Football shorts through the decadesWritten by Gareth Healey in Sport on August 7th, 2015
You hear many people moan about how “football isn’t what it used to be anymore” and how “money has ruined the game” when in reality, the biggest change for the worse in football terms is the length of players’ shorts.
We look back at how the fashions have changed throughout the years, from the shin grazers of the early 20th century to the short-shorts of the 70s and 80s, right through to the relatively conservative present day.
1888 – 1950s
From the formation of the football league 125 years ago in 1888 to the mid-1950s, the only acceptable short length was for the hem to sit just below the knee. It is impossible to think of old-fashioned English greats like Stanley Matthews, Nat Lofthouse or the “Clown Prince of Football” himself Len Shackleton strutting their stuff without their baggy, oversized shorts blowing around in the wind.
As we all know, fashions come and go, and despite a slight long-short renaissance during the mid-90s among some Premier League journeymen, the full return of the knee-length short has yet to appear.
As with any item of clothing that is in fashion for a long time, when its stranglehold on popular opinion breaks, the masses always flock to the other extreme. So from the mid-60s until the mid-90s, the knee-length shorts of old were replaced wholesale by tiny short-shorts almost ten inches shorter in length.
Just as those British greats listed above were known for their love of the long short, so the players from this era embraced the shorter short with equal gusto. Who knows, maybe Maradona may not have been able to weave his way through the English midfield in Mexico in 86 with swathes of material obstructing his knees (or leap to punch the ball from the grasp of Peter Shilton either). And maybe the great George Best owed much of his dribbling prowess as he terrorised defences throughout the 60s and 70s to the change in fashion from long to short short.
1990s to present day
As Sky made its presence felt on the football landscape in the early 90s, many claimed that the match day experience became much more sanitised at the same time. Some may argue that the move to mid-length shorts around the same time was more than just a happy coincidence. Although we never know the reasons why all manufacturers decide en masse that there is suddenly one acceptable length of short, as football becomes more tailored towards the armchair fan as opposed to those in their expensive seats in the cold, it doesn’t seem to farcical to suggest that there is something more sinister afoot around the move to the middle ground.