Hibs v Arsenal: Why both clubs adopted white sleeves in the 1930s

With Hibs hosting Arsenal tonight there has been great discussion about the origins of both teams wearing similar, instantly recognisable kits.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 4:02 pm
Sammy Nelson of Arsenal and Jimmy O'Rourke of Hibs sport classic examples of their clubs' iconic jerseys

The English side added white sleeves to their look in 1933, while Hibs followed suit in 1938 and also dispensed with their black socks, replacing them with green and white.

The Gunners had also updated their sock choice, opting for navy with white hoops and tops from black and white hooped socks.

While there has been no definitive answer on why Hibs added white sleeves to their all-green jerseys, there have been several versions of why Arsenal’s innovative manager of the time Herbert Chapman decided to update the London club’s kit.

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George Eastham of Arsenal pictured in December 1960 at Highbury

Arsenal’s journey to white sleeves

Founded as Dial Square in 1886, Arsenal’s first strip comprised red jerseys, white shorts, and black socks and they kept this look when they were renamed Royal Arsenal in 1887.

Between 1889 and 1893 the club occasionally wore navy shorts rather than white and in 1894, after rebranding a second time to Woolwich Arsenal, wore red jerseys, navy shorts, and black socks until 1897 before reverting to white shorts.

Between 1900 and 1914 – when the club was renamed Arsenal – players wore red jerseys, white shorts, and predominantly black socks, sometimes with white or red bands at the top.

Arsenal pictured in their all-red jersey in 1966/67

From 1914 until 1933 the team gradually moved to red jerseys, white shorts, and red socks, although grey and red and black and red socks were occasionally worn.

Chapman arrived on the scene in 1925 and is credited with altering the socks to black hooped versions to aid identification on the pitch by the start of the 1932/33 season.

In March 1933, Arsenal took to the field for a home game against Liverpool in red shirts with white sleeves, white shorts, and navy and white socks.

Common suggestions for why Chapman made the change include inspiration from a fan wearing a red sleeveless jersey over a white shirt, playing golf with renowned cartoonist Tom Webster, who was dressed in a similar outfit, and taking inspiration from the Austria national team, who wore similar red jerseys with white sleeves.

Alan Gordon in the iconic green jersey with white sleeves

However, the real reason is outlined in The Arsenal Shirt, a book by Simon Shakeshaft and James Elkin.

Webster was on the golf course, but he was playing a round with Chelsea chairman Claude Kirby, not Chapman. Webster turned up at the course in Blackpool wearing a blue sleeveless pullover with a white polo shirt underneath, and it was this look that inspired Kirby to suggest it as a new kit for the Blues.

However, Scottish secretary-manager David Calderhead rejected the notion of altering the Chelsea strips. Later, over a drink with Chapman in Sheffield, Webster retold the story and the Arsenal boss was more receptive to the idea than his Stamford Bridge counterpart.

He is said to have sourced some red ink so Webster could sketch an idea of what the new kit would look like.

Pat Stanton wearing a rare all-green jersey during the 1972/73 season

The book claims Arsenal contacted the Football League seeking permission to change their strips while a newspaper report from March 1933 confirms that Chapman ordered ten red sleeveless jerseys from a Nottingham-based textile firm. The idea was that the players would wear the red pullovers on top of the white Arsenal change kit, although they later wore Bukta-produced jerseys incorporating red bodies with white sleeves – another link with Hibs, given their involvement with Bukta some 40 years later.

Arsenal briefly returned to all-red jerseys in 1965 after Frank McLintock convinced manager Billy Wright to abandon what he viewed as the “unlucky” white sleeves, before Bertie Mee reinstated the white sleeves in 1967, and the Gunners wore a currant-red home shirt – without white sleeves – during the 2005/06 season, based on archive photos that suggested the club had originally played in similar jerseys. However, historians believe it is more likely to have been a photographic effect making the red look darker rather than the true colour of the shirt.

Additionally, an all-red jersey was worn in 1967 for matches against West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United.

Hibs add white sleeves to green jerseys

Like Arsenal, Hibs wore a variety of kit combinations before settling on green jerseys, white shorts, and black and green socks in 1915. Black shorts were sometimes worn as an early away kit.

By the start of the 1933/34 season, the bottle-green jerseys had been replaced by emerald-green jerseys but it wasn’t until five years later that white sleeves were added to the jersey to create the club’s now iconic home shirt.

It is surely not a coincidence that Harry Swan, responsible for so many innovations during his tenure, had just been appointed chairman at Easter Road – but the exact reasoning behind Hibs’ adoption of the Arsenal-esque white sleeves is unclear.

Swan may simply have thought that Arsenal’s kit was eye-catching and updated Hibs’ jerseys accordingly, or it may have been a standalone decision to update the look of the team – after all, Easter Road had already been given a lick of paint and green nets were supposedly added to both goals.

There is also the possibility that Swan thought white sleeves would enable the players to see each other more clearly, similarly to Chapman altering Arsenal’s socks.

Since 1938, Hibs have only properly deviated from the white sleeves once – during the 2014/15 season when a bottle-green shirt was worn.

Like Arsenal, Hibs have returned to their former jersey design on a handful of one-off occasions.

Five years after Arsenal wore all-red jerseys against West Brom and Newcastle, Hibs wore all-green jerseys in matches against Hearts at Easter Road and again in a home match against Hajduk Split in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972 – but they reverted to white sleeves for the New Year derby at Tynecastle some four months later.

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