Football anoraks of a certain age like myself will remember fondly how the French turned out in a green and white strip, some players with wrong numbers, for their final group game with Hungary in Mar del Plata at the 1978 World Cup (A match that was meaningless as both teams were already out).
Here is the full story of how it happened:
In 1978 much of the world still watched TV in black and white so wherever possible televised football matches had to be contested by one team in light strips and one in dark. With that in mind, in February 1978 FIFA wrote to the French and Hungarian FAs to advise them that Hungary should play the World Cup game against France in their red home strip, and France should wear their white away kit.
However, in late April or early May FIFA changed their minds, and decided that France should wear their blue home strip and Hungary their white away kit. Alas, FFF official Henri Patrelle gave this communiqué only a cursory glance, binned it and forgot about it.
So, come the day of the match, both teams turned up in Mar del Plata with only their white strips.
No-one guessed anything was up until the French took to the field to warm up, blue tracksuit tops over their white shirts. Their opponents were already out on the pitch. Henri Michel noticed something suspiciously white-looking under the Hungarians’ red tracksuit tops.
“White shirt?” Michel asked Peter Torocsik.
“White shirt,” came the reply.
The French officials were asked where their blue shirts were. The answer was 400 km away in Buenos Aires.
A couple of World Cup gophers were rapidly despatched in a car to ask the local football club, Atletico Kimberley, if they had a set of dark strip to lend the French. Fortunately Kimberley played in green and white stripes and agreed.
Here is where the story gets interesting from our point of view – the Kimberley shirts had no numbers. France’s squad of sixteen for the match included Bernard Lacombe (number 17), Dominique Rocheteau (18), Didier Six (19 – you’d think coach Michel Hidalgo would have given him 6) and Olivier Rouyer (20). There were only 14 outfield shirts in the Kimberley set. Kimberley didn’t mind the French ironing numbers onto their shirts, but they drew the line at having gaps in their numeration. The shirts would have to be numbered 2-11 and 13-16. (In Argentina 12 is for the substitute goalkeeper.)
So, after kick-off was held up for 40 minutes for the numbers to be ironed on, the teams finally took to the field, with Rocheteau wearing 7, Rouyer 11, and Claude Papi, whose squad number was 12, wearing 10. On the subs’ bench Six wore 16 and Lacombe, though an attacking midfielder, had to wear 2 as it was the only remaining shirt. He wasn’t brought on so we didn’t get to see a number 2 making surging forward runs from the middle. The French blue away shorts had numbers, so these five players turned out with one number on their shirt and another on their shorts.
The French players weren’t put off by these shenanigans – they won 3-1. Some of the Kimberley players were in the crowd, flushed with pride at their shirts seeing World Cup action.