The 10 best England football shirts ever (1966-2020)
Ahead of the new 2020 release, we’re looking back at the greatest England shirts of all-time.
Three Lions on the shirt. It’s a sight (and a song) we’ve become all too familiar with.
Traditionally sitting atop our classic shades of white and red, the famous crest has featured on a wide range of good, bad, and downright ugly England football kits over the years. Despite the simplicity of our national colourway, brands such as Admiral, Umbro and Nike have never been afraid to mix things up a bit - bravely experimenting with tones of navy, light blue and even yellow.
Sometimes things have worked, sometimes they’ve been a little disastrous. Either way, these shirts can instantly trigger memories of glorious goals, heartbreaking shootouts and dodgy refereeing decisions. From Bobby Moore grasping the Jules Rimet to Kieran Tripper’s bending free-kick, we can all tie a particular shirt to a particular moment.
But which of these iconic England shirts is the best of all-time? Now that the new 2020 kits are due for release, I’m sauntering down memory lane and ranking the greatest designs ever made. Let’s bring it home.
10. 1999-2001 - home shirt
Kevin Keegan’s England may have been completely uninspired out on the pitch, but at least they kicked off the new millennium with a little style. This underrated Umbro design followed a string of more adventurous 90s shirts, reverting the Three Lions back to a more traditional, sophisticated aesthetic. It’s rather lovely.
The crest was moved back over to the left breast, the classic Umbro logo returned, and just two colours were used for the first time in well over 20 years. There’s not a hint of red in sight (apart from the shirt number), but the excellent navy collar and sleeve taping completely make the design, serving up a beautiful retro feel which is hard to resist.
After the exuberance of the 90s, this shirt ushered England into the 21st century, while Paul Scholes also wore a logo-less version for the cover of FIFA 2001. Classic.
Memorable Moment: Phil Neville lunging in to concede a late penalty against Romania at Euro 2000. The defeat meant England exited at the group stage, with more than their fair share of blushes.
9. 1995-96 - home shirt
This beauty didn’t just serve as our home shirt for Euro ‘96, but it also came at the height of Umbro’s “experimental” phase. Hell, you just need to look at our goalkeeper kits during this period to see how over-the-top things were really getting, and here they decided to replace our classic shade of red with… turquoise.
A bold move which undoubtedly raised a few eyebrows (Twitter would have been in meltdown), this actually helped to freshen things up a bit and, ultimately, came to symbolise one hell of a footballing summer. The new collar is absolutely fantastic, while switching to a text-based Umbro logo and central crest were two inspired choices.
This must surely be amongst the baggiest football shirts ever made, and Steve McManaman would regularly look like he was parachuting his way down the wing whenever England went on the attack. It’s famous because of all the memories, but iconic because it’s also very easy on the eye - especially compared to the controversial “indigo blue” effort which served as our away strip.
Memorable Moment: Paul Gascoigne flicking the ball over a bemused Colin Hendry at Euro ‘96, before smashing it home and bringing out the “dentist’s chair”.
8. 2001-03 home shirt
This shirt has always been amongst my favourite England designs, and nobody could ever make me think otherwise. After completely omitting any hint of red from the previous home shirt, Umbro seemed desperate to make amends by using it more prominently than ever before.
Leaning heavily on the St George's Cross, the resulting red stripe was as striking as it was stunning, looking particularly good when worn with the fantastic white change shorts. For me, this shirt always exuded a particularly strong sense of patriotism, probably because it was the first time the national flag had played such an important role in the design. Come on England, and all that.
Anything more than this, however, would be way too far, and what was classy would suddenly become unbelievably tacky. If brands are going to use our flag, it needs to be implemented subtly and creatively, and here Umbro have really gone to the limit of what’s acceptable (they did the same in 2006).
Memorable Moment: Beckham. Greece. You know the drill. Alternatively, you could have the 5-1 drubbing of the Germans in Munich.
7. 1997-99 - home shirt
Umbro once again served up something different for the ‘98 World Cup, this time bringing red back and showing it off in distinctive panels under the sleeves. This use of red and (very, very dark) navy is mirrored beautifully on that chunky collar, which matches up perfectly with the central crest and again signifies Umbro’s desire to break the mould.
It’s bold, baggy, beautiful and inescapably 90s, with the kind of fantastically brash design choices which were so typical of this period. Despite yet another dose of penalty shootout heartache, there’s no doubt this is a World Cup classic, and it’s certainly deserving of its place amongst the pantheon of retro England shirts.
Memorable Moment: Michael Owen slaloming his way through the Argentina defence and slamming one into the top corner. We wore white shorts that day, instead of the usual navy.
6. 1990-92 - home shirt
I can hear the opening notes of Nessun Dorma already. Rather fittingly, England travelled to one of the greatest ever World Cup tournaments in one of their greatest ever shirts. In fact, that’s not true at all, because all three of their designs for Italia 90 were absolutely gorgeous, and not even a flood of Gazza’s tears could ever change that fact.
The subtle diamond zig-zag pattern is absolutely fantastic, sitting quietly behind the Three Lions crest and a lovely pair of Umbro-styled cuffs. A one-button collar finishes everything off beautifully, signalling an abrupt end to the crew-necks of the late 80s and introducing us to a much baggier style.
The shirt was worn alongside what must be the shortest pair of navy shorts ever seen on a football pitch, which also included just the smallest dash of red.
Memorable Moment: I could talk about Gascoigne’s tears, but let’s go for something a little happier - David Platt’s stunning last-minute volley against Belgium. Wonderful stuff.
