The Sartorial Elegance of Serie A - AC Milan, 1984-85

This article was kindly written for us by Embrace The Margin and originally published on their website in March 2021. Visit them for more great articles on shirts from the golden age of the world's greatest ever league.

Anyone who attended a British school during the 1980s might recall the hell that was a nylon football shirt. Those who don’t will have worn jerseys made of polyester – or rather, polyester and cotton mixed. If you are Italian then your memories are more than likely made of acrylic. I base this assumption on the fact that school sportswear, of the sort you used to buy from department stores, reflected what actual sportspeople wore. This was certainly true in England, although I couldn’t honestly say whether the same applied in Italy. Regardless, in the 1980s Italian football shirts tended to be made from acrylic.

Pure polyester would prevail, which is not to say it is the superior fabric. Polyester is lighter and stronger, but acrylic is softer and warmer, although not so much in the wet. It has been reported that when Ennerre began using polyester, some players complained and demanded their old jersey back. (Ennerre are supposed to have devised their own compound called lanetta – ‘lana’ being Italian for wool – but their labels invariably read ‘100 % Acrylic’.)

Acrylic also colours well, which is one of the reasons why the Italian football strips of the 1980s looked as good as they did. Another is that the names and emblems of sponsors – both commercial and technical – started appearing on the tops of almost every professional team, freed from the constraints previously imposed upon them by the FIGC. Up until 1981 many clubs hadn’t even bothered appending a badge. That’s probably how people liked it – maybe in deference towards the scudetto and the coccarda – but there’s a lot to be said for well-designed insignia and congenial fonts.

Many of the technical sponsors from this period no longer exist in the same capacity, if they exist at all: firms such as Mec Sport, Tixo Sport, Linea Time, Rolly Go, Ennerre. Before A.C. Milan went full-on polyester in 1986, they teamed up with, respectively, Linea Milan, Ennerre, Rolly Go, and Gianni Rivera. In Linea Milan re-introduced a wider gauge of stripe not utilised since the early sixties. There was no commercial sponsor just yet, but they did incorporate a badge (designed by Zeta di Milano). This logo simplistically depicted the devil, in homage to Milan’s epithet – Il Diavolo. The following season Pooh Jeans came on board as patron and Linea Milan introduced red shorts, which wasn’t a great look.

When Ennerre took over from Linea in 1982 they reverted to tradition and narrowed the stripes. A.C. Milan remained with Ennerre for two seasons, sponsored first by Hitachi and then Cuore, wearing white shorts with black socks and looking all the better for it. Unbelievably, Milan were playing in Serie B at the time, but by the end of Ennerre’s tenure they were back in Serie A, having been promoted as winners of Serie B in 1983.

In 1985, just as Ray Wilkins and Mark Hateley signed for the club, Rolly Go succeeded Ennerre and carried on where their predecessor left off. The only discernible difference to the shirt was the sponsor, Oscar Mondadori. Established in 1965, Oscar Mondadori was the name given to a catalogue of affordable paperbacks published by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, to be sold through newsagents, as opposed bookshops. (Fittingly, the first book they published was A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway). Quite apart from the democratising nature of its mission, Oscar Mondadori possessed a distinctive imprint that complimented the red and black stripes of Milan’s shirt. Stamp-printed in a white, curved, lowercase font, the word Oscar predominated, with its enlarged O encompassing the statuette of the same name. Rolly Go’s hexagonal ‘double arrow’ trademark and the five-pointed gold star denoting Milan’s ten championships rounded off the ensemble nicely.

A.C. Milan had a relatively good year, finishing fifth in Serie A and reaching the finals of the Coppa Italia, losing to Sampdoria 1-3 on aggregate. Unfortunately the deals with both Oscar Mondadori and Rolly Go only ran for a season. Gianni Rivera made a good go of it in 1985/86, but the bar had been set too high.

In 1986, Silvio Berlusconi completed his takeover of A.C. Milan. At the same time, Kappa stepped in as technical supplier. Kappa – a subsidiary of Maglificio Calzificio Torinese – had a limited presence in football, but a significant one, providing kit for Juventus. In what could be seen as something of a coup, in which Berlusconi himself may have played a part, Kappa furnished Milan with shirts made from polyester while continuing to dress Juventus in acrylic. And yet what will the fans who remember Mark Hateley’s headed goal against Inter in October 1984 have cared for the material the shirt was now made of?