Why do Newcastle United play in black and white stripes? And did they really play in red and white? In the third (and last?) trawl through the club’s history, here’s a look at NUFC’s early kits. Previous posts covered the original grounds of NUFC, and the history of St James’ Park. Kit illustrations are courtesy of David Moor at the excellent Historical Football Kits.
There’s no record of the colours worn by Stanley FC, the original club that later became Newcastle United. But Stanley changed its name to East End in October 1882, and we know that from at least 1883 East End wore navy blue jerseys and white knickerbockers. So the club that became Newcastle United probably started out wearing blue and white.
East End / Newcastle United kits (L-R) 1883, 1890, 1894, 2010 (www.historicalkits.co.uk)
For fashionistas, the long-sleeved jerseys were most likely fairly heavy knitted affairs, and knickerbockers were baggy knee-length trousers. Most teams wore solid colours, or ‘halved’ shirts, and few wore stripes, as they were too difficult to manufacture.
As jersey knitting ‘technology’ improved, East End’s kit saw some variations, and at one point the club wore navy shirts with one orange stripe sewed on – a design revisited by Adidas for a Newcastle away kit to a mixed reception in 1997/98.
However, by the time East End had established itself as a major club in the North East, playing at Heaton Junction off Chillingham Road, the club played in – horror of horrors – red and white. Not quite like Sunderland, but East End’s first kit was red jerseys and white knickerbockers.
West End, East Ends’ cross-town rivals, didn’t play in black and white either. The West Enders played in red and black hooped shirts, and then, after setting up home at St James’ Park, in red and black halved shirts. It’s difficult to pinpoint exact colours as none of the kits survive, and obviously the few photos that exist are black and white. Adidas designers interpreted West End’s hooped shirt as maroon and blue for another away shirt homage in 1995/96.
In 1892, after West End folded, East End moved to St James’ Park and the club changed its name to Newcastle United. But the club still played in red jerseys and white knickerbockers. For the 1893/94 season, the club left the Northern League and joined the second division of the Football League. Under the Football League rules, clubs were supposed to register different colours, but Newcastle began their League career playing in red and white – causing multiple kit clashes.
Another problem was the dissatisfaction among some supporters of the uprooted East End and the defunct West End that had prompted the name change to Newcastle United in order to ‘obtain the unanimous support of the public’. The perceived ‘merger’ was understandably unpopular with some, and, despite the name change, the fact that Newcastle United played in the same colours as East End could not have helped.
A change was required, and in 1894 the decision was taken, as the minutes from the club meeting reveal: ‘It was agreed that the Club’s colours should be changed from red shirts and white knickers to black and white shirts (two inch stripe) and dark knickers.’
Those dark knickers were originally grey (or possibly a washed-out black..!) but were soon changed to blue, until the 1920s when the club eventually settled on black shorts. The stockings, some say socks, were black, and have pretty much remained so, barring several ill-fated dalliances with white. (Has Newcastle ever won anything in white socks..?)
Newcastle weren’t the first club to wear black and white stripes. Notts County, the world’s oldest professional club, wore black and white from around 1890. (County were also in the second division in 1894, so there was at least one kit clash. They reached the play-off ‘test match’, but lost to Liverpool. Perhaps Newcastle decided to switch to black and white stripes thinking that County would be promoted to the first division?)
Juventus began wearing black and white stripes in 1903 due to a connection with Notts County via player John Savage. Grimsby Town started wearing the black and white around 1909. And Dunfermline Athletic adopted the colours around the same time.
But the earliest club I can find wearing black and white stripes is St Mirren, who were wearing them from around 1884. Other sides that wear black and white include Udinese, Atlético Mineiro and Botafogo.
So why did Newcastle United decide to wear black and white stripes? There’s no official reason recorded, but there are several theories.
One theory harks back to the English Civil War, the Marquis of Newcastle William Cavendish, and his Whitecoats regiment. The regiment wore undyed woollen coats (which they swore to dye red with the enemy’s blood) and fought under the Cavendish heraldic crest, which is primarily black and white.
The 3,000-strong regiment made its brave last stand at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 against more than 22,000 Parlimentarians and Scots. Only around 30 Whitecoats survived. So the colour white and the Cavendish crest were closely associated with the town of Newcastle.
Another theory involves Dominican friars, who have also long been associated with Newcastle. Blackfriars, just a Steve Harper sliced clearance from St James’ Park, is a Dominican Friary dating back to the 13th century, and Dominican friars wore black and white robes.
In the late 1880s, a local football team representing St Dominic’s Priory, in Shieldfield, Newcastle (near to Byker, where NUFC originated), played in black and white stripes. The St Dom’s team was organised by a Dutchman, Friar Dalmatius Houtmann, who was apparently an avid East End / Newcastle United fan.
A third theory involves a pair of magpies that nested in the St James’ Park stand and were ‘adopted’ by the Newcastle players. St James’ did have a rudimentary stand, built in 1899. So it’s possible that the club got its colours and nickname from the nesting birds, but it seems a bit convenient.
Unfortunately, the real reason Newcastle United play in black and white stripes might be much less romantic. The club had to change colours to avoid kit clashes. And there happened to be a black and white striped kit available. There may be nothing more to it than that.
We know that there was a black and white striped kit around and about St James’ Park. A Newcastle side first played in black and white stripes at St James’ in January 1887, but it wasn’t Newcastle United. A Newcastle & District XI lost 5-0 to the formidable Corinthians.
We also know that the Northumberland county side wore black and white stripes when they played at St James’ in the same year – and Northumberland had probably played in black and white for several years previous to that.
Then, in 1890, an England XI played in black and white stripes at St James’ Park in a fundraising match against a Scotland XI. Football kits were expensive to buy. Chances are that Northumberland, Newcastle & District and the England XI shared the kit. It seems very likely that East End and Newcastle United also shared that very same kit.
There’s no definitive answer, but however the black and white stripes came into being, they’ve long become established as the colours that unite this club, its city, and the Geordie nation.
[UPDATE 01/04/2011: Thanks to David Moor of Historical Football Kits, I'm now able to provide an additional nugget of information. David has spotted a reference in the book Pioneers of the North by NUFC historian Paul Joannou and Alan Candlish to an amateur second XI formed by Newcastle East End in 1891. While East End played in red shirts and white shorts, East End Amateurs played in black and white stripes, suggesting that East End / Newcastle United did have a set of kit in those colours.
Interestingly, the book also features a photograph of the West End reserve team after their Northumberland Challenge Cup win in March 1892. They are also wearing black and white stripes - indeed their jerseys appear to be identical to those worn by Newcastle United in the 1894 photo shown above.
Also, in Arthur Appleton's excellent 'Hotbed of Soccer', he states very clearly that East End ‘played in red, with their alternative strip the county jerseys of black and white stripes’.
Elsewhere, I've also seen a rare Baines football card (a version of Panini stickers for Victorian kids!) which appears to depict Newcastle United playing in red and white, which is either a printing error or dates from the small window before the club adopted black and white stripes from late 1892 to mid 1894.]
You can follow me on Twitter (@paulbrownUK). This post is a research exercise as part of a bigger Newcastle United project. If you have any further information or insight into the above please post a comment or get in touch.
The previous posts were Before St James’ Park: the origins of Newcastle United and Home ground: a wander around Newcastle’s St James’ Park.
You can read more Newcastle United posts here.