An overview of Hull City AFC’s kit history – 111 years of kits in 2700 words by Les Motherby.
Amber and black striped shirts inspired the club’s nickname of ‘the Tigers’ in the early 1900s, and in recent years the world has seen Hull City perform in the Premier League, in an FA Cup final and in European competition wearing kits with stripey jerseys.
Despite that style of shirts being synonymous with the club, City have a perhaps surprisingly diverse kit history: they’ve worn solid amber shirts for extended periods, experimented with tertiary colours (white in the 1920s, red in the 1980s), tried varying shades of amber, temporarily ditched amber and black altogether and famously gone animal print, with two distinct jerseys featuring approximations of tiger-skin markings.
Amber and black were proposed as primary colours from the club’s inception in 1904, and were certainly in use as early as March 1905 when the suggestion of Hull Daily Mail sport correspondent ‘Athleo’ to nickname the club ‘the Tigers’ based on their jerseys proved popular.
It is commonly assumed that City played their first true fixture, a friendly with Notts County (the world’s oldest professional club) that ended in a 2-2 draw, wearing white jerseys with black ‘knickerbockers and stockings’, as shorts and socks were termed at the time. That assumption is based on a black and white photograph showing two teams, one in seemingly plain white shirts and the other in black and white jerseys (presumed to be Notts County) posing with various dignitaries.
However on closer inspection, that photo depicts players who made their first appearances for City years after the club’s founding*, so the assumption that it shows the line-up and kit of City’s first game is likely false. It is also worth noting that the convention of the day was for the home team to don a change kit in the event of a colour clash, so even if City are shown in white jerseys at home, it doesn’t categorically mean that white was a primary team colour.
There is another photograph, showing players who did feature in the first Hull City game, dressed in all black, raising the possibility that City sported a monotone look early in their existence (and maybe in the first game as they’re photographed with the Lord Mayor). At this time, however, it cannot be definitively stated what the first Hull City kit looked like.
What is known for sure is that amber and black was the first choice kit for City’s inaugural Football League season, 1905/06, when the Tigers competed in the Second Division.
Amber and black striped jerseys, black shorts and black socks was the basic look for Hull City from 1905 to 1915, with minor variations in collar styles and stocking trim being the only changes. Competitive football was suspended between 1915 and 1919, as World War One depleted teams across the land. Regional league competitions were held, though City only entered a side for 1918/19, and though that campaign does not form part of the official Football League records, it was notable for City pairing white shorts with amber and black striped jerseys for the first time.
League football resumed in 1919, and City went back to black shorts, but only temporarily: white shorts would be used by City in the League in 1921/22 and would remain part of the first choice kit (though with a few different striped shirts) until 1935, when a radical kit change was made.
For 1935/36, amber and black was eschewed for home kits consisting of solid blue shirts, white shorts and blue and white hooped stockings. The shirt was the first to feature a badge, but rather than a tiger, the emblem of the city of Hull (three stacked ducal coronet crowns in gold on a field of blue) was used, which may give some clues regarding the colour change. Blue is a civic colour, (municipally run buses had a livery described as ‘Corporation blue’ and white) and ultramarine blue pigments were produced locally by Reckitts Ltd so were easy to come by.
City’s colour switch then, appears to have been a salutary nod to the city itself. Blue and white didn’t last long though, a disastrous relegation led to amber and black being reinstated as club colours, at least until the start of World War Two which led to another suspension of Football League operations. Regional football was again played during wartime, but City elected not take part on financial grounds.
Dormant since 1939, the League aimed for a 1946/47 restart. Local businessman Harold Needler roused Hull City from wartime hibernation after trying to create a new Football League team in the city, the unwieldy named Kingston Upon Hull AFC.
Needler wanted his team to turn out in orange jerseys, white shorts and blue socks (and an illustration of a player wearing this kit appeared on City’s programmes for the 1946/47 campaign), but the Board of Trade refused access to rationed dyes, prompting a rethink. With ultramarine dye readily available, Hull City adopted blue jerseys for a second time, though the shade was much lighter than that used back in 1935.
The Tigers began life at their new Boothferry Park home (which had first been mooted in 1929) outfitted in pale blue shirts, white shorts and dark, probably black stockings. The season after though (1947/48), saw a return to the club’s traditional amber and black colour scheme, but the Tigers had lost their stripes. Solid amber jerseys with black foldover collars and a rather abstract tiger head badge became the primary strip for the next ten seasons.
