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Eurofighters. Schalke 04's 1996-7 kit in all its glory.

Deutschland 96. Welcome to the most exciting time in German football history.

Reunification has happened just five years earlier. The iron curtain has fallen and a reunited Mannschaft have been to three international finals in seven years, winning two in the process.

Furthermore, a resurgent Bundesliga has pushed Bayern and Borussia Dortmund into the European limelight. A number of German superstars, plying their trade in Serie A or La Liga, have returned to Germany. varying success. Bayer Leverkusen brought in Bernd Schuster and Rudi Voller, Bayern signed Lothar Matthäus, Thomas Berthold, Jurgen Klinsmann and Stefan Effenberg, and Borussia Dortmund brought in a trio from Juventus in Stefan Reuter, Jurgen Kohler and Andreas Moller, as well as Matthias Sammer and Karl-Heinz Riedle from Lazio.

Schalke 04 are no different. They're bereft of superstar signings but their rise, as part of this rejuvenated German football scene begins here. Following relegation, they returned to the German top flight in 1993 and consolidated their presence in the Bundesliga in the following years. The fans want more though. Step forward Huub Stevens. The legendary coach Huub Stevens’ joined Schalke shortly after they'd knocked his Roda JC side out of the UEFA Cup, bringing with him a strict doctrine of positional discipline, hard work and industry in possession. With that, the Eurofighters side was born and they wore this beauty.

I’m convinced there was a competition in the Adidas office to see how many S04 badges they could fit into the embroidery. I’ve counted over one hundred, though my technique is sloppy at best. It’s worth noting at this stage that the badge is formed by the S04 sitting between the encompassing, curvaceous ‘G’ for Gelsenkirchen, a reminder of the club's hometown, of which Schalke is a district of. Take note that this is not a “G” for Gazprom as it has regularly been mistaken for recently, following the Russian gas firm’s sponsorship deal with Die Königsblauen.

Just to make sure you hadn’t forgotten that Gelsenkirchen was in Germany there’s the Kärcher sponsor that stretches across the sternum. It’s a known fact that there’s nothing more German than a beautifully crafted pressure washer.

It must be said that up-close, the detail really is something with this kit. The underlying craft that includes these badges into the base blue give the kit a huge amount of depth, and the three Adidas stripes as a vertical band, a move away from the traditional sleeve location, add some more uniqueness to proceedings.

It’s a classic early nineties fit. Big on the arms, big on the torso, wide on the neck, perfect for the generic portly fussball fan physique. If you’re a Kappa fan look away now. In fact, the introduction of this kit could not have been more timely for one Marc Wilmots. Schalke had signed the Belgian frontman from Standard Liege, just in time for the start of the 1996/7 season. His nickname? Das Kampfschwein. The War Pig. It alludes to not only the burly frame he embodied but also his battling, never-say-die approach to football. His signing yielded results beyond Schalke’s wildest expectations and his goals, leading the line alongside Martin Max ahead of an industrious, hardworking midfield, fired Schalke through a legendary cup run.

This kit made its way across Europe along the course of Schalke’s 1996/97 UEFA Cup run. First to Roda in Holland, then to Turkey to face Trabzonspor, next were Club Brugge, dispatched 3-2 over two legs, before a 2-0 home win put Schalke in the driving seat for the away leg against Valencia.

This kit help to change foreign perceptions of German dress sense. In the stands of the Mestalla, thousands of fans flocked from the Ruhrgebeit to Andalucia to watch their side. There’s no lederhosen in sight, just a sea of light blue denim, blonde moustaches and the 1996/7 Schalke home kit. They had plenty of reason to party too. An early away goal meant that Schalke were now two legs away from a first European final. Following a one-nil defeat away, where two Tenerife players were sent off in a bizarre fixture, Schalke conjured a two-nil win after extra time to knock out the Canary-Islanders and set up a two legged final with Inter Milan.

In the first leg, a tentative and quite scrappy affair explodes into live when Marc Wilmots rattles a long range effort past Gianluca Pagliuca, in goal for Roy Hodgson’s side, and wheels away towards the Parkstadion faithful. Chest puffed, sleeves flailing in the evening Gelsenkirchen breeze, as if this kit needed a more appropriate advertisement. An Ivan Zamorano goal for Inter takes the tie to penalties in the second leg at the San Siro and, following two Jens Lehmann penalty saves, Wilmots is on strike to smash home and win the UEFA Cup for Schalke. The scenes in the Ruhrgebeit match those in the Schalke end at the San Siro, sheer delirious bedlam, and everywhere you look, be it in Gelsenkirchen or Milan, is this superb kit. This is Gelsenkirchen 97.

Luke Connelly

Image Credits:

Luke Connelly: Schalke Kit

Sven Simon / Picture-Alliance - ( DE ) Gegen Inter feierten die Schalker ihren größten Erfolg , on , 30 March 2016.

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