The Underdogs: Ribero
When the Premier League kicked off in 1992, two familiar logos graced on the right breast of most shirts. Market leaders Umbro manufactured half of the inaugural teams’ shirts, with long-time rivals Admiral supplying kit for another four sides. Adidas, meanwhile, were only interested in the big boys: 1990 champions Liverpool and 1991 title winners Arsenal.
What of the remaining sides? Enter Ribero, a small sportswear company based out of Surrey.
Established in 1987, Ribero made it to the top flight within five years, becoming the official kit supplier of both Norwich City and Coventry City. Out went Asics’ previous stripe-led designs; in its place, one of the most bizarre, instantly recognisable templates of the era.
No trim, no panels, no cuffs – just a flecked, all-over repeater pattern writ large across the jersey. Coventry’s blue and white colour scheme may have been a knowing nod to the Sky Blues nickname, but given the template was used by three different sides, it may have been little more than a happy coincidence.
That Cov shirt paled alongside the Norwich City equivalent. The previous Asics iteration was bold enough, featuring green diagonal stripes halfway across the body, but Ribero were keen to make an eye-catching Premier League debut. That same flecked pattern was deployed, only using a white and green colourway against the traditional yellow backdrop. The shirt was politely described as egg and cress by some fans; others referred to it as the birdshit shirt. A less happy coincidence for the Canaries.
Norwich enjoyed plenty of success in this jersey, finishing third in the league and pulling off a stunning two-leg victory over Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup. This association undoubtedly helped the jersey secure a special place in the hearts of supporters, at a time where rival fans were almost unanimously disparaging of their kit. Even today, the shirt often finds itself sitting towards the top (or bottom) of the worst shirt lists. In the context of svelte-yet-dull templates from international manufacturers, the infamous Norwich shirt looks desperately amateur by comparison. But 28 years later, it remains as unique and immediately identifiable as ever, synonymous with the Norfolk club (no doubt helped by the local Norwich & Peterborough Building Society sponsorship).
The template was also used further down the pyramid at Second Division outfit Burnley, where the flecked design wasn’t quite as effective, perhaps due to the all-over pattern spilling from the claret body onto the blue sleeves. Ribero moved away from the template for their Brighton & Hove Albion shirts, but were responsible for another cult classic on the South Coast: the pink and white Chewits shirt.
Halfway through the 1992/93 campaign, the company made another move in the Premier League market, replacing Bukta as Crystal Palace’s shirt manufacturer. Rather than just seeing out the season with the same design, Ribero built on Bukta’s subliminal zigzag print to the point of drastic overcomplication, with the final result looking almost tribal.
Palace were ultimately relegated in the new shirt, but the following season’s jersey was a marked improvement. The red and blue stripes were reversed, and the complex zigzags swapped out in favour of a more subtle, jagged repeating pattern. Japanese electronics firm TDK replaced Tulip Computers the more parochial-sounding Tulip Computers, giving the shirt a stronger focal point across the chest.
Though Palace were now in the First Division, Ribero’s Premier League contingent was soon back up to three when Wimbledon snapped up their services ahead of the 1993/94 campaign. The royal blue favoured in previous iterations was dropped in favour of a darker navy: this colour persisted until the club’s demise in 2004. That jagged design worked well on the Crazy Gang jersey, and the stark contrast of navy body and bright yellow collar and cuffs made for a shirt more befitting of the new-look Premier League.
By the end of 1994, Ribero’s barnstorming, turbulent time as top-tier manufacturers was over. Mitre had already supplanted them at Burnley one year prior, and took over similar supply duties at Carrow Road, crudely stitching a logo patch over that of their predecessors. Elsewhere, Coventry City sought out West Ham manufacturers Pony; Palace entered into a short-lived relationship with another small brand in Nutmeg; Brighton returned to Admiral after a 20-year absence; and Wimbledon made their shirts in-house the following season.
Remarkably, Ribero still exists in the present day. They continue to supply football sportswear, along with cricket and bowls kit, school uniforms, even trophies. The website proudly boasts images of Bobby Moore, Vinnie Jones, Kenny Dalglish and Rod Stewart (yes, really) sporting their wares.
The first header image on the site? A wide shot of Norwich City in action back in 1993, proudly wearing that birdshit kit.