After their Derby-Day heroics; you just knew that the latest episode of the Jersey Gallery was going to be about the boys in blue and black; Inter Milan! The weapon of choice that I have selected was the legendary 2003-04 home shirt. The noughties saw Nike utilise a lot more blue in making Inter’s shirts, none was more-so an example of this application than the 2003-04 shirt.
THE STORY OF THE SEASON:
Ahead of the 2003-04 season, I was making the conscious choice of adopting Inter as my team in Italy, in what was my first love affair with the club. The previous season saw Hector Cuper’s side finish 2nd in Italy and be cruelly eliminated on away goals in the Champions League semi-final; the irony was that their opponents were AC Milan, a team they share the San Siro with! Before the season had gotten underway, the club had made the unpopular decision to sell Hernan Crespo to Chelsea, after just one season with the club, the hastily arranged signing of Julio Cruz from Bologna would not be enough to placate for the loss of the world’s best strikers. It as a shame given that the club had recruited wingers in the form of the: youthful and exciting Andy van der Meyde, and the vastly experienced Kily Gonzales, reuniting with Hector Cuper after their time together at Valencia. Additional summer signings: Sabri Lamouchi, Khalilou Fadiga, Thomas Helveg, Giorgos Karagounis, and Jeremie Brechet were your classic ‘Inter signings’; squad players who would go on to enjoying varying degrees of success at the club. Following these arrivals would naturally come departures, and along with Crespo, long time stalwarts: Sergio Conceicao, and Luigi Di Biagio left for Lazio and Brescia respectively.
In spite of the late loss of Crespo, the campaign began with 3 wins out of 3, as Modena and Siena were beaten in Serie A, and most significantly, Arsenal were beaten 3-0 at Highbury on Match-Day 1 of the Champions League groups stages. That win would set the stage for a disastrous autumn; a period that would see Hector Cuper dismissed following the 2-2 draw away against Brescia on 18th October. It was a shame that a coach who guided Inter to within a game of winning the Scudetto in 2002, a 2nd place finish in 2003 and back to back European semi-finals was sacked, however with the club languishing in 8th place after 6 games, and with just 2 wins on the board, they were already 7 points behind league leaders Juventus. Alberto Zaccheroni was the hastily arranged replacement for the departing Cuper, and although he was once a Serie A winning coach; his affiliation with AC Milan made him an unpopular choice for the Inter faithful. His first assignment was to pick the club up after a disastrous 3-0 defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League, where they welcomed an undefeated Roma to the San Siro; and to his credit, he was able to manage the side to a 0-0 draw against the side with the league’s best goal difference. The draw would be the catalyst for a fine run of 6 straight victories; scoring 22 goals and conceding just 2! The crown jewel of this run was undoubtedly the 3-1 win away against Juventus on November 29th. The run would conclude with their 2-0 win away to Perugia, and with a fine return of 20 points from an available 24; Inter were in 4th place, and just 5 points adrift of joint league leaders: AC Milan and Roma.
Sadly, the European front would collapse, most notably at home against Arsenal, where the the English side became the first team from England to win at the San Siro, furthermore, the 5-1 score-line left the previous seasons’ semi-finalists needing a victory away against Dynamo Kyiv. The fateful game in the Ukraine would see Inter lead with 22 minutes to play, only for a late equaliser to come for the hosts, to see Inter relegated to the UEFA Cup. Their final game of 2003 would see them meet 5th place Lazio; managed by Roberto Mancini, the former Italy international would guide his team to a 2-1 win at the Stadio Olimpico to end the Inter unbeaten league run, and place himself further in the cross hairs of the Inter hierarchy as the man to take the club forward in the future…
2004 began with a 3-0 win over Lecce at the San Siro to still keep them within 5 points of the league summit after 15 games. Despite the winter additions of: Dejan Stankovic and Adriano; that win would set the tone for a dismal winter period where they would win just once in their next 10 league outings! In the Coppa Italia, the club would get as far as the semi-final, only to be beaten by Juventus on penalties after a pair of 2-2 draws, while they would find themselves in the 5th Round of the UEFA Cup, following their elimination of Sochaux.
