Unlike many clubs, Newcastle United have traditionally kept their famous black and white colours since the day before the turn of the 20th Century when the Club's directors decided to bin their pioneering outfit as worn by Newcastle East End. It was way back on August 2nd 1894, when the Magpies decided to discard the red of United's founding club.
The East Enders pulled on all red shirts then, as well as a jersey of, amazingly, red and white stripes! Meanwhile, their great rivals for Tyneside prominence over the first decade of organised football, and the other half of Newcastle United's origins, Newcastle West End pulled on various colours. It has been established that they played in red and black-dark blue hooped shirts.
The Club's board meeting journal record the change in colours: "It was agreed that the Club's colours should be changed from red shirts and white knickers to black and white shirts (two inch stripe) and dark knickers." This would stop the frequent colour clashes which were occurring in the Second Division at the time. Nowhere though, in those official minutes does it state why they selected black and white. And there is still no definitive answer to that mystery.
A few theories have been put forward over time. The most popular surrounds a fervent supporter from the city's Blackfriars monastery, Father Dalmatius Houtmann. This Dutchman was often to be seen with United's players in the years before the turn of the century, the monastery being just a goal-kick away from St. James' Park. He was dressed in a traditional black and white habit, and it has been suggested that the Club decided to adopt his colours.
Another legend that has been handed down over the years is the story of a pair of Magpies nesting in the old Victorian Stand at St. James' Park. It was said that United's players of the time became so attached to the two birds that they picked their distinctive colours of black and white and named themselves the Magpies.
Another suggestion goes back deep into history and the English Civil War, tracing the black and white colours to a famous 17th-Century Cavalier, William Cavendish (1593-1676). As Earl, and later, Duke of Newcastle, he had strong connections with Tyneside and Northumberland, which have remained in the region to this day. The City still has a Cavendish Place, and large areas of the region were at one time owned by the family. Streets like Welbeck Road, Devonshire Place, Portland Terrace and Bentinck Road have Cavendish connections, while the Earl also owned Ogle and Bothal castles in Northumberland. The Cavendish heraldic crest of three white stags on a black background - the first black'n'white connection - was to be seen all over the North East.
And when Civil war raged, Cavendish was of course very much a Royalist man. He raised a volunteer army on Tyneside, known as the Newcastle Whitecoats and their black and white attire became very distinctive. Their white shirts, dark pants and hats, along with their black leather boots, belts and pouches looked the part. They must indeed have looked like the very first Toon Army! The Cavendish, and Whitecoats, colours of black and white continued in the region for many years and it is entirely probable that this is where Newcastle United's famous colours originated.
After changing from East End's red colours, for the first two decades of Newcastle United's history the Club saw their side wear dark blue shorts, not black, in many games up to the First World War. And in the years leading to the hostilities, United pulled on a shirt with broad stripes featured on the front and back of the jersey. It was the start of a remarkable series of differing designs of black and white stripes.
In the Twenties the stripes became narrower, while centre stripes varied from white to black. Generally though, the Club shirt remained the same right up to season 1958/59 with the exception of a change in collar from the "grand-dad" look to a conventional one. However with Charlie Mitten installed as boss, his modern and continental influence gave the black'n'white a dramatic change. In came a streamlined version, but few liked it in an era of traditional values. The kit was perhaps a decade ahead of its time and was rapidly shelved, to be replaced by a more conventional style for the Sixties.
During the following decade, kit manufacturers started to play a major part in football. A succession of companies like Bukta, Umbro and Asics started to find imaginative ways of designing United's classical black'n'white striped shirt using logos, side flashes, different styles of collars, and the introduction of blue tints as United's third colour. And with the introduction of a Club sponsor, the Magpies had Newcastle Breweries' famous Blue Star emblazoned on the shirt from season 1982/83, now replaced by present sponsors NTL's colourful logo.
Season 1989/90 saw probably the most unusual design when a mix of narrow and broad black and white stripes produced a "bar-code" look that took a while to get used to.