Behind some of the most iconic football shirts in the sport’s history, we take a look back at Italian kit manufacturer Nicola Raccuglia — the rise, the fall, and the comeback.
Today, the football kit scene is mainly dominated by the global giants. Nike and adidas lead the way, and are closely followed by PUMA, New Balance, and the rest of the party. But, as with everything, kit manufacturers come and go. If we go back 40 years, the kit landscape was miles away from where it is today, and the same can presumably said for 40 years from now.
For example, Admiral was the brand to produce the England shirts of the World Cup glory days, but due to the ever-changing game, they slowly phased out. The brand has made a comeback, and is a talisman to show that the Nike/adidas dominated space wasn’t always the case.
Another name that you should know is Nicola Raccuglia, or NR as you will probably recognize it on many iconic shirts. A legendary brand in football, and particularly Italian football, NR provided classy design with high quality materials — with the latter actually being a contributing factor to its demise. With the uncompromising stance of using premium materials, a fallout occurred between the owners, which led to the eventual downward spiral of the NR empire.
Nicola Raccuglia started off as a footballer for various teams at different levels in Italy before hanging up his boots after a realization about football kits. To him, it was simply not enough to pull on any old shirt to wear on the pitch. Football, after all, is a game of artistry. With a commitment to class and elegance, Raccuglia started his brand by making football shirts, leading to the production of some of the best in history.
Essentially, Raccuglia is a pioneer as he recognized the potential football shirts had to be a global phenomenon for football fans. By using this commitment to class and quality combined with an emphasized importance on colors, he created so many shirts that are revered by collectors across the world today, and ones that come with a big price tag due to their quality, stories, and rarity.
You probably know of the infamous Napoli shirts of the ’80s — the Neapolitan blue polo-style shirt with the famous Buitoni and Mars sponsors. The Maradona Era, we shall call it. Napoli won their only two Scudettos whilst wearing these NR-produced kits, alongside the UEFA Cup. A golden era of Napoli’s history and a time defined by Maradona’s influence, leading him to be judged as the greatest to ever play the game by many across the world. During its heyday, the brand also kitted out Roma, AC Milan, the Azzurri, and more across Italy and eventually the world.
The teachings the kit industry should learn from NR are centered around high quality and class. Nicola Raccuglia teaches us to not sacrifice quality, comfort, and aesthetics to save money when it comes to football kits. Move away from the cheap materials, as when a player steps on that pitch, they need a uniform suitable for the artistry they’re about to perform.
Maradona’s best times on the football pitch were at Napoli, donning those beautiful shirts. It’s not the main factor, of course, but the memories and nostalgia wouldn’t be as strong if those kits were ugly. How many times do you see a picture of Maradona at Napoli, and the kit he is wearing isn’t swooned over? I’d say it very rarely happens.
The football shirt scene is an ever-fluctuating one and brands like NR should never be forgotten. It’s important to widen the scope beyond the big corporations and remember the pioneers, the audacious creatives, and the independents constantly grinding it out to produce top-level shirts. NR is a brand that lives on in football through the shirts it created and the stories it tells.
I’d love to have kept those styles of shirts rather than the skin-tight, made-for-performance-over-aesthetic shirts we see today. To me, football is art and football shirts are a further extension of this expression. I’ve not bought a new football shirt in a long, long time. However, Nicola Raccuglia is back producing exact replicas of those aforementioned ’80s shirts. Maybe I’ll fork out the $200+ to grab one soon.