Top of the Tops: The 10 most iconic football strips of the decade

Beth Potter gives us her take on the best and worst kits of the decade.

It’s the end of the 2010s, which can only mean one thing: the return of the ‘Top XYZ of the decade’ article to every magazine, newspaper, or website you can get your hands on or swipe your fingertips towards, including ours.

And we’re all sick to death of hearing what yet another journalist has to say about their chosen list of bests and worsts.

Besides, as wise man Robbie Collin once said: “All critical lists – best, worst, most overrated, whatever – are worth reading primarily for what they tell you about the critic doing the listing. They’re mirrors, not lenses – however hard the reflected figure tries to disguise it.”

But, dear reader, I fancy looking in the mirror, and so do the subjects of this article, given the sheer striking beauty of their kits.

I want to show you the most iconic football strips of the decade – the best, worst, most ugly and most likely to be seen at a groovy hipster bar in Dalston.

In the modern football world, the marketability of a club, its social media game, its membership packages and its worldwide advertising revenue are often as important as on-field performances. A club’s image is everything.

Top football clubs are now, for better or worse, big businesses and businesses ride or die on sleek and attractive aesthetics. Plus, fans want to look cool while supporting their team.

So here they are: The top 10 most iconic kits of the 2010s.

10) Juventus 2011-12, away

Milan might be the Italian fashion capital, but Turin takes the biscuit (biscotti?) when it comes to football kits.

Juventus have built their brand on an instantly-recognisable, sleek, monochrome look, having donned some iteration of the black and white vertical stripe for home matches since 1903.

They are beaten only by Newcastle for this striking monochrome apparel, who somehow managed to pre-empt Italian fashion by nearly a decade and claimed the black-and-white stripe in 1894 (the first and last time that Italian fashion took inspo from north east England). The 2011-12 Juve away strip, however, gives a startling pop of pink:

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Juventus 2011-2012 away kit, featured here in a pre-season tournament match against FC Internazionale

The pink here pays homage to the Juventus home strip of 1899-1903, which forms the honorary basis of a host of away strips and training shirts that have also featured Juve-hot-pink over the years.

The most fun bit about this strip, however, has to be the big black star emblazoned at a jaunty angle over the front of the shirt. Quirky and kitsch, it manages to be simultaneously sporty and camp — a combination to which, quite frankly, we should all aspire.

9) Liverpool 2009-10, away

Away kits feature heavily in this list, as there’s only so much a design team can do with colours and logos which have been in use for over a century.

This cheeky little number only just sneaks into the decade — but boy does it deserve its place. The gold Adidas symbol, centrally placed; the old, intricately detailed Liverpool logo, popping against the black of the top; the Carlsberg sponsor, giving me a nostalgic hit for my 2005 Champions League final shirt; the gold shorts and — yes, really — matching gold socks, just out of picture:

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Fernando Torres celebrates scoring at Old Trafford in March 2010

The ‘gold’ here isn’t really gold, but a pale yellowish beige. But that’s why it’s such an iconic strip. In many ways this colour perfectly encapsulates Liverpool’s experience during the Torres years: so close to stunning, sparkling, spectacular, but ultimately left dull and deadened by the abysmal 2009-10 campaign.

8) Australia Women 2019, home

As fans of this website know, 2019 has been a fantastic year for the women’s game. The Women’s World Cup brought with it a smattering of extravagant kit designs — an honourable mention must go here to the German team’s glitchy version of the black, red, and yellow flag on a crisp white Adidas number — but my pick for the tournament goes to the Matildas.

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Sam Kerr and Ellie Carpenter celebrate their group match victory against Brazil in June 2019

This kit was the first to be exclusively designed for an Australian women’s team, and serves to ‘encapsulate contemporary Australia’, according to distributors Nike.

The graphic features Hosier Lane (Melbourne’s famous street art hot-spot), the Golden Wattle, and abstract patterns of the Australian landscape. It clearly channels a 90’s aesthetic, which goes some way in explaining why something so ugly can be so appealing.

A bright yellow background with gashes of pale urine hues and deep moss? The odds were always against the Aussies. But this kit is striking and undeniably fabulous.

To top it off, the phrase ‘Never Say Die’ is printed on the inside of the shirt, which makes this strip even more covetable.

7) Tottenham Hotspur 2012-13, third kit

This shirt was the first designed for Spurs by Under Armour, before Nike took over design and production from 2017.

It’s another satisfying monochromatic look, with blocks of black juxtaposed with pale bluish grey. The neon cuff on the sleeves, along with the corresponding neon stripe on the socks, offers a pleasing match with the neon goalie kit:

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Steven Caulker looks on, terrified, as Sergio Aguero scores for Manchester City. But at least his neon flashes match Brad Friedel’s kit

Alas, Spurs supporters may have wished that the Under Armour deal continued, given the teal monstrosity of a third kit which came from Nike in 2018-19.

It turns out that my editor owns the shorts for this kit; to him (and for him) I am truly sorry. The subtle hint at north London cartography in the upper section of the top is admittedly a sweet detail; too bad from afar it looks like Harry Kane has wiped some radioactive snot on his neckline.

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Harry Kane celebrates a CL goal against PSV. An iconic kit in its ugliness

6) Dulwich Hamlet 2019-20, home and away

A list of the best kits from the 2010s would be incomplete without a mention of Dulwich Hamlet, whose kit of pink and blue has come to symbolise much more than just one team.