There were some detail variations over that period. For a time the tiger head was encased in a large, crudely rendered shield, and after floodlights were installed at Boothferry Park in 1953, a shiny and silky looking Rayon version of the heavy drill cotton jerseys was occasionally used. Black shorts were used throughout the lifecycle of this kit, and though plain amber socks are most readily associated with it, amber and black hooped hose were used in 1947/48, a season that ended under the stewardship of player manager Raich Carter.
English clubs were still wearing baggy, heavyweight jerseys well into the mid-1950s, by which time teams in mainland Europe had largely switched to slimmer fitting and lighter shirts. After Umbro supplied the England team with a new line of kits (appropriately termed the ‘Continental’ range) the new fashion swept through the Football League.
Hull City adopted Umbro kits (supplied by Asbestos, now Arco Ltd.) in time for the 1957/58 season, primarily wearing amber shirts with black V necks and sleeve cuffs, black shorts (much shorter than before) and black socks with amber foldover bands. These kits were in use till the early 1960s when striped shirts made a brief comeback. Hooped socks accompanied striped V neck jerseys before the stripes became much thinner for some of the 1963/64 campaign, when two distinct sets of striped shirts were used with black shorts and amber socks with black hoops on the foldover bands.
Another decade of solid amber jerseys followed, starting with a kit that had barely any black on it. For 1964/65, City donned stylish shirts with two black chest hoops (a style popularised by West Ham), but the shocking element of the kit was the amber shorts, which paired with amber stockings created a kit which was essentially all-amber. Without black shorts to provide sufficient contrast, the kit looked washed out and was dismissively branded the ‘banana kit’. With black shorts this could have been a classic kit, but instead it was dispensed with after just one season.
The next kit would stick around longer, and has become somewhat iconic of a highly successful (at least relative to recent times) period. Black shorts returned, matched with a shirt that was essentially the previous jersey sans-chest hoops, it was solid amber with a crew neck panel of two black stripes and one amber, and black cuffs with amber stripes of irregular width. Solid amber socks completed the kit, decorated with two thin black hoops on the foldover band for the first few years of use (including the 1965/66 Division Three title-winning season which still has veteran Tiger Nationals cooing and lauding the Waggy and Chillo attacking axis) and plain amber for the latter seasons.
A simple kit was simplified further in 1969 when the club introduced a shirt with no contrast trim at all, in a slightly lighter shade of amber. It seems that the club toyed with the idea of using the somewhat emaciated tiger head badge (last used in the early 1960s) on these shirts as it is faintly visible on some photographs, as if it was applied and then removed after a change of heart.
That tiger head did appear on the follow up shirt though, the last time it appeared on a City kit. The 1972-75 kit comprised of a solid amber shirt with a centrally placed tiger head below a black inset neck panel and wingtip turnover collar, black shorts and black socks with a thick amber stripe on the foldover band.
A somewhat retro themed kit was released in 1975 that not only reintroduced striped shirts, after 11 years in plain amber jerseys, but also white shorts (last used on a home kit in 1946/47 and not used with black and amber striped shirts since 1934/35). This was the first Tigers kit to have an externally visible supplier logo: the mark of Europa Sportswear (a vaguely anvil shaped device) appeared on shirts and shorts on its own initially, later growing in size and sitting above the Leicestershire firm’s wordmark. The shirts were updated with a more realistic version of the tiger head in 1978, when the away kit’s black shorts became part of the primary kit set. In the first half of 1979/80 the club used adidas shorts and socks with the Europa shirts, switching to adidas-made shirts for the start of 1980.
The brand with the three stripes supplied the Tigers until 1982, when a change in supplier coincided with the addition of a new colour to the club’s palette. Don Robinson, a Scarborough based entrepreneur and former wrestler invested in the club after it became the first to enter receivership. He added red as a tertiary colour, saying it symbolised the blood players were willing to shed in the cause of Hull City. It appeared on the first City kit made by Admiral as pinstripes on the otherwise plain amber shirts and red socks, matched with black shorts.
Ever keen to exploit commercial opportunities, clubs were allowing their shirts to be used as billboards in the early 1980s and City got in on the act in 1983/84 when local kitchen fitting firm Hygena paid to have their name advertised on Tigers’ jerseys. Other sponsors in the 1980s were Arrow Air, Twydale Turkeys, Mansfield Brewery and Dale Farm. Red appeared on successive Admiral kits, and on the first set supplied by Matchwinner of Scotland, who were suppliers from 1988–1993.
Their second set of kits did away with red as a trim colour and were released, not coincidentally, soon after Don Robinson left the club. It was their final Hull City home kit though, for which they are most remembered: The 1992/93 shirt was at the leading edge of a trend for lurid patterns, as Matchwinner looked at the club nickname for inspiration, designing an attention grabbing and assymetric tigerskin print shirt.
