for a contrasting section of colour for player names at the back of the shirt.

Of all the shared elements of the design, my personal favourite was the numbering of the shirt. Borrowing some visual cues from adidas, each number featured a dotted look. On the front, these number were surrounded by a dominating circle too, creating a memorable style which felt like a real upgrade from 2002.

Portugal at the 2004 Euros
Image from

Across all teams, Portugal had a little extra something with their use of subliminal pattern across their home and away shirts. This pattern consisted of multiple federation crests, an unusual departure from the typical geometric designs but one which paid dividends.

With the crowning details of the timeless Portuguese colourway of red, green and gold, and the fact 2004 saw the crossover of two iconic eras with Figo and Ronaldo, there was every ingredient necessary for a classic shirt. The shirt may have been stained with young Ronaldo’s tears, but it lives on as a great example of what can be achieved with a template base.

The grandfathers

So why were these shirts in 2002 and 2004 so important?

Nike and adidas showcased that the widespread use of a shirt template doesn’t require every shirt to be identical.

Yes, the variations were very, very subtle. But given the swing that was taking place, moving further and further away from the brashness of the 90s, these differences were enough to move the industry on in a positive way.

Whilst templates will always have something of a bad name, we can at least look back on the early 2000s and enjoy an era where you had to look closely to appreciate what was going on.

Grab a brew, and let's talk about subliminal geometric patterns.