In 2017, the Hamlet were threatened by bankruptcy, while in 2018 they were forced out of their ground by owners and property developers Meadow Partners and forced to groundshare with rivals Tooting & Mitcham United.

\The club ran a fundraising effort called the 12th Man, and received the backing of local Labour MP Helen Hayes. In the House of Commons, Hayes said that Dulwich Hamlet’s situation was “representative of a much wider problem, in which short-term financial gain seeks to assert itself over an institution valued not just in pounds and pence but in people, friendship, aspiration and history.”

Reise Allassani, Dulwich Hamlet winger

The club had always boasted a politically liberal fanbase, with pro-LGBTQ scarfs and anti-racism stickers proliferating over the stands. But it then became something more — the centrepiece in a fight for grassroots football and a battle against the monopolising of public space by big business.

The unmistakable iconography of the Hamlet’s pink and blue sash speaks for a brand which is more than a brand, but a collective identity for supporters who have been vital to the club’s ongoing survival. The home kit’s pink sash on deep blue background, and its direct inversion in the away kit, is stunning in its simplicity.

5) Arsenal 2019-20, home

Regrettably, the Arsenal 2019-20 kit is a thing of timeless elegance. It’s a shame that the arrival of such a beautiful strip should coincide with the team’s worst performance for 26 seasons.

Fans who rushed to buy the home shirt after its pre-season reveal will be ready to burn all 2019-20 paraphernalia if Mikel Arteta isn’t able to turn this season around.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doesn’t look happy in a match against Watford in September 2019. But doesn’t his outfit look nice?!

Where to begin? The white capped sleeves; the Adidas three-stripe edging on the shoulders and down the side of the leg; the corresponding three-stripe socks; the pièce de résistance of the v-neck, white-trimmed neckline with overlapping hem.

All are emblems of the perfect coalescence of precise tailoring with athletic performance. Sadly, this top proves that ‘nice style doth not good substance make’.

4) France 2011-13, away

Ah, the French. Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier: connoisseurs of the finest fashion has to offer; designers of the most iconic shapes and patterns of the last century.

A Breton-striped football shirt had to appear one day and appear it did in 2011. You know there’s a certain special je ne sais quoi about a football strip when Karl Largerfeld is enlisted to shoot the publicity shots.

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A young Alexandre Lacazette models some elegant French design

Again, simplicity is key here. The design is based on the ‘marinière’, which served as the uniform of sailors in the French navy in the 19th century and became a civilian fashion staple in the 20th.

Delicacy of graphics is not often seen on football strips, where bold patterns and colours form a more distinct visual iconography for a team (see Juve and Australia, above).

But it’s nice to see the French keeping it classy and subtle here, managing to honour the history of French culture while making waves on-field for its future.

3) Nigeria 2018-20, home

Any football fan would’ve seen this pick coming a mile away — not just because of the eye-wateringly jazzy zig-zag stripes on this shirt, but because its appearance at the 2018 World Cup was the most hotly anticipated football fashion moment of recent memory. The kit sold out on its first day of release, helped by some spicy modelling from Alex Iwobi and Wilfried Ndidi:

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Does Ndidi look good? ‘Ndeed-he does (sorry)

The opposite of French minimalism, this strip screams joyous, uproarious fun. Nike stated that the kit was a ‘subtle homage to Nigeria’s ’94 shirt, with its eagle wing-inspired black-and-white sleeve and green torso’.

Subtle isn’t the word I’d use: garish is an understatement. Let’s hope other manufacturers go bold like Nike and Nigeria in future, even if it causes us all long-term retina damage.

2) SC Heerenveen 2012-13, home

For some, a rogue choice; but SC Heerenveen are a deserving runner-up. The Dutch team currently sit at eighth in the league, and have only ever been Eredivisie runners-up once, in the 1999-2000 season — their highest ever finish. While action at the players’ feet isn’t much to write home about, the garb that clothed the 2012-13 team certainly is:

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Viktor Elm smiles up to fans in March 2012

Very similar to the 2019-20 kit, Heerenveen’s 2012-13 home strip offers migraine-inducing gaudiness with a touch of classy Comme des Garçons: and for that reason, I love it.

A proudly Frisian club, the strip and club emblem are based on the flag of Friesland. While the red shapes accompanying the blue stripes may look like lovehearts, the club are keen to emphasise that they are, in fact, water-lilies.

But isn’t it more fun to imagine them as hearts? And thus 15th century precursors to the now-iconic and ubiquitous Comme-des-Garçons heart-faces? If east London hipsters got wind of this strip, the club would make enough money to buy themselves to the top of the league.

1) Anything Héctor Bellerín wears

Okay, okay, you got me: this isn’t strictly speaking a ‘strip’ at all. But an account of 2010s footballing fashion moments simply must include Héctor Bellerín.

He’s a fashion icon whose ‘fits and choice catwalk appearances do more for his club’s reputation for ‘cool’ than any zany kit could. He’s a one-man brand who integrates football, fashion, and politics into one chisel-jawed human. We have no choice but to stan.

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Héctor Bellerín walks the Louis Vuitton catwalk at Paris Fashion Week 2019

We can only pray that Arsenal choose a similar shade of pink for next season’s away kit.

You can follow Beth on Twitter @BethPotzzz

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