5. 1966-74 - away shirt
Before you spit out your brew and start sending me angry Twitter messages, I understand that many people would have this as their number one. This is, without question, the most iconic England shirt ever made, but its legendary status comes more from the stories behind it, rather than a particularly inventive design.
Having said that, this shirt’s classic simplicity has always been very easy on the eye, providing the kind of clean and simple design which many England fans still crave today. It consists of just four key elements: a plain red colourway, crew-neck collar, Three Lions crest and long sleeves. It doesn’t really get any more straight-forward, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In fact, it continues to have an enormous impact on England kits even to this day, just as it has done for the last 50 years. This shirt is so iconic, so memorable, that it's single-handedly made sure England are just as comfortable in red as they are in white. Unquestionably the most influential England shirt of all-time.
Memorable Moment: “They think it’s all over…”
4. 1986 - home shirt
In every sense of the word, this shirt is “cool”. Ahead of the 1986 World Cup, Umbro were keen to prepare England for the intense heat of the Mexican sun, so introduced subtle changes to the usual strip worn between 1984-87 (pictured). Unfortunately, things didn’t really work out in that tournament, but that doesn’t stop it from being an absolute belter.
The fantastic collar remained very much the same, but the main differences here are found in the use of shadow stripes and the omission of sleeve cuffs. Umbro basically did everything within their power to make the shirt as light and breezy as possible, but the real achievement here is the fact they managed to do so while also improving the way it looks!
England may have fallen well short that summer, but at least Gary Lineker seemed to benefit from Umbro’s efforts - clinching the Golden Boot and sealing a move to Barcelona. Though I guess the shirt can’t take all the credit…
Memorable Moment: Diego Maradona unapologetically turning England’s World Cup quarter-final into a game of volleyball.
3. 1990-92 - third shirt
For many England fans, it just doesn’t get better than this. Despite only ever being worn once (not even at Italia 90) and departing from the traditional national colours, this sensational third strip has become the quintessential retro England shirt. It’s not really too hard to see why.
Aside from being shown off in New Order’s “World in Motion” video, the popularity of this shirt arguably stems from its sense of fun and character. It’s certainly different to what we’d typically expect from an England kit, but it actually came amidst a string of pale blue third kits which all failed to appear at a major tournament.
What sets this one apart, however, is the dazzling diamond graphic, the beautiful cuffs and collar, and the fact it came at a time when English fans were falling back in love with the national team. 30 years later, this is a shirt for the beer gardens, the festivals and simply watching us lose on the telly.
But it’s more than just a cult classic, this is a beautiful work-of-art which encapsulates the joy, insanity and style of English football in the 90s. It’s a nostalgic masterpiece.
Memorable Moment: Um, it was only ever worn in a Euro 92 qualifier against Turkey. So that, I guess.
2. 2009 - home shirt
What actually makes an England shirt “good”? There’s obviously no definitive answer to that question, but you just can’t go wrong with going back to basics. A white colourway, the Three Lions and a dash of red are really all we need, and that’s exactly what the 2009 home shirt delivered.
There are no bells here. No whistles. Umbro produced something so plain, so beautifully simple, that it stood out amongst a crowd of increasingly convoluted designs. This was “Tailored by Umbro”, meaning the cut and quality of the fabric was like nothing we’d ever seen before, while the design itself served as a love-letter to the 60s and early 70s.
Unfortunately, it was the shirt’s plainness (rather than its beauty) which was replicated on the pitch at the 2010 World Cup. In fact, the less said about that miserable tournament, the better.
Memorable Moment: Steven Gerrard igniting our World Cup hopes against USA, only for a disastrous Rob Green mistake to promptly snuff them out again.
1. 1980-83 - home & away shirts
This is it. The best England shirts of all-time. And yes - I’m not afraid to say I’ve cheated a little.
Both the home and away kits from this period are so strong, so damn good to look at, that it was only fair for each of them to claim the number one spot. This was Admiral’s parting gift to England (and essentially the larger football shirt world), as they succumbed to major money problems and brought new meaning to the phrase “saving the best till last”.
It’s the striking chest panels which bring both shirts to life, with the contrast to the white of the home shirt proving particularly effective. The away shirt acted as the perfect mirror image, flipping the colours on their head and completing an absolutely outstanding collection of kits.
The retro design of the cuffs and collar have aged incredibly well over the years, and it’s true that these shirts have become much more popular over time. They might not have seen much in the way of football success, but there’s no doubt in my mind that, in terms of sheer style, England kits really don’t get any better.
Memorable Moment: We wore the home shirt in a victory over Spain at the 1980 Euros, but we still crashed out at the group stage in disappointing fashion.
COMING SOON | Our expert round-up review of England’s Euro 2020 shirts.
England have a long history of beautiful football kits, and fitting them all into a top 10 was an incredibly difficult task. There are some major omissions here, such as the gorgeous Admiral kits worn between 1974-81, while the outstanding selection of beautiful, ugly and bizarre goalkeeper kits is worthy of a piece of its own.
For me, the 90s were the pinnacle of England shirts, and pretty much any one of our red away shirts could have been included here. But I think sometimes our opinion of shirts can become a little distorted in a nostalgic haze, and the simple home shirt from 2018 (pictured) is also incredibly unfortunate to miss out - in terms of material and technology, it’s certainly the most innovative of the shirts to date.
Thanks to a fantastic colour palette, some excellent design choices and the impact of the Three Lions, England rarely produce a horrible football kit. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Right, so that’s it. For me, those are the best England kits made so far, but don’t be afraid to drop a comment if I’ve missed off your favourite! Even better, you can also get hold of cheap England shirts by shopping at FOOTY.COM, so make sure to compare prices with us if you fancy something from this list.