A March 21st trip to Ancona would see them win their first Serie A outing since February 1st, as Alvaro Recoba and Daniele Adani scored in a 2-0 win at the Stadio del Conero. The win would keep alive their bid for a top 4 finish, which had now become the goal following that terrible midseason run, meanwhile a thrilling 4-3 victory over Benfica in the 2nd Leg of 5th Round UEFA Cup tie, saw them reach the quarter final against Marseille. This upturn in form would galvanise the team as they embarked on a 5 match winning streak in the league, which included a fantastic 3-2 win over Juventus on April 4th at the San Siro; their next opponents in Serie A would be Lazio, and with just 1 point separating the 2 teams, it was likely the winner of the contest would secure 4th place! 4th would be the only thing to left to fight for now, with Marseille prevailing in their UEFA Cup quarter final clash, and 3rd place Juventus an unassailable 11 points further than the ‘Nerazzurri’.
The game with Lazio would end 0-0 at the San Siro, however a defeat to Lecce in their next outing allowed to Parma to steal the advantage in 4th place with just 2 games left to play. Fatefully, the next game for both sides would come against one another at the San Siro, and Inter would prevail 1-0 thanks to Adriano’s strike, a bitter blow for the visitors given that the Brazilian had been their talisman prior to his switch to Inter at the start of the year. A visit to Empoli would be their final game of the season, and a dramatic 3-2 contest that would end in the favour of Inter would unfold in Florence, meaning that they would finish in 4th place at the expense of both Parma and Lazio!
While the club were able to salvage 4th place, it was nevertheless a disappointing season for the club given the success, and progress made over the prior 2 seasons. On the other hand, the foundations were paved for what had the potential to be a spectacular 2004-05 season, especially with a strike force that saw 62 goals scored between 5 front men, and the upcoming arrival of Roberto Mancini from Lazio to manage the club ahead of the 2004-05 season.
MY MEMORIES OF THE SHIRT:
As a teenager, this was the first shirt that I had ever gotten, and until last year I still had that very shirt, before I got a version with Vieri 32 on the back. It was Christmas of 2003, and this was what I wanted for Crimbo; I remember going to JJB Sports with my brother on what have been Christmas Eve that year, and like it was scripted by Father Christmas himself, the last shirt remaining was a size XL Boys edition, and it fit almost perfectly, perfect enough anyway for me to have no hesitation in making it mine! I wore the toffee out of that shirt! On non-school uniform days, around the house, to play football in; this shirt will always hold a special place in my heart for its association with my life as a 13 year old whippersnapper.
Admittedly, the 2002-03 shirt was my favourite Inter shirt at the time, although that was probably due to the memory of seeing Hernan Crespo and Gabriel Batistuta wearing the shirt, as well as the brilliant use of yellow accents. If anyone can remember that era, Nike used a specific template for the 2003-04 season, whereby the colour hem was particularly abundant in the stripey kits, as evidenced by the Juventus, Inter, FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona shirts created that season. I have no doubt that had the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and PSV Eindhoven had new kits made for them that season, they too would have had the same effect on their shirts. In the case of Inter’s shirt, the hem was blue, and blue dominated the strip the that season, even if the black stripes were quite bold and thick.
Regrettably, while I recall the winter victories over Arsenal and Juventus, it was the 5-1 humbling at the hands of the Gunners at the San Siro on November 25th that remains as my most vivid memory of the shirt being worn. On a positive note, this would be the first shirt to be worn by Adriano and Dejan Stankovic; the former being a particularly mouth-watering addition to the club, whilst it would also be the last Inter jersey worn by Fabio Cannavaro. I also think that Nike’s font used that season beautifully complemented this shirt too; perhaps even better than its predecessor in 2002-03.
The fortune of the shirts made in that era was that if you are looking for one today, there is a good chance that you can take a risk with a size smaller than you normally wear, and there is a good chance that it will fit quite well, and these shirts are a fine example of that phenomena! As I touched upon earlier, I had a size XL Boys version of the shirt that I kept for over 18 years, fortuitously, the Vieri edition that I snapped up last year was also a size XL Boys, and still fits very well, as you can see in the photo of me!
You can get the 2003-04 Inter Milan Home Shirt in Size XL Boys for just £19.99!
Share this post