THE JERSEY SAGA OF 2001. Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022.
It might seem somewhat unthinkable now but in the not too distant past, there was a genuine threat of a boycott by Celtic fans over the jersey that launched a little over two decades ago.
In the spring of 2001, Celtic were storming towards their 38th league title.
Martin O’Neill’s side had overhauled Rangers’ dominance and a 1-0 win over their fiercest rivals in February – thanks to a goal by Alan Thompson – had put them firmly in the driving seat of the title race.
With a League Cup Final on the horizon in March, as well as a good run in the Scottish Cup still going, the supporters dared to dream of their first domestic Treble since the Jock Stein era.
Off the park, there were some rumblings of discontent however. The club had unveiled the new home jersey which was set for public release on St Patrick’s Day.
In conjunction with Umbro, the kit suppliers to Celtic at the time, the new strip was being marketed as “the most technically innovative Celtic FC have ever had.”
Along the sides of the jersey were air-holed ventilation strips. This allowed for more player comfort and mobility compared to the slightly heavier and baggier tops of the late nineties.
There was just one problem though.
These new vents meant that the iconic green and white hoops, that are so widely synonymous with Celtic, were broken. Thus leading to a backlash from some supporters groups.
Hoops had been a staple of Celtic’s iconography since 1903. Previous to this, they’d worn a white jersey with an embedded cross as well as a number of seasons adorning horizontal striped shirts.
An article in The Herald, dated 13th February 2001, published statements from a supporters club who called for a boycott of this new jersey. Many believed it was a disrespectful break of a most important club tradition.
The wording that was used in the same article took on something of a doomsday prophecy. The jersey was referred to as being “sacrificial to history” and that the club had “surrendered its morals on the altar of consumerism.”
In retrospect, it was all a case of Much Ado About Nothing. Pre-order figures of the jersey were promising and, back on the playing front, the team were flying.
By the time Celtic were officially crowned as league champions in April, the players were already wearing the new strip in their matches.
More importantly, these were the games that did lead them to that famous Treble.
It would also be the very jersey that they would wear through another successful league winning season in 2002 – a season which saw them compete on the main stage of the Champions League for the very first time – and also during their run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2003.
When fans recall those happy memories, the issue over underarm air vents doesn’t seem to come up all that much anymore. And it certainly never stopped any chants of “C’mon the Hoops!”