Aston Villa were the first club to wear claret and blue, and their influence can be felt across the globe.
Words: John Townley | @johntownley11
You will have heard the tale of how the Zebra got its stripes in Turin, when Juventus asked for a set of clean black and white shirts from the oldest professional football club. Those Notts County stripes became iconic.
But who were the first in claret and blue? Aston Villa, that’s who.
The famous strip originated in 1887 after Aston Villa adapted their garish chocolate and sky-blue pallet from the year before. And since then, manufacturers and sponsors have changed, but the illustrious claret and blue has always remained.
Now 5% of the Football league wear the obscure colour combination that Tony Matthews argues was due to a Scottish influence, that of Hearts and Rangers, with the Scottish Rampant Lion adorning the club crest to boot.
Often referred to as the ‘Villa style’, it is also claimed that Ollie Whateley was the visionary behind the distinct contrasting body and sleeves on a typical Aston Villa shirt.
The colours have not only been exported around the United Kingdom, but across the globe too. Here’s a closer look as to why they resonate across the footballing world:
West Ham United
Then the Thames Ironworks, West Ham United wear their cut of claret and blue due to both fascinating and ridiculous circumstances – in the form of a 120-year-old wager that decided their football clubs’ permanent colours.
At a fair close to Villa Park in the summer of 1899, William Dove – a sprinter of national repute – was challenged to beat four Aston Villa players in a race. Inevitably, the Villa men were forced to pay their debts, but didn’t have enough money. To compensate for their broken terms, one player who was responsible for washing the kit handed Dove an Aston Villa shirt.
Here’s where things got interesting. William’s son, Charlie Dove, played as a full-back for the Ironworks and received that very strip from his father. It was then formally adopted by the Thames Ironworks football team.
Thames Ironworks was disbanded in June 1900 and soon re-launched as West Ham United. The club’s crest still carries a reference to the Ironworks to this day and they have retained the colours that were passed down to them over a century ago.
Burnley’s reason to flex claret and blue is far more straightforward, whilst Aston Villa’s influence was much purer than a lousy bet.
The Lancashire club trialled blue, yellow, green and even pink before settling on claret in the year that Aston Villa claimed their sixth old Division One title back in 1910.
Fellow Football league founding member Burnley spent a decade in green, and whilst that was deemed an unlucky strip after suffering relegation to Division Two, the Turf moor club thought they’d emulate the then English Champions, Aston Villa.
Burnley have since adopted the nickname ‘Clarets’ to complete their brand overhaul from some 109 years ago.
Crystal Palace also saw a chance to alter their fortunes through a change in strip colours, but eventually found their own distinct pallet.
From the club’s creation, Palace donned claret and blue after Aston Villa generously donated a replica kit in the early days of their existence, on the turn of the 19th century.
It was also claimed that Crystal Palace’s first secretary joined from Aston Villa, so it seems that they may have taken the shirt with them. Initially bearing identical kits to Aston Villa, it took the Eagles until 1908 to start tweaking their own strip.
Palace have explored all four divisions of English football and even hosted Real Madrid at Selhurst Park in 1964. It was that year when the Croydon club paid tribute to the Galacticos white strip and successful heritage, by wearing an all lily-white kit of their own. Palace themselves were promoted to Division Two for the first time in their history after unsuccessful seasons in claret.
With the claret body discarded. they are now recognised in ‘cardinal red and blue’ which was introduced to separate their identity from Aston Villa’s
The story of the Scunthorpe United creation is a little confusing, unlike that of their club colours. A combination of North Lindsey United and Scunthorpe formed in 1910, the same year that Aston Villa reigned across England as Division One Champions.
That very year, Scunthorpe & Lindsay United identified themselves in a claret and blue shirt like Aston Villa, with the two separated in all but kit colours. It’s an unlikely coincidence that the two so happened to match.
Scunny wore a classic body with sky blue sleeves, white shorts and claret socks with blue trim – the same as Aston Villa that year. After swapping between white and red shirts for the next two decades, they reverted back to the colours they chose to emulate in the early aughts.
Since 1958, ‘The Iron’ are now simply recognised as Scunthorpe United.
Fashionable in Britain, Aston Villa’s iconic identity expands further than British shores – 3,300 miles to be exact.
The city of Trabzon in Turkey homes Trabzonspor – would you believe – one of the most successful clubs outside of the three big Instanbul sides, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas.
After officially forming in 1967, the club adopted claret and blue in honour of Aston Villa’s heritage. This gospel belief emerged after four Trabzon based clubs formed an alliance and made an agreement to choose opposing colours to their local rivals, İdmanocağı.
After several years in the Second Division, the club achieved promotion to the top flight, and in 1976 became the first club outside of Istanbul to win the league title in what has become a world-famous colour pallet.