Scottish Football Kits After World War Two
Alick Milne (May 2007)
When the Second World War ended in 1945, the UK was practically bankrupt. Vast sums had been borrowed through War Bonds, the international money markets and the "lend lease" arrangement with the United States to finance the war effort and these had to be repaid with interest. Much of the country's industrial output went for export to help repay international debts leaving very little for domestic consumption. The rationing system introduced to ensure that everyone had equal access to essential commodities, regardless of personal wealth continued.
Every person in every family was allocated so many clothing coupons - which had to be used for not only clothes, but goods such as bed sheets, curtains and towels. Those with cash to spare could purchase additional items only through the illegal black market.
The Board of Trade made an allocation of coupons to football clubs, but of course it was not adequate. A single outfit of shirt, shorts, stockings and boots could require 17 coupons - not far short of an individual's annual allowance. The bigger teams, with stockpiles of pre-War strips, were in a good position; but smaller clubs looked with dismay at the mouldering heaps in their kit-rooms and begged their supporters for any spare coupons they might be able to provide.
In England, where most clubs - even those in the lower divisions - come from good-sized towns, such appeals usually resulted in sufficient coupons being collected to outfit the first team (albeit sometimes in unfamiliar kits). Outside of the big cities, however, the provincial Scottish clubs such as Brechin, Forfar, Montrose, Cowdenbeath and Berwick with populations of 10,000 or less - little more than villages by English standards - faced a tougher challenge. They might have had one set of first kits, one of change kits and perhaps an ancient set used for training, and that was it. There was little prospect of getting any more, especially if the traditional colours were a bit unusual. It may have been that clubs had their team photos taken in a threadbare traditional strip, but for matches wore what they could get. Dundee certainly played in white for most of 1945/46; East Stirling wore two-inch hooped shirts in 1946/47. Dunfermline may have been forced to play in highly untrendy white lace-up jerseys in 1945/46, and Berwick (then a non-league side) turned out in old fashioned laced crew necked striped jerseys. These may look smart on the gallery but in reality they were probably faded to a dull grey and urine shade.
It was doubly galling for the clubs, because Scottish attendances figures boomed in the late 1940s; clubs were awash with cash, but could not use it to buy kit. There were practically no significant colour changes in the years immediately after the War. Once sufficient coupons had been collected, a new set of shirts or stockings might be purchased in mid-season - many clubs actually played in socks which were different from those in the team photos - but the new shirts were pretty simple in design, and followed club tradition. (And no wonder - if one of the new shirts was irreparably damaged, the team would need to find a replacement from their stockroom, because they wouldn't get it anywhere else.)
The kit famine hit clubs from the highest to the lowest. When the Irish League played at Hampden Park they had to turn out in the red of Cliftonville, because they could not get anything else. Meanwhile, schools were being restricted to one or two teams because there were not enough strips, boots or footballs and those which were available were not always of the best quality. There were reports of adult players with new boots having to tie the soles on with string before going on the park because they were so shoddily made.
Every so often newspapers had stories of a junior or amateur club being burgled, and all their kit, boots and footballs being stolen - the senior clubs presumably had better security. Spivs would approach club officials and offer their dodgy merchandise, coupon-free, for premium prices. A few officials were quoted in the press saying how they had rejected such approaches, but one wonders how many quietly paid the price requested.
By 1948 or thereabouts the situation was easing so far as the League clubs were
concerned, and faded shirts and pre-War socks were things of the past. Numbers,
hooped socks and badges began to appear, although kit design remained very traditional,
possibly in the expectation that stringent rationing could recur. It wasn't
until 1950 and beyond that some variety and imagination was reintroduced to
Scottish kit design.