… are you ready ?
As the football season lurches towards its inexorable climax around Europe, there are still a few titles, play-offs, relegation battles and cup finals to be won and lost. As teams prepare for the last push to the finish line, uncertain of what outcome awaits them on the field, off it one thing’s for sure: it’s time for a new kit or two.
Or possibly even three if you’re a Man United fan.
At this time every year the rumour mill starts grinding and with the internet being what it is, there’s nowhere to hide. New strips are mysteriously “leaked” to the press. Others are simply photo-shopped by loyal and disloyal fans alike, depending on who you believe.
In Great Britain, it’s only ever fine-tuning. Nobody really changes their strip very much anymore and the notable exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Crystal Palace went from nearly seventy years of claret and blue to red and blue stripes in 1973 before dramatically switching to a Peru-style sash on an all-white kit just three years later. Since then they’ve swung between the two, while also taking in an all-red kit with blue trim, a mostly blue kit with red trim until finally adopting a Barca style darker blue/red stripes combo for the last couple of years. Compared to most English clubs, their own brand disloyalty has been quite astonishing and it’s a good job Subbuteo is no longer in production or the housewives of Kent would be having a lot of headaches trying to paint all the new versions of their once iconic kit.
Of course, the big story in the UK has been Cardiff’s switch to red this season following substantial investment from an Asian benefactor. A lucky colour in the far east, the Bluebirds’ fans did not take kindly to being told they could soon be renamed the Cardiff Dragons as well, but the millions of pounds went down rather nicely, thank you. Given that they now sit proudly atop the Championship and are about to enter the Premier League for the first time – and the top division itself for the first time in over 50 years – the “rebrand” has largely been put on the back burner for most people. As long as the team are winning and the owner keeps spending, nobody’s going to moan too much about anything, such is the lot of the average football fan.
The only other notable changes in the top two divisions over the last few seasons have been both Bolton and Tottenham’s decisions to wear an all-white kit rather than the more traditional white shirt/blue shorts of old. As a Leeds fan I’m rightly proud of that kit. After all, we were the first ones to nick the idea off Real Madrid, so they should leave well alone … especially given that both sides muck about with unnecessary little details like these:
Other infamous kit fiddlers include Coventry City, Plymouth Argyle and Luton Town, but other than that there’s been precious few on these islands …
Over on the continent, it’s a completely different ball game.
Not only do they actually play in a way that seems alien to us by keeping the ball and passing it to one another, but the notion of any kind of traditional club kit – or even colours in some cases – goes out la fenêtre.
A whole host of teams in France, Germany, and Belgium have dramatically changed their kits and complete colour schemes since the war. The top two in Germany – FC Bayern and Borussia Dortmund – are positively kit whores who show no loyalty whatsoever to what is, essentially, their very own brand. I don’t know if it’s a marketing thing to get fans to spend ever more money on new strips or what ? If you think about it, substantially changing a kit at least offers the hard-up fan a bit more value for money given that they’re forking out €70+ for the privilege. Maybe they’ve had it right all along and our own, more subtle additions of a stripe here and a dash of colour there are a proper rip-off after all.
Take Bayern as an example: there’s even a dedicated website showcasing the history of their kits down the years. They’ve worn red, white, red and white, black, red and black, white and black, red, white and black, blue, burgundy, blue and red, and any combination of all those shades as well as switching between plain shirts, stripes, hoops, sashes, contrasting sleeves, horizontal bars … the list goes on.
Dortmund are just as bad and only this week they’ve previewed next season’s strip:
This year, they wore black and yellow stripes …
A club I follow in France, namely Lille, are just as bad. Traditionally they wore all white with red trim in the ’70s, then a sub-England kit with blue shorts in the ’80s, followed by a change to all red some years later. More recently still, they’ve worn red shirts and almost black shorts and socks until last year’s change to a more vivid shade of blue in that rather vulgar Umbro template, like a reverse of Rangers. It’s all too much for poor Joey Cole … he can’t work out what’s going on:
Speaking of Umbro … the one time I think I’ve actually liked anything they’ve done involved the switching of the England kit to all white with red detailing a couple of seasons ago. I thought that was as close to my ideal strip as they’d ever get, for personally I believe nations should wear their flag. I reckon we’d look really intimidating draped in the George flag and strike fear into our opponents as we evoke memories of the crusaders marching into battle. It sums up how we play, how we feel about the game and would also excuse any more spilt blood, a la Terry Butcher and Paul Ince.
Internazionale actually wore the kit I’d like England to wear as an away strip a few seasons back:
Isn’t that a magnificent sight … even if the red cross is for their own St Ambrose ?
They really love their rice pudding, the Italians …
And so we come to the end of an era. For the first time since Admiral gave us this little doozie for Espana 82, England will have a kit that is NOT supplied by Umbro:
Having been bought out by Nike and played with for a couple of years, the American giants have tired of their new toy and sold them on again while sneakily retaining the contract for the oldest football nation on earth. Personally, I’m quite pleased as Nike usually come up with decent strips and Umbro were puffing and wheezing for many years, before being given the kiss of life with the rather nifty “Tailored by …” concept introduced by their then new owners.
Having said that, they’ve kept it simple for the first versions, if these photos are genuine:
The home shirt is a clean design and respectful of our (in)glorious history as the founders of the game. It’s a shame the same can’t be said about the away shirt … it looks like a Delboy cast-off from the eighties, if you ask me …
Maybe it is time to go all continental and get a bit creative after all … the latest Belgium kit is absolutely stunning:
… but then their team is a lot better than ours, too.
I’ll say that again:
And to think they used to wear a variation of that bonkers 70s Admiral template so beloved of football anoraks across Britain. They even got that one right, as well: