Bayern Munich do like to fiddle about with their colours a lot, don’t they? All red; red and white stripes; red and white hoops; red and blue stripes. I believe the German verb is ‘basteln’ – to tinker.
For a while during the 1980s and 90s, the Bavarian giants stuck fairly rigidly to the all red that had become their trademark going back to the glory days of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and the rest. But then in the dying days of the 20th century, football kits became ripe for experimentation, and nowhere did Adidas see more opportunity to exhibit their designs than by way of the Bayern Munich vehicle.
They had already been pressed into wearing the red and blue striped affair that had the unfortunate effect of making them resemble Crystal Palace (in that way only) when Adidas suddenly went dark on them. I mean, real dark.
While their great rivals Borussia Dortmund were lighting up Europe with both their stylish football and luminous yellow jerseys, Bayern were left trailing in their wake, even with their cast of top class players such as Markus Babbel, Mario Basler, Oliver Kahn, Stefan Effenberg and an ageing Lothar Matthaus.
To redress the balance, in 1997 Bayern stepped out in a kit that was such a deep navy blue as to appear black as night, to give the impression of an oppressive force taking the field to assert their dominance over any opponent.
In that, one can undoubtedly see the logic; any psychological advantage that can be gained by something so trivial as kit colour should be seized upon. However, the devil is in the detail; and when Adidas came up with the embellishments to Bayern’s new shirt, surely the person responsible for signing off on the final design was suffering from the after effects of a significant brain fart.
Most people are aware of the football faux pas that is the Fiorentina away jersey of 1992/93. Snazzy though it is, the eye is immediately drawn – like in those Ishihara tests you do at the opticians – to the bloody obvious swastikas adorning the chest and shoulder area, trying to hide in plain sight. The club were forced to issue a statement distancing themselves from any links to neo-Nazi activism: “Fiorentina and the manufacturers, Lotto, would like to underline that the optical [swastika] effect is purely a matter of chance.” Coincidentally, Effenberg was a Fiorentina player at the time.
Bayern’s (hopefully) inadvertent nod to unhappier times saw their kit take on far too much similarity to the menacing black uniforms of the hated SS; so much so that they even had the same red bands around the arm that – during the time of the Nazis – carried the swastika sign favoured by Adolf Hitler and his lunatic followers.
The historical significance of a Munich team wearing such an evocative design seemed to pass without much comment, although the sight of the big, blonde, shaven-headed Carsten Jancker intimidating defenders and sending them sprawling across the pitch like helpless nine-pins did nothing to dispel the obvious visual connection to a regrettable German past.
The shirt was in service for two seasons, in which they were first beaten to the Bundesliga by Kaiserslautern in 1998, before going one better the following year. They also reached a showdown with Manchester United in the Champions League final in Barcelona in 1999. Leading by a single goal going into injury time, and with some of their fans and players already having one eye on the jug-eared trophy awaiting them in the stands, Teddy Sheringham and Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer dealt them a late, late double blow to snatch dreams of a treble away from them. The domestic double eluded them soon after when they lost on penalties in the DFB Pokal to Werder Bremen.
Interestingly, the SS kit of 97-99 has not been consigned to the dusty loft space of history as you might imagine. In June 2017, Adidas and Bayern Munich unveiled the club’s new away kit – a resurrection of the curious design of 20 years earlier. Thankfully, someone has had the good sense to remove the offending red arm bands.