Sure, it was kitsch, but it was also a splash of fun in an otherwise grim decade and is generally fondly remembered by Tiger Nationals, though it often tops ‘Worst Kit Ever’ polls, suggesting that those formulating the lists are ignorant of the follow up.
City’s relationship with Matchwinner soured and came to an end so abrupt that replacement supplier Pelada couldn’t produce a new kit in time for start of the 1993/94 season, so their logos were simply taped over Matchwinner’s marks on the 1992/93 kit while Pelada approximated tiger stripes.
When they did, releasing the new shirts mid-season, the results were horrific, looking less like tiger stripes and more like leopard spots, on a shirt that looked rust coloured rather than amber (indeed Oxford played a game at Boothferry Park in their home colours of yellow and navy, which would usually clash with our amber and black).
Retro kits were a common theme in English football in the mid 1990s, and following the death of legendary player-manager Raich Carter in October 1994, City honoured ‘The Maestro’ with a kit used between 1995-97 that was styled on the heavy drill cotton garb worn during his time with the Tigers: Solid amber shirts with black shorts and amber socks.
Traditional stripes were worn for the first time in five seasons in 1997/98, a year in which the Tigers recorded their worst ever league table finish, placed 90th out of 92 professional clubs. Relegation to the Conference was a real worry in 1998/99, a season remembered for ‘The Great Escape’ after player-boss Warren Joyce heroically hauled City to safety. It was also remembered for an unusual home shirt that had stripes gradating from amber to white.
Avec supplied City with a traditional striped kit in 1999/00 but their follow up, used in a first ever Play-Offs appearance that extended the 2000/01 campaign, used a tone that was more mustard-like than amber and had white sleeve panels.
Owner/chairman Adam Pearson, who rescued the club from administration in 2001, expressed a preference for plain amber shirts, and they were worn as City made the move from Boothferry Park to the KC Stadium and sealed a first promotion in 18 years when they were Third Division runners-up in 2003/04.
Fan entreaties convinced Pearson to sanction striped shirts for the club’s centenary in 2004/05 though, and after a second successive promotion stripes remained, albeit in different widths for 2005/06 and 2006/07.
Long-time supplier to the England team Umbro signed a three year deal with the Tigers in 2007, and their 2007/08 home kit of amber shirts, black short and socks was worn in City’s first ever appearance at Wembley Stadium. Finishing 3rd in the Championship, the Tigers comprehensively defeated Watford over two legs in the Play-Offs semi to set up a final against Bristol City that was won by Dean Windass’ spectacular volleyed goal.
Hull City would play in the top tier for the first time in 2008/09, and Umbro created a traditional looking striped shirted kit for our inaugural year in the Premier League. It was worn in memorable wins against Fulham, Arsenal and Tottenham as City defied expectations to stay up.
Sadly the trick could not be repeated in 2009/10, and life in the Premier League concluded along with Umbro’s contract, finished off with a fetching home kit with a pinstriped shirt.
Filling the void were adidas, whose trademark three stripes would adorn City kits for the first time since 1982. Shirts with fuzzy stripes and well defined stripes were used in 2010/11 and 2011/12 before City went with mostly amber shirts with black yoke panels in 2012/13, Steve Bruce’s first season as manager. It had a chaotic ending, but the Tigers secured second place, returning to the Premier League.
Also making a quick return were striped shirts, which were paired with striking hooped socks in the final year of the adidas deal, a season in which City advanced to the FA Cup final after comfortably securing top division security. The hooped socks were last seen at Wembley, where City took a surprise 2-0 lead against Arsenal, but they couldn’t resist a comeback by the Gunners, who won 3-2 in extra time.
Consolation was taken from a first ever qualification for European competition. Umbro resumed their role as outfitters for the Tigers, and after unveiling a classic looking striped shirt with plain amber sleeves and crew neck collar, created UEFA rule compliant versions with plain amber back panels.
These were used in the Europa League qualifying play off at home to Lokeren (a game City won 2-1, though they were eliminated on the away goals rule) and later utilised in the League Cup at West Brom and the FA Cup at Arsenal, featuring a sadly underused unique font set created for Hull City’s European adventure. The Tiger’s 2014/15 Premier League campaign was a failure also, as despite massive transfer window spending, the Tigers succumbed to relegation.
*This photograph is studied in more detail in Nicholas Turner’s sublime book Now Tigers!
For everything you want to know about Hull City kits, but are afraid to ask, visit the Hull City Kits site.