Lions Change Their Stripes

The vivid red of their jerseys has been synonymous with the Lions for more than half a century. But the team's colours have changed almost as much as the game itself since the first tour of 1888. [more]

Lions Change Their Stripes

The vivid red of their jerseys has been synonymous with the Lions for more than half a century. But the team’s colours have changed almost as much as the game itself since the first tour of 1888.

This is how the strip has evolved over the years:


The British Isles tourists were stylish from the off. Arthur Shrewsbury, promoter of the first expedition, to Australia and New Zealand in 1888, demanded "something that would be good material and yet take them by storm out here". He got what he requested and the first Lions jersey was made, in striking thick red, white and blue hoops, worn above knee-length white shorts and dark socks.

A change of continent then brought a change of kit. The next two tours, to South Africa in 1891 and ’96, saw the red, white and blue scheme retained, but in the format of a red and white hooped jersey and dark blue shorts.

Three years later, red, white and blue was back for the return to Australia , the blue used in thick hoops and the red and white in thin bands. England wore a modern version of this jersey in their one-off Test against Australia in Sydney in 1999, played to commemorate the centenary of the Wallabies’ first Test, against those early British tourists.

The same kit was adopted in 1904 for the next tour to Australia and New Zealand , while the previous year South Africa saw once again what was now the familiar red and white.



1908 brought a change of format and a change of colours. With the Scottish and Irish unions declining to be involved, an Anglo-Welsh squad headed for Australia and New Zealand . Red jerseys with a thick white band reflected the combination of the countries.



In the final tour ahead of the First World War, blue was the colour of the Lions, and it remained so until the outbreak of its successor in 1939.

Dr Tom Smyth’s team to South Africa in 1910 introduced dark blue jerseys, white shorts and red socks, while the first side of the inter-war period, in 1924, returned to that country with the same shirts but now shorts to match.

The 1924 tour also introduced the forerunner of the four-quartered badge worn today, replacing the single lion rampant favoured in 1910, and the same kit and badge were used in Argentina in 1927.

The nickname ‘the Lions’ is believed to have been coined during this era and three heraldic versions of the animal returned to the badge in 1930.

By this time, 22 years had passed since the Lions last visited New Zealand . Blue jerseys had become the tourists’ standard during this break, but caused controversy on their return there because of the clash with their hosts’ famous All Black.

New Zealand agreed to change for the Tests and the All Blacks became the All Whites for the first time.

The inter-war period ended with the Lions’ tour to South Africa in 1938, a trip that also marked the end of the dark blue. The four-quartered badge, though, which had returned on the 1936 tour to Argentina , would survive the 12-year gap to the next expedition.



The Lions avoided a repeat of the 1930 colour-clash controversy in 1950 by adopting the kit they still sport today. When Karl Mullen’s men ran onto the pitch for the first time, they did so wearing what would become the famous combination of red jersey, white shorts and green and blue socks, combining in one the colours of all four nations.

The strip remained unchanged for the next 40-odd years until in the 1990s commercialism began to encroach on the tours for the first time.

In 1989, sportswear manufacturer Umbro supplied 103 jerseys and other kit with an estimated retail value of £30,000 in exchange for "maximum brand exposure whenever possible".

By 1993 the kit suppliers’ presence was more overt, with the Nike logo appearing on the jersey. The arrival of professionalism ahead of the 1997 tour, which marked the start of adidas’ association with the team, changed the appearance of the shirt yet again.

Like all international teams in the professional age, the Lions now carry the name of their sponsors on their shirts, as well as the adidias logo and the famous badge.

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