Juventus Football Club is the most successful and most supported team in Italy. ‘La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady)’ is known by fans and foes alike by their iconic black and white striped jersey but they happened upon this distinctive look by chance with the shirt tracing its roots back to England.
The shirt has been worn by some of the game’s greatest players such as Zinedine Zidane, Alessandro Del Piero, Michel Platini, and Gaetano Scirea on the way to 61 titles including a record 32 Serie A titles, 11 Copa Italia titles, and 2 European Cups. But were in not for the temerity of an English football shirt supplier in the early 20th century, Juventus’ grand and storied history could have been colored very differently.
The team’s identity is so intertwined with their jersey that they have earned the nicknames ‘i bianconeri (the black-and-whites)’ and ‘le zebre (the zebras). But when the club was founded in 1897, the eleven men representing Sport Club Juventus turned out in pink while also wearing black neck ties — a practice which seems completely alien in modern footballing context.
However, they soon found that the pink strips did not stand up to regular washing and the once bright and distinctive coloring had almost completely faded by 1903. This, of course, was before the time when major sports manufacturers would fall over one another to supply and merchandise jerseys for the world’s biggest clubs, let alone offer millions for the privilege.
Tom Gordon Savage, an Englishman playing for Juve at the time, just so happened to work within the textiles industry and explained that manufacturers in England made a superior quality football shirt. Savage was asked if he had a contact back home with whom a batch of replacement pink jerseys could be ordered, and he was more than happy to oblige.
But when the new shirts arrived in Turin, the powers that be at Juventus were shocked, and initially angered, to find that they were striped black and white, not the pink that they had asked for.
It tuned out that Savage’s contact in Nottingham, England, was a devoted Notts County fan and had cheekily decided that the Italians would be better off sporting the same colors as his beloved team.
County had become a force to be reckoned with in their native land after having recently made the switch to black and white stripes from their previous amber and black hooped jerseys; Savage’s supplier evidently believed that his newest customers would benefit similarly from such a change.
Juve’s initial displeasure with their new jersey soon abated, and they came to admire the power and authority which their new colors suggested; the distinctive bars which marked out their game day attire made the Bianconeri an imposing force; they won their first Italian Football Championship — the original incarnation of Serie A — just two years later.
History can often be colored by such twists of fate, by decisions which seem minor and inconsequential at the time but go on to have profound and wide-reaching effects on a group of people. Juventus’ history has very literally been colored by the decision of one man who decided that a team for which he had no affinity — in a whole other country, no less — would not receive their goods as ordered, and should instead be made to unwittingly pay homage to a team they undoubtedly knew little about.
But it’s hard to envisage Juventus making their name in the Italian and European game in anything other than their famous black and white stripes. That’s not to say that they would never have become the powerhouse of world football that they are today were they still wearing pink — although safety regulations would surely have put paid to the black neck ties — but their zebra-like shirt is so intrinsic to Juve’s identity that anything other wouldn’t seem quite right.
Imagine legends such as John Charles, Omar Sivori and Giampiero Boniperti sporting pink as they guided the Old Lady to their 10th and 11th scudetti in the late 1950s, or Scirea marshalling the Bianconeri backline in the ‘70s and ‘80s in anything other than their iconic stripes.
French midfielder Michel Platini won the Ballon d’Or — the yearly award handed to the player voted the best in Europe — 3 times during his 5 seasons in Turin, and would pose for photographs with the golden trophy on the pitch at the Stadio Comunale Vitorio Pozzo in his Juventus kit. The visage of the legendary Les Bleus star striped in the black and white of Juventus, raising his award aloft, is one of the defining images of his stellar playing career. The glittering trophy appeared all the more striking when contrasted with the Bianconeri bars.
Juventus have not forgotten where they came from, however, with alternate strips occasionally used as a respectful nod to their humble pink beginnings.
Just last season, the Serie A champions sported a pink away jersey manufactured by adidas, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon turned out in pink throughout the 2002/03 championship campaign in which they were once again crowned champions of Italy and came within a whisker of claiming a third European Cup, losing the Champions League final to rivals AC Milan on penalties at Old Trafford.
It may not have been by design, but few would argue that the change from pale, fading pink to the stark black and white of today, has served to augment Juventus’ power and prestige on and off the pitch.
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