The meeting between Coventry City and London’s Chelsea in April 1997 looks like an ordinary game on paper, but in reality, it is one of the strangest games in Premier League history. Why? Because in that match, the Chelsea men ran onto the pitch wearing the wrong shirts.
In the mid-90s, most teams’ third or alternate shirts did not exist, and teams generally got by with two kits: home and away.
In the case of Chelsea, their home color has always been blue – hence the team’s main nickname, The Blues – but their second kit has changed over time, being sometimes orange, sometimes yellow, sometimes red or completely white.
Now, although Coventry City are also called The Singers by their fans, their main nickname is still The Sky Blues. Yes, their home uniform has been blue year after year, but the away uniform has changed: being yellow, green, grey, red or something completely different.
But on that day in April, the Coventry men calmly ran onto the field in blue shirts because it was their home game. Due to an oversight by the staff responsible for uniforms, the Chelsea men also put on blue shirts in the dressing room…
When the two teams in blue shirts arrived on the pitch, the head referee of the match hurriedly called the representatives of the teams to him and said that it was not possible to play the game like that. Men are just too alike to know who is who!
While the quick fix would have been for Chelsea to pull on their away kit, that was out of the question simply because they didn’t have them with them due to an error made by the staff.
Head coach pampering his ego
However, Chelsea’s Dutch head coach Ruud Gullit had a solution: the home team should change shirts! Coventry City’s defender at the time, Richard Shaw, who was part of the starting lineup in that game, recalls in a podcast:
“They were the ones who had brought the wrong kits to the match, but Ruud [Gullit] just marched into our dressing room and declared: ‘We’re not changing shirts!’, even though we were the home team playing at home. I think that Ruud just hoped that his name was impressive enough to be able to push through such a thing.”
But it didn’t work out that way, and after a short stalemate – the start of the match was therefore delayed by 15 minutes – it was the Chelsea men instead, that pulled on the shirts that Coventry men wear on their away matches. They did it to avoid a technical loss and the match could still be held.
Chelsea were forced to play in Coventry City’s away kit after the kitman only packed the home shirt which clashed.
— Football Remind (@FootballRemind) April 9, 2022
Moreover, according to Shaw, those shorts are to that day considered one of the most terrible shirts in the history of the Coventry City club.
“It was a red and black checked shirt, that was worn with blue pants. And they just didn’t match at all,” he recalled. “We won that match 3-2 and after the game, some of the Chelsea guys took off their shirts as soon as they got into the tunnel and threw them on the floor.”
Highlights of the match:
On this day in 1997 Chelsea are beaten 3-2 by @Coventry_City at Highfield Road, whilst wearing the Sky Blues away kit! The Chelsea kit man had famously forgotten the Blues actual shirts! Doh! #Keepit90s pic.twitter.com/SRWxqm3MN0
— The 90s Football Podcast (@AK90s) April 9, 2018
Nowadays, when big clubs have three or four uniforms every season, and from time to time special shirts are thrown on the counters for marketing reasons, it is extremely unlikely that something like this could happen again in the Premier League.
At the same time, it is still worth praising the head referee of the 1997 match, because if he had not explicitly put his foot down, something similar could have happened on the pitch, as it did a few years ago in the Brazilian Premier League.
This is not a joke, this is a game in the brazilian Serie A. All red vs all red. pic.twitter.com/qsLMAyd4H1
— André ‘Noruega’ Østgaard (@AndreOstgaard) July 2, 2017
Has also happened at the World Cup
By the way, the Coventry-Chelsea match is not the first time in history that a team has had to wear the wrong shirt. Such an incident has also taken place on the biggest stage of the football world: the World Cup!
The year was 1978, and FIFA inquired several months before the start of the major tournament, in which kits Hungary and France would play. This was necessary because at that time TV broadcasts were still in black and white, which is why they wanted to avoid similar outfits at all costs.
In the end, it was agreed that Hungary would wear the traditional red and France white.
However, just before the start of the World Cup, FIFA changed its mind and sent a letter to both confederations that Hungary should wear white and France blue instead. Unfortunately, the corresponding message never reached the French head coaches…
Kimberley Atlético Club’s stardom
However, no one knew this, and when the teams ran from the tunnel to the field on the day of the game in Mar de Plata and took off their warm-up sets… there was confusion on the field. Because both were in white!
Since the French had left their other, blue shirts at the training base 560 km away, the football officials started to look for a solution to the problem.
It was found with the help of the local football club, and that’s how the stars of France, led by Michel Platini, ran onto the field in the green-white-striped jerseys of the Kimberley Atlético Club.
1978 World Cup. France v Hungary
— The League Magazine (@Theleaguemag) June 14, 2016