From The Archive
- What Saturdays Are For

June 2022
With thanks to Bob Wilson, John Devlin and Mark Baxter.

We chart Fred Perry’s intrinsic links with the beautiful game.

Fred Perry’s intrinsic link with the game of football started in the 1930s when Fred asked to train with Arsenal – the champions of England at the time – during the out of season winter months. Running hundreds of laps around the pitch and up and down the north bank terracing, he helped revolutionise the sporting discipline of maintaining all-year round fitness for his game of tennis. Training every day with the first XI made him a ferocious competitor, and his association with the Arsenal, who were years ahead of other teams in terms of training, tactics and technique, meant Perry was an early adopter of the intense training which now characterises professional sport.

Highbury Stadium itself was also a source of inspiration, an art deco jewel in North London, whose grade two listed building boasted state of the art gym facilities and luxurious dressing rooms with heated floors that were the envy of every other club. The unique marble halls and the beautifully designed interiors mirrored Fred’s own approach to taste and style, both on and off court. After his third Wimbledon triumph in 1936, Perry had a national reputation as the people’s champion, drawing crowds of thousands to watch him play friendly matches up and down the country. In 1937 he played against Ellsworth Vines in Liverpool football team’s home ground, Anfield. A court was set up in front of the Kop end, with the exhibition match attracting a crowd of 11,000 people. Fred won the match on a portable wooden court, coming from a set down to win 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 – a famous win away at Anfield for Perry.

The original M12 Fred Perry shirt launched in 1952 and was the first sports shirt to carry coloured collar tipping. West Ham fans approached the famous retailer Lillywhites of Piccadilly to ask if the classic shirt could be produced with their club colours, and with Fred Perry’s approval, maroon and ice blue were duly added. The football connection wasn’t just limited to appreciative fans wearing Fred Perry shirts. From its HQ in Golden Square, Soho, Fred Perry started to design the kits for three Belgium football teams in the late 1960s. Anderlecht Royal Sporting Club, Club Bruges and Standard Liège were all kitted out in Fred Perry football shirts with their own bespoke team colours. In the 1960s, RSC Anderlecht were a dominant force in Belgium football, but when they knocked out the major talent of the mighty Real Madrid in 1962, the shockwaves ricocheted around the footballing world and announced Anderlecht as a force to be reckoned with. Their distinctive regal home kit colours of purple and snow white sat beautifully with the Fred Perry M12 shirts. “The position of the badge and signature embroidered Laurel Wreath is sheer class – it feels incredibly modern. I have a bit of a bug bear with the universal standard 'left/right' position of club badges and logos of today’s kits which lacks imagination,” says football kit expert and historian John Devlin. “The three Belgium club kits are superb. They appear to perfectly straddle the dual process of effectiveness on the pitch and style off it.”

Four decades on from Fred Perry’s fitness training sessions at Highbury, Anderlecht were drawn against Arsenal to play in the Inter-Cities Fairs cup final at Highbury. The Arsenal won the tie 4–3 on aggregate; after trailing 3–1 in the first leg, then mounting a superb comeback with a 3–0 victory in the second to claim the Gunners’ first European trophy in the club’s history. Goalkeepers rarely swapped shirts in the 1970s but Bob Wilson swapped his shirt with the Anderlecht goalkeeper, Jean Trappeniers, who was wearing a long-sleeve Fred Perry goalkeeper jersey, identified with a large number 1 on the back. Wilson celebrated in front of a jubilant Highbury crowd in the North Bank stand, where Fred himself used to train. That night is often referred to, even today, as the greatest party ever seen at Highbury. Mark Baxter, co-author with Paulo Hewitt of ​The Fashion of Football​, 2004, wrote authoritatively about the universal appeal of the brand. “The simplicity of the original shirt will always stand the test of time; it was and is a classic design. Then no matter what group picked up on it, be they mod, football fan, or indie kid, it fundamentally remained classic and said a lot, without any words needed. Fashion and Fred Perry has and will always be a part of football.”