A colourful history

Germany unveiled their World Cup kit in November. GettyImages

About a year ago, we discussed the issue of messing with club colours. (Well, at least I did. See: Colour schemes, March 23, 2013.) A reader who goes by the moniker "marianken" used the comments section to ask a question. "Is it true," he or she wrote, "that Germany wear green as a second colour because Ireland was the first country to agree to play West Germany after WWII?"

I still owe "marianken" an answer. I simply didn't notice the question back in March, because it was posted five days after the column went online. I spotted it only last week when I reread the piece in question looking for Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan's quote about the colour red.

The reason I wanted to look up the exact wording of the quote -- "In Asia, red is the colour of joy, red is the colour of festivities and of celebration" -- was that the new Germany away kit was presented to the press on Thursday. Predictably, the red and black hoops elicited howls of protest.

I say "predictably" because fans always moan about new kits. When the standard World Cup look -- white shorts and a white shirt with a red hoop -- was unveiled in November, a big weekly magazine polled its readers and found that 77 percent disliked the kit. (It still sold like mad.)

Most fans prefer a classic look and traditional colours, which is why the kit West Germany wore at the 1982 World Cup regularly places high in polls and why so many people lobbied for the return of the familiar green kit when Jurgen Klinsmann introduced red as the new away colour in early 2006.

The problem is that tradition can be a matter of definition. As regards Germany's shirt colour, red actually predates green. It was used only very rarely, though, because there wasn't really any pressing need for a substitute kit -- a "second colour" -- until the rise of black-and-white television coverage in the 1950s.

People watching a game at the ground had no problem telling the teams apart if one wore, say, green or blue and the other red or black. But, on small black-and-white TV sets with their grainy picture, similar hues could be a nuisance.

The fact that away shirts became necessary only after the war explains why neither Germany nor Austria carried a second kit with them when the two sides met on June 7, 1934, in Naples, for the third-place match at the World Cup. Both teams wore white shirts and black shorts when they took the field. Some accounts say that referee Albino Carraro was prepared to let the match go ahead regardless until the sparse crowd began to complain because fans couldn't tell the sides apart. Lots were drawn. Austria lost and had to change into the only substitute garb that was readily available -- blue Napoli shirts.

The reason Germany wear black and white is that these are the colours of Prussia. They also formed the foundation for the colours of the German Reich, which had a tricolour flag because it combined Prussia's black and white with the colours of the Hanseatic League, red and white, to arrive at black, white and red.

Maybe that's why the German national team would, on occasions that were few and far between, wear red. You may be familiar with one of these occasions without really knowing it. I'm talking about the famous, or rather infamous, photo that shows the England team giving the Nazi salute in Berlin on May 14, 1938. (According to the Daily Mail the image "still haunts British sport.")

Normally when the photo is printed you see only the England XI in their white shirts and dark shorts. But standing next to Stanley Matthews and his teammates (above) were the Germans -- in dark shirts and white shorts. Of course it's a black-and-white photo, so you could be forgiven for thinking that the Germans had simply swapped their colours around and were wearing black shirts. But they weren't. The shirts were red.

Eight years previously, on May 10, 1930, and also in Berlin, Germany had earned a sensational 3-3 draw with England thanks to Richard Hofmann's famous hat trick. The German players had worn red on that day too and they would do so again during a 4-1 win over Poland in Chemnitz in 1938, when they combined the red shirts with black shorts.

Even the all-white look everybody complained about when the current kit was launched in November is old hat. Germany celebrated their biggest-ever victory -- a 16-0 rout of Russia at the 1912 Olympics -- in white shorts and white shirts with a single black hoop around the chest. However, the most famous game featuring an all-white Germany was probably the final second-round group match against Poland at the 1974 World Cup. It was effectively the semifinal. On a rain-soaked Frankfurt pitch, Uli Hoeness missed a penalty before the inevitable Gerd Mueller scored the only goal of the game.

So we've had black and white, red and white, red and black, all white and even navy blue. Yes, blue! In June 1985, West Germany toured through Mexico to prepare for the following year's World Cup. In their two official matches, against England and Mexico, they sported the classic black-and-white look. But during a preparation game against a local side, West Germany played in blue shirts, white shorts and blue socks.

But green? Why green? As "marianken" pointed out, there's a theory that says Ireland are to blame. It's a surprisingly persistent and widespread rumour considering how patently it is nonsense. Ireland weren't "the first country to agree to play Germany after the war," they weren’t even the second or the third. West Germany's first three opponents after the war were Switzerland (twice), Turkey and Austria, all of whom often wear red. So maybe there is something to be said for this away colour after all.

However, these countries don't always wear red. When Turkey played West Germany in Berlin on June 17, 1951, the visitors wore white shirts (with a single red hoop) and white shorts. The Germans meanwhile wore green shirts and green (not white, as would become the norm later) shorts, plus green-and-white socks. It was the first time the team used this colour, exactly four months before they travelled to Dublin.

The reason the German second kit used to be green and white is that these are the official colours of the German FA (DFB) since around 1925. Opinion is divided over why exactly the DFB changed its look at that point and replaced the colours of the Reich with the much less symbolically charged green and white. The matter is made the more confusing by the fact that the logo -- in which the letters D, F and B were black, white and red -- remained unchanged until April 1940, when the DFB (like all other sports governing associations) was dissolved because athletic activities were controlled and organised by the party and the state.

And so it wasn't until after the war that green really became the DFB's signature colour. When the association was re-formed on July 1, 1949, in Stuttgart, the decision was made to use a new logo, designed by the artist and football coach Ernst Fuhry. For obvious reasons, the colours of the Reich were now a total no-no and discarded in favour of what also happen to be the colours that define a football pitch: green and white. (For many decades, the postwar logo consisted only of the characteristic green letters. It wasn't until the new millennium that the letters became white and the colours of the Federal Republic -- black, red and gold -- were discreetly added to the logo.)

The most fondly remembered game in green is probably the 3-1 win at Wembley in 1972, Germany's first win on English soil. Still, many World Cup games come close, from the legendary 6-1 mauling of Austria in 1954 and an exciting 4-2 win against Sweden in 1974 to the 1990 semifinal. So you can understand why many people feel emotionally attached to this shirt colour.

However, it's as yet unclear when it will return, despite its popularity. As Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung memorably said about the Germany kit two years ago: "It's not easy being green."