Shirt colours 1896 to 1901
It will be useful to begin by setting out the Leagues that the club played in during these years;
1896/97 – United League
1897/98 – Football League Division Two and United League.
1898/99 – Football League Division Two and United League.
1899/00 – Football League Division Two.
1900/01 – Southern League Division One and United League.
In the 1897/98 season a total of 18 players appeared in the first team who played in both Leagues. Games therefore came thick and fast especially for the first team as demonstrated from this example from 1897;
Saturday 9th October first team away to Woolwich Arsenal in Division Two
Saturday 9th October reserves home to Woolwich Arsenal
Monday 11th October first team home to Tottenham Hotspur in the United League.
Saturday 16th October first team away to Loughborough in Division Two
Saturday 16th October reserves home to Barking Woodville
Monday 18th October first team home to Kettering in the United League.
There were also the occasional Wednesday games such as on the 3rd November 1897 away to Southampton in the United League. Many friendly games were also played especially during the 1896/97 and 1899/00 season when the club was only involved in one league. The reserves competed in the Beds Senior Cup and the Beds and District League.
On a practical note, washing the kit would have been difficult in the winter. If the team arrived back in Luton from an away game late on a Saturday night there would not be enough time to wash and dry the kit for Monday’s game. Even if professional cleaners were open and had a drying room, they would have struggled to get the kit ready for Monday afternoon. It is therefore highly likely that the team switched to different shirts from Saturday to Monday.
1896/97 and 1897/98
The team wore the claret/cardinal red shirts with star until the summer of 1896 when the club committee decided to change the colours.
The entry in the club minute book for August 11th 1896 mentions new shirts;
“Colours Red (4 ins) Black (2 ins) and white (2 ins) stripes – 30 shirts
Change colour white canvas – 12 shirts.”
30 shirts meant that there were enough shirts for the whole squad.
The entry for August 19th 1896 reads;
“Sample shirts were examined from Messrs Robinson and Cleaver, Belfast; Messrs Mares, Luton; Messrs Bassett, Luton and Gamages, London.”
The Luton Times of the 4th September 1896 reported a different layout of the shirt;
“Luton will play in new colours shortly, consisting of black, red and white. The black will be 8 inches deep and the other colours 2 inches each.”
It appears the club plumped for Robinson and Cleaver of Belfast as there is a follow up letter mentioned in the minute book for the 28th September 1896. There are no further mentions in the minute books.
The photograph of Tommy McInnes left, shows a large black stripe running from his shoulder towards the badge. To the right there is then a lighter colour – cardinal red – then a white stripe. The club committee therefore changed the make up of the shirt without recording it in the minute book. The black stripe must be less than 8 inches wide as Tommy McInnes was no giant.
The new shirts were first worn at home in a friendly against the Casuals on the 24th October 1896. The new shirts inspired the team to a record 13 0 victory. The Luton Times of the 30th October reports as follows;
“Luton v Casuals. A record bag of goals. The Casuals sent out four teams on Saturday, and the best of them came to Luton to get an awful drubbing by 13 goals to nil. From the first few minutes of the game, no one would have anticipated any such result. A victory by 3 or 4 points was my modest expectation, but the form of the Reds – or was it the brilliant, fantastic hues of their new shirts! – completely awed their opponents into submission.”
The report left (from the Luton Times of 22nd January 1897), is an example of the home team changing colours in the case of a clash of shirts. The colours of Tottenham would have been dominated by the black stripes and therefore a clash with the black dominated Luton shirt. It might also give us a clue that 30 shirts was not enough for the first team and reserves bearing in mind the washing involved from two Saturday games and a Monday game. It may well be that the white shirts, used predominantly for a clash of colours, were also used out of necessity when the first kit was not back from the laundry.
This is also supported by a trip to Eastbourne for a friendly on Monday 22nd February 1897 when Luton wore white (the home side wore yellow and blue).
In the Football League handbook for 1897/98 it states the colours as;
“Cardinal, White and Black shirts (down stripes) and Navy Blue Knickers.”
The club also removed the mysterious 8 pointed star from the shirt in favour of a monogrammed “LTFC”. Photographs of the team show some players with the badge and some without. Although the club ordered 30 shirts, there is no evidence about the number of badges ordered. The shirts were worn for 3 seasons so the club must have run out of badges – money was tight at the club all through the Southern League period with substantial financial losses made on all pairs of games except Millwall.
The club decided to change policy on shirt purchase from 1898 onwards. Instead of 30 shirts of the same colour, they decided to have two different kits.
As already mentioned, the club was in financial difficulty throughout this period. While wanting to save money the club would also have wanted to create a good impression to all, including potential signings. Local teams folded regularly so cheap shirts would have been easy enough to pick up in the town. I do not have any evidence to confirm this but bearing in mind the financial catastrophe of the club’s Football League adventure, it seems highly likely that this policy was adopted. There is also a precedent if we recall that the club bought the claret Bury Park F.C. shirts in 1892.
The conclusions reached by many about the shirts worn for the 1898/99 season has been influenced by two pieces of evidence. Firstly, the Football League handbook for 1898/99 states that the colours were “red, black and white stripes, blue knickers.” However, the handbook was put together in the Summer months and printed for the start of the season.
