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Beyond Barcelona: does Palace's red and blue go back further than thought?

Features

Crystal Palace’s 21/22 home kit is one of the most vibrant in club history, with our proud red and blue colours as bold and eye-catching as ever.

Over the years, we’ve seen Palace don white, dark blue, all red, and, of course, the famous claret and blue of our first professional seasons for clashes in south London.

But since Malcolm Allison’s arrival as manager in the 1970s, the club’s colours have been, by and large, a variant of the red and blue seen today.

The story of Palace’s transition from claret and sky blue (and white) up to 1972/73 into red and blue the following season is well known. Allison took charge and, characteristically, looked to make his mark.

1937/38 squad photo, kindly coloured and shared by Don Pettingale
1937/38 squad photo, kindly coloured and shared by Don Pettingale

Following relegation in 1973, the manager set about rebranding the club to boost its standing, changing our nickname, badge and colours: with red and blue coming and staying for decades.

It’s often said Allison was inspired by Barcelona, who also underwent a shift in 73/74, reverting their name and badge after the fall of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. Johan Cruyff arrived in Catalonia, a club in Croydon changed its colours, and football shifted from south London to Spain.

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But the truth may be less glamorous, with Allison possibly having looked back in time rather than across the continent.

Palace seemed to make a one-off change to the modern red and blue in 1937/38, with club historian Ian King saying: “For 1937/38 the press reported that the shirts would be red and blue vertical stripes and this is borne out by the picture on the front of each programme... Also the programme inside referred to red and blue.”

Indeed, the front cover of the programme stood out for its vibrant use of colours, and Palace didn't print colour like this again until 1949/50.

The press reported: "Crystal Palace F.C. are to have a new design for their shirts next season. Instead of the present ones of red with blue sleeves and necks, they are adopting shirts of red and blue vertical stripes with blue collars and cuffs."

We also know the supporters’ club reproduced its badge this season to red and blue – very much like today’s colours.

It’s tough to be conclusive on exact shades for such a specific issue so long ago, but the evidence points to Palace wearing a version of red and blue long before the official switch. What inspired it also appears to be unknown currently.

One theory takes the question back even further. Crystal Palace’s 1906 handbook listed the club’s colours as cardinal and blue for its first professional outings, shades that mirrored the inside of the Crystal Palace building.

With Palace’s sky blue and white of the 1800s matching the palace’s exterior, who knows, red and blue may go further back than ever thought…