The Barbarians are one of the most unique and beloved institutions in rugby – a wandering team of invited superstars who come together under the banner of the famous black and white jersey to enjoy themselves both on and off the field in the most outrageous way possible – but where did that jersey come from?
In truth, it’s not known for certain where the BaBaas famous hooped jersey came from. The Barbarians were born in an Oyster bar in Bradford while a man named William Percy Carpmael of the Blackheath club was leading a touring team around the north of England.
The legend goes that the team were enjoying Carpmael’s swashbuckling attacking style of rugby so much, that they decided to form a club that espoused the ideals that rugby should be a clear, hard game typified by adventurous attacking, and also one that is inclusive, as summed up by the club’s motto, ‘Rugby Football is a game for gentlemen in all classes, but for no bad sportsman in any class’.
The original Barbarians jersey was plain white, with the club’s famous overlaid ‘BFC’ crest on it, along with dark shorts and socks. However, in 1891, the famous hooped shirt was first worn – though these original hooped jerseys had such large hoops that they look rather different to the shirts that would become famous over the following century.
Over the course of the next 80 years, the Barbarians would become famous the world over as their reputation for daring, caution to the wind attacking captured the imagination of rugby fans and players alike. As they got more famous, the hoops on the Barbarians jersey began to get thinner, and by the 1970’s the classic black and white hooped shirt with white collar would look broadly the same as it would look for decades afterwards.
The great Barbarians teams of the 1970’s have become the stuff of legend, and none more so than the famous 1973 team that played the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973 – it’s perhaps because of this that for the following decades, even as rugby has become professional and shirts have become more advanced, the Barbarians have stayed true to the formula with very little deviation.
Despite Barbarians jerseys being made by various manufacturers since the start of the 1990’s – including Cotton Traders, Adidas and Canterbury – the recipe has jersey has stayed firmly rooted in that 70’s look, complete with loose fit and classic fold-over collar.
However, there have been some exceptions and changes over the years – at various points since 1992, the Barbarians have had sponsors on the the front of their jersey, though not always. Initially this was located on the right breast, but in recent years it’s been in the standard chest position.
Equally there have been some attempts to bring the Barbarians jersey into the 21st century. In 2013, Rhino gave us perhaps the most modern take on the BaBaas shirt yet for their match against the British & Irish Lions – a skin-tight affair with a round-neck collar.
More recently, current supplier Kooga has further pushed the boundaries – with it’s predominance of white and black pinstripes accenting the traditional hoops, the jersey worn this season feels rather different to what we associate with the classic BaBaas design.
But, with the old-school use of each player’s individual club socks, and of course the Barbarians’ reputation for enjoying their time together off the field as well as on it, the club remains as special and unique as it ever has been, regardless of how the jersey has evolved.