Playoff season has come and gone but it is never too late to hear a good football shirt story. Al Gordon share’s his memories of the Charlton Le Coq Sportif 1998 shirt, Clive Medonca and that day at Wembley.
Great football shirts are often remembered due to the great football matches they were worn in, just look at Coventry bringing back their cup winning shirt from 1987 two years running now for their cup exploits.
From a Charlton perspective, nothing eclipses the first division play-off final at Wembley against Sunderland on May 25th 1998. Mark Kinsella led the Addicks out that day dressed in a fine array which we hoped would grace the Premier League come August.
After six years of kits from Ribero and Quaser Charlton were once again wearing attire from a major player. In the early 80’s French manufacturer Le Coq Sportif had threatened to lead the market alongside the giant that is Adidas with new modern materials. They supplied both European club champions and World Cup winners alike, now their rooster emblem was to emblazon the famous red shirts from South London, an allegiance that would last for the next five seasons.
Charlton, Le Coq Sportif, 1998
The shirt itself was a breath of fresh air. It was the first of many that incorporated a large area of white, mimicking a Charlton shirt from the early 70’s that had a white panel up the side which continued past the armpit and onto the underside of the sleeve. We had taping (I’m a huge fan of taping) down the sleeves and the shorts - triangular rooster badges alternating with what appeared to be corporal stripes, and a buttoned collar very akin to a polo shirt. As was de rigueur for the period, a manufacturers plaque ordained the outside proclaiming the garments authenticity.
A new shirt sponsor in Mesh Computers finished off what was a very smart ensemble, albeit a template most notably also worn by Birmingham City. They even had the audacity to wear a red third strip which was identical to ours. For some reason the Blues chose not to copy our away shirt of the same template, an ecru version which has, over the years, grown on me somewhat.
The shirts debut at Wembley gave it the perfect showcase. As football matches go, none stand in the memory so clearly. It was a game neither side deserved to lose; five second half goals meant we entered extra time three apiece. Two more goals during the extra half hour ensured the lottery of a penalty shoot-out would be required to separate the teams.
Wembley saw that day, not only one of its greatest games but also what is widely regarded as the best hat trick ever scored at the famous old ground. Clive Mendonca, a Sunderland born lad would taunt his home town club with three goals of sheer excellence (plus a penalty in the shoot-out), and was immortalised for all time, as was the kit, by the photographers that day in a now famous pose.
When Sasa Ilic saved the fourteenth penalty from Michael Gray the emotions ran higher than ever before, a roller coaster of a football match that had drained every last one of us. As we left the stadium I only remember silence, we didn’t have a song left between us. A supporters coach from Sunderland drove past and every one of those supporters applauded us, a very moving moment. That day had given the two clubs a special bond, highlighted by the Black Cats sending a case of champagne to The Valley afterwards. It was a very special day for all involved and just as importantly, for football on the whole.
To top it all off, not only did Charlton have a stylish new kit, we had a stylish new division to wear it in.
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