British & Irish Lions

Clash of the Jerseys: the history of Red v Gold

Clash of the Jerseys: the history of Red v Gold
Alec Ross' Wallaby jersey from 1930

Alec Ross’ Wallaby jersey from 1930

Be Bold! Wear Gold…since the last Lions Tour of 2001, when Australia was swamped by an army of red jerseys, Wallaby supporter have adopted the Wallaby Gold in full force.

Surely this battle of the colours – so dominantly displayed by supporters in their red jerseys – has been a constant of Lions Tours stretching back 125 years?

The answer to that is NO….in fact, of the 9 Series involving Test matches played between the two only the last four have seen the Gold-Red clash. There have been three OTHER different-colour combinations between these two sides. The reasons why partly explained by the dominant Test nations flexing their political muscle.

Interestingly the Wallabies and Lions have changed kit often and dramatically; both sides far more than any other major Test playing side.

In the early Tests of the 1899 and 1904 tours the Australians (yet to be called Wallabies) played in sky blue or maroon depending on the venue of the Test and the British in red, white and blue stripes.

Old Lions Kit

Old Lions Kit

The next Tour in 1930 saw both sides in new kit – the Lions in a dark blue jersey with three Lions on the crest and the Wallabies in the bottle green adopted in 1929 and with the Commonwealth Coat of Arms for the first time. This was the first Australian national rugby jersey, which was not merely a state jersey colour.

Another change occurred for the next Tour in 1950. The Lions now adopted the red jersey; due in part to the fact that in 1930, while in New Zealand, the All Blacks, as traditional Home teams do, were forced to wear an alternate strip; white in the instance for the first time. This was a kit they were not fond to wear again – understandable when you are called The All Blacks. (Scotland had never toured there at that stage).

The same two jerseys Green and Red squared off again in 1959; then it was the Aussies turn to succumb to another rugby nation.

Ever since the Wallabies changed to green in 1929, clashes with the Springboks caused one side to adopt a non-green jumper. More often than not Wallabies, even while touring were the ones to wear an alternate kit (1933 away and 1937 and 1956 at home)…the ‘Boks did just once in 1953 – sporting a white jersey. South Africa publicly via Dannie Craven attributed their less than dominant performance due to the fact the Boks were in a foreign jersey; he then reminded Australia they had worn green before Australia had adopted it  and therefore had first rights of use.

With power on the field equating to power in the committee room…. the Wallabies in 1961 wore Gold on tour in the republic…and adopted it full time in 1962 to avoid continued clashes.

Finally in 1966 we saw the cuurent colours when the Wallabies turned out in a gold jersey with white collar and green number and the Lions’ fully at home in red. Our current “tradition” was born.

Since 1966 the Wallaby gold has taken many shades, and small additions have occurred; the 1989 jersey had a green collar…the 2001 jersey sported the southern cross and the green/white stripes on the sleeves…and a Vodaphone sponsor’s logo..

The jersey, worn as a tribal membership has been fashioned by national political forces, rugby power struggles and more recently commercial necessity.

For both the Lions and the Australians it has been a movable palette, but one now surely resolved.

British & Irish Lions

Michael Fahey was born in Sydney in 1962, grew up in Killara and attended St Ignatius’ College Riverview. Since 1995 he has been trading in sporting antiques and memorabilia and is the owner of Sports Memorabilia Australia. SMA provides valuation, sale and auction services. Michael co-wrote The baggy green in 2008 and spoke on the book in the Long Room at Lord’s in 2009 and is the Official Valuer to the National Sports Museum, Bradman Museum and SCG Museum.

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