As many of you will already know, we’ll soon be adding a bunch of Errea shirts to our store. Amongst the additions will be a selection of beautiful Parma kits; designs which, for my money, are some of the best around across any team this season.
The history of Parma is one of both incredible highs and crushing lows. The team would enjoy fantastic success on the pitch whilst at the same time being decked out in some of the best kits the game would have to offer. The name on the front of those Parma shirts, Parmalat, would be a key player for more than just kit reasons too…
In 1990, Parma won promotion to Serie A for the very first time under the guidance of now-legendary coach Nevio Scala. Scala, a promising coaching prospect at the time with little more than a fledgling CV to his name, would prove to be the figurehead for a new Parma that would manage to not only stick around in the top division, but make waves both nationally and on the continent.
As cynical as it may sound, Parma’s meteoric rise was more than just the result of coaching genius however, as impactful as Scala’s arrival was. In 1991, Italian dairy firm Parmalat bought AC Parma following the death of former club president Ernesto Ceresini. With a 98% stake in the club, Parmalat resources were quickly funnelled directly into the Parma team with immediate results.
After confounding expectations to finish 6th in their debut Serie A season, Parma would qualify for the UEFA Cup. This first foray into UEFA competition wouldn’t even be the highlight of the 1991/92 season though. Parma embarked on a magical run to win the Coppa Italia, Italy’s premier cup competition, beating Juventus 2-1 over two legs to capture the club’s maiden major trophy.
1991 Parma home shirt
What of the shirts that Parma wore in this blistering start to life at the top? Parma’s 1991 home shirt was relatively understated by 90s standards, but the white, yellow and blue combo was anything but an ordinary piece of kit.
With yellow and blue striped sleeves and alternating blocks of the same colours on the cuffs, the shirt had something of a barber pole aesthetic. The neckline would also join in on the alternating yellow and blue party, with a simple but brilliant half and half look. Throughout the white body of the design was a subliminal pattern of the word “Parma”, stylised in the shape of a diamond. Though more of a nod to manufacturer Umbro than anything else, it helped create a shirt that was sneakily one of the better ones at the turn of the 90s.
A simple Parmalat sponsor was a relatively minor thing to note, but this would be but a hint of things to come.
Fast forward to the 1995 season, and history repeated itself with another 2-1 cup final win against Juventus over two legs. This time however the cup in question was the UEFA Cup. Parma’s iconic victory came off the back of wins in the 1993 European Super Cup, the 1992/93 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the aforementioned 1991/92 Coppa Italia, marking an incredible half-decade.
1995 Parma home shirt
In something of symbolic blossoming, the club unleashed a classic football shirt to the world ahead of the 1995 season. Under the direction of new partner Puma, an audacious set of kits were released featuring another sleeve pattern, only this time the design was ramped up a notch.
The same formula of a white body with yellow and blue sleeves was followed, but the pattern on the sleeves of the 1995 home possessed one of the great treasures of 90s football shirts: gradients. Look inside the undulating waves of the sleeve pattern and you’ll notice grainy gradients which could only belong in the 90s. It wasn’t just the sleeves of the kit that were expressing themselves further too.
For the first time, Parmalat would run with the full version of their logo on Parma shirts. Above the wordmark was the image of a flower, consisting of several petals surrounding a central circle (representing the “pistil” part of a flower, so I’m told). As per Parmalat’s own website, the logo symbolised the connection the company had with nature, whilst the petals themselves evoked small milk drops. This simple image would come to define Parma kits for the coming years.
1998 Parma home shirt
Four seasons on from the UEFA Cup win and 2 seasons on from an all-time high league finish of 2nd (the highlight of Carlo Ancelloti’s brief but successful 2 year spell at the Stadio Ennio Tardini), Parma found cup success once again in the form of both the 1998/99 Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup.
Now under the tutelage of manager Alberto Malesani, Parma were a different looking team on the pitch compared to the squad who had ripped up the script in the earlier part of the decade. Different too was the kit manufacturer, with Lotto now in town following the Umbro and Puma eras.
