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James Delaney recalls the classic 1970s Hibernian shirt sponsored by Bukta

In the modern game, it is rare to see a football shirt without at least on corporate logo emblazoned across the front.

With clubs across the world lining up to ink multi-million pound deals with dubious international companies all scrambling for a share of football’s bottomless revenue stream, it is hard to believe there was a more innocent time when shirt sponsorship was a taboo subject in the British game.

By the early 1970s, European sides had already started to explore company-branded kits as an extra money making idea with the first exclusive contracts appearing in Germany early in the decade.

However, on British shores, clubs were ignorant when it came to this relatively new phenomenon, though that didn’t stop Hibernian from attempting to buck the trend by becoming the first top-flight club in the country to feature sponsorship on their shirts.

The 1977/78 season saw the Easter Road side break new ground by signing a deal with Bukta to wear the Greater Manchester-based sportswear brand’s name on their shirts, a decision which caused quite the stir among Scottish football’s governing body.

1771445Jackie McNamara in action for Hibs.

South of the border, Kettering Town had previously innovated shirt sponsorship in 1976, wearing their traditional red and white coloured shirts with the words ‘Kettering Tyres,’ embroidered on the front. 

Later, another English side, Derby County, inked a deal with car makers Saab to feature their logo on their shirts, but both fell foul of the footballing authorities, who were initially appalled by the idea.

While Scottish football bosses were less outraged by the idea of a brand taking pride of place on player jerseys, they were still sceptical of the benefits of such an arrangement. 

Derby and Kettering were both barred from wearing their sponsored shirts in any competitive fixtures, but the Easter Road side were at least able to wear theirs in non-televised games.

For fixtures being beamed into homes across the country, the Leith club were forced to swap their traditional green and white for a purple alternative shirt, but if the authorities aim was to curtail Bukta’s brand being advertised to an audience of thousands, the ban did little to stop that happening.

Match commentators usually devoted a small portion of airtime to explaining why Hibernian were not in their regular colours, giving a brief rundown of the issues with the sponsorship while mentioning Bukta by name.

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As the old cliché goes, ‘any publicity is good publicity,’ and the shirt remains a popular item amongst kit collectors to this day.

Eventually, a modified green and white version with a smaller Bukta logo in the space usually reserved for the manufacturer’s brand was used for television matches.

Such an iconic shirt required a stylish side to play in it and the signing of former Manchester United star George Best in November 1979 seemed like the perfect marriage of player and kit. 

Many of the most recognisable images of Best’s time in Leith feature him strutting his stuff on the Easter Road kit while wearing the Bukta-branded shirt - exactly the kind of exposure the sportswear brand would have been looking for when they signed the sponsorship agreement.

The shirt was worn during Best’s debut against St Mirren at Love Street in front of a near-15,000 crowd, as photographers from across the country scrambled to get the first shots of Best in green and white.

With attendances dwindling and the looming threat of relegation hanging over the club, it was hoped Best would be the catalyst for a change in fortunes. 

Sadly, however, the Northern Irish star’s off-field problems largely took over during his time in the capital and despite some memorable moments, Best was unable to help the side escape the drop zone, with the Easter Road side sliding out of the Scottish Premier Division in the 1979/80 season.

The last time the Bukta shirt would be worn was in a home defeat to Partick Thistle on the final day of the campaign, weeks after relegation had been confirmed. In front of a paltry crowd of just 1,191, Hibernian slid to a 1-0 loss, their 24th of truly awful league season.

While the shirt itself is most closely associated with a dire period in Hibernian’s history, its trailblazing, disruptive influence in the modern football kits of today is still felt almost 40 years later.

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