Image from Footy Headlines
Ah, the early noughties. The lesser-remembered moniker, the FA Barclaycard Premiership, was in full swing.
Think back to the 2003-04 season. Arsenal were invincible; Cristiano Ronaldo had arrived at Manchester United; Wayne Rooney was breaking through at Everton; Liverpool boasted Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen.
Oh, and the shirts were as good as they got or ever will be. They were absolutely sublime.
We’ll start from the top. Just how good did Thierry Henry and co. look in their simple yet wonderfully effective Nike shirts, decorated with O2’s sponsorship? The shade of the dark red home shirt worked perfectly and the white detailing made it pop.
And then the away shirt. My, my. Their iconic away jerseys down the years have often been yellow embellished with blue, from this season’s well-executed throwback to the bruised banana shirt back to the yellow strip which they donned in their iconic 1979 FA Cup final win. This one is no exception.
Chelsea’s partnership with Arsenal’s current sponsor, Emirates, was in its penultimate season, but their best offering was in 2003-04. Their off-white away shirt with vertical blue lines of different shades that broke to border the Fly Emirates branding, which always looks right on a football shirt, served a side that impressed as they finished in second place well.
They wore this shirt for one of the season’s best performances, a 5-0 drubbing of Wolves at Molineux. Frank Lampard, Emmanuel Petit, Hernan Crespo and co. looked imperious.
Speaking of Wolves, they put a strong case forward for the best sponsor of the Premier League era in their quick sojourn in the top flight. They finished bottom, but their shirts which were sponsored by Doritos and made by Admiral were fit for kings.
The deep Old Gold home and traditional black away jerseys perfectly combined tradition and history with modern touches, and the Doritos branding added splashes of red and yellow.
Wolves 0-🖐 @ChelseaFC
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 20, 2020
Their West Midlands rivals, Aston Villa, also had excellent shirts in 2003-04. They were made by Diadora and sponsored by Rover, who were based in nearby Solihull. Sadly sponsors with such an affinity to the club they’re partnering is rarely seen at the highest level anymore, and most would argue it never will be again.
Indeed, Rover ceased to exist in 2005. They are not the only sponsors from that season who will definitely not be seeing on football shirts again, though: Flybe, HSA, Keijan, Dabs, Alliance & Leicester, First Advice, Dial-a-Phone, Northern Rock, Friends Provident and Thomson have all either ceased trading or been bought out in the last 17 years. Over half of the season’s sponsors have gone!
But if it’s memorable partners who did stick around that you want, look no further than Carlsberg. Their name looked so right on Liverpool shirts. The two partnered in 1992, for the first season of the Premier League era, for 18 years until Liverpool moved on to Standard Chartered.
It could be argued that Man Utd’s shirts had taken a bit of a downturn by their second season with Nike. Their Umbro versions at the turn of the century, especially the edition they wore as they won the treble in 1999, were special, but the effective simplicity of 2003-04’s deep red effort with white and black detailing and co-ordinated Vodafone branding would have it among the better shirts of this season, for sure.
So there we have it. From top to bottom, the 2003-04 Premier League season served up, I think, the best set of shirts we are ever likely to see. From the colours and the sponsors to the iconic luminaries wearing them, it was all just so right.
To view all of the kits from the 2003-04 season, click here.
Author: Ryan Plant (@ryanplant1998)