The second piece of evidence is a photo of the team in the red black and white striped shirts. The ball in the photo has “1898/99” painted on it. That photo must have been taken pre season or very early in the season looking at the foliage in the background.
The club minute book entry for the 6th September 1898 states;
“After inspecting various designs and colours it has been decided that the future colours of the club should be black shirt with white stripes and white knickers.”
The Luton Times of 16th September 1898 said of the new kit (left);
“The Town Players are expected to appear in their new shirts on Monday. The design is a very pretty one of black and white stripes the men wearing white knickers. Notts County will afford the closest resemblance.”
This indicates that the shirt was NOT exactly like Notts County’s broad black and white stripes. The Luton Times of 14th October 1898 proves this. The Management Committee of the United League meeting met on the Thursday and noted;
“Alteration of colours:- Luton Town – Black with small white striped shirts and white knickers.”
The Luton News stated ;
“ The Luton players, it may be interesting to state, appeared in their new costume on Monday, vis,..white knickers and black and white striped shirts. The goalkeeper’s shirt, however, was red and black. The dress is a great improvement on that previously worn, and added much to the smart appearance of the team.”
It was not until a Football League meeting in June 1909 that the Law was introduced that goalkeeper’s should wear distinctive colours to help the referee. Was this innovation from the Straw Plaiters years ahead of its time? I cannot find another example of a goalkeeper wearing a different colour shirt to the rest of the team at this time. There are no photos of the Luton goalkeeper in this red and black shirt that I can find, so I wonder if it was often used.
The 23rd September 1898 edition of the Luton Times went on to mention the shirt which was worn in the United League game against Spurs;
“The new black and white striped shirts gave the Luton team a very business-like appearance.”
Was this just an alternate shirt for United League games? Apparently not as can be demonstrated from the following account, also from the Luton Times of the 14th October 1898. It refers to a Second League game against Manchester City.
“The City men made a brave show in bright Cambridge Blue, which contrasted well with the black and white stripes of the locals.”
Cambridge blue was the first choice shirt of Manchester City so it did not cause Luton to change colours because of a clash.
As already mentioned, the club played Saturday and often Monday and occasionally a Wednesday so it may be that the red, black and white kit was worn on occasions as an alternative.
The club had become a Limited company in 1897, since the last badge had been produced. When the new black and white shirts were made the club decided to change the “LTFC” design and added “LTD” below it.
It therefore appears that the 1898/99 season began with the team being photographed in their old red, black and white shirts. They then adopted the black and narrow white striped shirts (as per the minute book entry and the United League entry). There is also a photo of the first team in this black and white shirt with the first team trainer.
The first team is photographed in the black shirts with white pin stripes. This is supported by the Luton Times of the 15th September 1899 report on the Division Two game against Woolwich Arsenal;
“Once again the Woolwich vermilion worsted the Luton “stripes.”
However, it appears that the red, black and white striped shirts had at last worn out and were replaced as an alternative by dark blue shirts. The book “The Luton Town History” by Timothy Collings says;
“No doubt, in 1899, the fans were further disillusioned by the change of colours of the playing strip. But “Footer” [described only as a local scribe] quite liked it. He wrote: By the way, the first team on Wednesday appeared in dark blue jerseys instead of the familiar stripes – neat and distinctive, they were, and generally considered to be a far smarter appearance.”
The Luton Times of 27th October 1899 covered the friendly with Northampton and mentions;
“The crowd cheered on the “Blues” and there were several lively scrimmages in the Northampton goal.”
For the 1900/01 season, the first team was photographed in the black and white striped shirts. The reserves, photo left, also wore the black and narrow white striped shirt and are photographed wearing it at the end of the season with three trophies. The Luton News handbooks do not say anything about colours between 1898 and 1900. The 1900/01 handbook states the colours as;
“Pale Blue shirts and White knickers.”
There is nothing in the minute book to indicate a change of colours in 1900. It would make sense for the club to change as they were entering a new era after the disastrous League period.
The first team appear to have worn light blue from September 1900 which is supported by the following examples;
In the Luton Times of 21st September 1900 we come across the following comments in a report about a Southern League game against Bristol City who wore red shirts;
“The home club turned out in their new colours of light blue shirts and white knickers.”
The Luton Times of 26th October 1900 covered the Southern League game at home to West Ham United;
“Cheers greeted the home team on their appearance, attired in white jerseys as the visitors had the same colour as Luton.”
West Ham’s first team colour was light blue, hence the clash. There is no known photo of the team in the light blue shirts in the 1900/01 season.
The following is a summary of the shirts from 1896 to 1901.
The above kit was worn from 24th October 1896 through to the end of the 1897/98 season. Also probably used as an alternative in the 1898/99 season.
The above kit was worn from September 1898 until the end of the 1899/00 season. It was also worn by the Reserves in the 1900/01 season.
The above kit was an alternative in the 1899/00 season.
The above kit was the first team kit for the 1900/01 season.
Queen Victoria died on the 22nd January 1901 so that is the end of my research on shirts for this website. If new information appears I will share it with you at the earliest opportunity.
Graphic images are copyright Historical Football Kits and used by kind permission.
The Luton Town F.C. minute books
The Luton Reporter
The Luton Times
The Luton News
Dave Moor at http://www.historicalkits.co.uk