As Parma lifted their major titles in 98/99, they did so in what is undoubtedly one of the greatest Parma shirts of all time. Lotto would work with Parma for one solitary season, but their work has gone down in history for all the right reasons, not least because it marked a major aesthetic shift for the club.
After wearing predominantly white home shirts for the best part of their history, Parma switched to yellow and blue hoops for their home shirt for the ‘98 season. The decision was made in part due to the growing rivalry with fellow white and black custodians Juventus, and though the colours were nothing new to the club (the flag of Parma is a blue cross on a yellow flag, and the club’s history is littered with yellow and blue kits) this emblematic shift would prove to be a shrewd move, cementing the legacy of the side for years to come.
Speaking more on the 1998 home shirt, the Lotto design was a lesson in sponsor incorporation with the Parmalat logo (in its full, flowery version) expertly folded in through the use of a tasteful yellow border around the petals. Despite being a similar navy blue shade to the hoop it sat in, the flower was clearly present above the Parmalat wordmark, which sat neatly in the middle of the yellow hoop beneath.
Elsewhere on the kit there were matching yellow lines on the cuffs and neckline, whilst a classic flappy collar continued what was something of a theme for Parma kits in the 90s. Notably, there were streaks inside the blue hoops, adding a nice element of definition in an era where shirts were beginning to get a lot simpler and ‘flatter’ by design. In this way the shirt was a sort of bridge from the flamboyance of the early 90s to the more technical, reserved period of the late 90s.
Symbolism aside, it was yet another one of those Parma shirts which was matched with success on the pitch.
1999 Parma home shirt
With the immediate departure of Lotto following the 1998 season, Parma would wind up working with their 4th different manufacturer of the decade. Their new partner would prove to be their most enduringly popular one though, at least from a pure shirt perspective.
Champion entered the fray and started off on the best possible footing with a shirt which has remained highly collectible. Continuing the yellow and blue hooped aesthetic set by Lotto the previous season, Champion added their own twist with a repeated pattern of their logo along the taping of the sleeves.
This distinctively 90s style was seen with a number of other brands during this period, most notably Kappa, but there was something about the Champion approach in particular which really stood out in the memory. Though Parmalat’s logo returned to the simpler wordmark style, the Coppa Italia winners patch (the “target” to many observers) added a nice pop of interest, and this would be the first of a number of quality Champion x Parma designs.
On the pitch there was yet more silverware in the form of the Supercoppa Italiana, with a 2-1 victory over AC Milan securing a maiden Supercup title for Parma.
Fall and redemption
Parma’s last major honour would come two seasons later, with another victory in the Coppa Italia completing a brilliant 8th major title between 1992 – 2002. That win would prove to be the last in the club’s history to date.
In the aftermath of the remarkable 1998 season, key players like Hernan Crespo, Gianluigi Buffon and Lilian Thuram would slowly but surely depart for world record fees. Parmalat, the company who had bankrolled the Parma side to dizzying heights, were declared insolvent in 2004, placing the club in administration for multiple seasons.
This would prove to be just the tip of the iceberg, when news emerged that the difficulties surrounding Parmalat ran much, much deeper. In one of the biggest cases of fraud in European history, the company was found to have completely fabricated billions of Euros in their books. An initial figure of €3.9bn was dramatically revised up to €14.3bn, and a lawsuit from US creditors followed.
Despite a lot of legal juggling in order to stay somewhat competitive as a club, the insatiable storm that surrounded the club would ultimately cripple the club. Another bankruptcy in 2015 would see the Parma reborn as S.S.D. Parma Calcio 1913, starting life out in lowly Serie D.
In the spirit of a true phoenix club, Parma would achieve three successive promotions to rise all the way back up to Serie A as quickly as possible. Despite relegation last year, and a shaky start to this season’s Serie B campaign, the club appear to have turned a corner in regards to stability.
The current situation of a club trying to make their way as best they can between the divisions only makes the events of the 90s seem more unbelievable. The fact that a provincial club were able to compete with the very best in Italy, at a time where Serie A was one of the most competitive divisions in the world, is the stuff of dreams, and 90s Parma shirts will forever remain a symbol of this wild, truly unique, rollercoaster ride