After the conclusion of the 1993/94 season the contract between Chelsea and sponsors Commodore / Amiga came to an end after seven years. A new sponsorship deal was confirmed with American lager giants ‘Coors’ in the summer of 1994. A time when football shirts lasted for two seasons and the home kit would remain the same with the logo being the only difference. All eyes were now firmly on the release of a new away kit and it certainly caught the attention of all football fans.
The colour was described by the club as ‘tangerine & graphite’ although in simpler terms many referred to it as orange and grey. The actual design from Umbro was similar to the kits released by Nottingham Forest, Everton and Celtic who also had Umbro as their kit maker. However it wasn’t necessarily just the design that was the issue, it was the colour scheme. It’s an understatement to say it divided opinion and even to this day it still does. The kit was apparently released for the benefit of supporters even though many wrote to the club complaining and urging them and Umbro to rethink ahead of the upcoming season.
Terry Byrne, the Chelsea kit man at the time stated;
“The reason it’s orange is because we wanted to make sure fans didn’t have to buy a third kit. We told Umbro to design a shirt which didn’t clash with any other club in the Premiership – and this is what they came up with. I think there’ll be thousands of supporters wearing it when the season gets started”.
It was certainly a ‘marmite’ kit and despite the controversy apparently sales were very positive. I finally got mine on my 11th birthday, I loved it. I remember it being one of my first Chelsea kits that I had that wasn’t handed down from my older brother.
The 1994/95 season saw Glenn Hoddle enter his second season as player / manager and there was a belief amongst supporters Glenn was on the brink of bringing the glory days back to Stamford Bridge after a very long wait. Although it was disappointing losing the 1994 F.A Cup Final to Manchester United, as they won the double it meant Chelsea would enter the Cup Winners Cup and be playing in Europe again for the first time since 1972!
Trailing 1-0 to Club Brugge in the Quarter Final after the first leg it was back to Stamford Bridge for one of those memorable nights. For some strange reason in the later stages of that competition the home team would wear their away kit. Chelsea won the game 2-0 on the night thanks to Mark Stein and Paul Furlong ensuring progression to the Semi Final.
The shirt was worn a handful of times in the Premier League and had its final outing of the season was away to Everton in what was a six goal thriller. A 3-3 draw saw Paul Furlong (2) and a rarity from David Hopkin secure a great fight back. Chelsea had a mid table finish in the league but surprised many by reaching the Semi Final stage of the Cup Winners Cup only to be knocked out by eventual winners Real Zaragoza. It was the following season when the kit really came to life….
The summer of 1995 will never be forgotten by supporters and for many it’s when things really started to change for the club. Hoddle had now ‘hung up his boots’ and was fully concentrating on management. On May 31st after the rumours had been initially denied the club confirmed the signing of former world footballer of the year, Ruud Gullit after his contract expired at Sampdoria. It undoubtedly goes down as one of the most important signings in the history of the club and one supporters couldn’t quite believe. Mark Hughes soon arrived from Manchester United for £1.5m, another superb signing.
Their first outing in Chelsea ‘blue’ or should I say ‘orange and grey’ was a pre season friendly at the Priestfield Stadium against Gillingham. A huge attendance of 10,425 squeezed in, all eagerly looking forward to see Ruud in action for the first time. A 3-1 Chelsea victory on the night and a pitch invasion followed at the final whistle. It was at this point the controversial away kit had a new lease of life with many commenting how good it now looked with Dutch superstar Ruud Gullit wearing it.
Other notable outings for the kit during the 1995/96 season were…..
The first game of 1996 saw Chelsea play West London neighbours QPR at Loftus Road, remembered for striker Paul Furlong scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory deep into injury time. After a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge against Wimbledon in the F.A Cup Quarter Final it was back to Selhurst Park for a replay. I remember this well and was gutted I couldn’t go but had a school test the next day. My dad went to the game with Chelsea supporters inevitably taking three sides of the ground. Dan Petrescu eased the nerves smashing the ball home from an acute angle after twenty minutes with some fans spilling onto the pitch. Wimbledon equalised after Dennis Wise had missed a penalty but Michael Duberry and Mark Hughes ensured victory and progression to the Semi Final.
Chelsea finished the season mid table in the Premier League and reached the F.A Cup Semi Final. After the conclusion of Euro ’96 Hoddle took the England job and Ruud took over as player / manager of Chelsea. The F.A Cup finally arrived in 1997 with Chelsea attracting more and more superstars. It was the start of a truly golden era.
I’m fortunate enough to own two original shirts with one being signed personally by Ruud Gullit. The one I had as a child is now nowhere to be seen but could quite possibly be in my mum and dad’s loft somewhere. It is however an absolute classic and a very sought after shirt amongst supporters and collectors. An original adult size can now fetch between £200 – £300! Reproductions of the shirt are available here. I suppose the moral of the story is that if the club you support release the most outrageous kit, you should buy it! The chances are it will eventually have some kind of iconic status, certainly never be forgotten and also will probably turn over a nice profit for you in the future.
Written By Chris Wright @chriswrightzz