In praise of the hooped sock

IT IS easy to be critical about some of the football shirts being created these days, but when you talk about socks, there is one underused element of hosiery the game should never discard – the hooped stocking.

There’s something a little jaunty about the hooped sock. It is more interesting than the plain version, more durable than a white sock and has the air of the cavalier about it. While we tend to salivate over a decent striped shirt (defined stripes, not trailing blood or Jackson Pollock type splashes), we often overlook the sock. In fact, going back in time, when books and directories used to list a club’s colours, it was “Blue shirts, White shorts”, rarely, if ever were the last pieces of the uniform referred to.

And yet, these socks would complement a striped or hooped shirt perfectly. Take, for example, Newcastle United’s socks from the mid-1970s, Supermac’s bandy legs encased in some very continental-looking hosiery. Did they not look better than black with white tops? And go back to the pioneering days of football and look at how the kit of the Royal Engineers, Queens Park and others displayed shorts and socks that mirrored each other.

But logistics played their part in the plethora of hooped jerseys of the late 19th century, quite simply the looms were often in short supply that could produce vertical stripes.

Arsenal toyed with hoops in the late 1960s, their classy red and white shirts were finished off with navy blue (thin) banded socks. They looked good, but why blue? And why were they dropped in favour of red socks? Their reintroduction was a throwback to the Chapman era.

One of the best designs has to be Barcelona’s socks in 1974, the red and blue hoops adorned by Johan Cruyff. You only need to glance at the images of Cruyff at that time to know this was a cosmopolitan team making full use of its visual identity. These glamorous creations probably did more than most to link hooped legwear to the continental club.

There is something a little “rugby” about a hooped sock, rather like the shirts that seem to be more prevalent in the oval-balled game. Horizontal stripes certainly make players look bigger, both their torsos and lower limbs. Hence, rugby may feel more comfortable wearing socks that are more “dandy”. Vertical stripes are more common in football, maybe to make the players seem fit, agile and a little aerodynamic. While rugby clubs were happy to retain the traditional jerseys that emphasised physique and power, football clubs probably wanted to differentiate themselves from the competing code.

There are some kits that could have done with a little styling. Wouldn’t Celtic and QPR’s hoops look better finished off with some matching socks? Or how about Brazil having some very vivid recolouring? But we don’t want everyone to have a hooped sock, otherwise their presence becomes “everyday”. The fact that not everyone likes or uses them makes them noticeable when a team runs out wearing something a little different. Long live the hooped sock, in all its glory!

Europe gets the women’s Champions League

IT WAS an astonishing occasion and a landmark for women’s football – 91,500 people watching the Champions League quarter-final between Barcelona and Real Madrid. This crowd owed as much to the enduring appeal of El Clásico as it did the appeal of the women’s game, but it also underlined the fact Barcelona are the best in the world right now.

When the two clubs met in the first leg, the crowd was just 3,318 at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium. Clearly there was a lot of marketing around the second leg and despite the weather, it worked. The crowd of 91,500 even put the men’s Clásico – crowd of 86,422 – into the shade. If the rain had held off, they might have had even more people in the Camp Nou as they had sold 99,000 tickets!

Most of the Champions League quarter-finals had promising crowds. Apart from that Real-Barca first leg, the smallest attendances was the 5,018 that went to Arsenal versus Wolfsburg at the Emirates. What a pity the game, involving the only English club left in the competition, could only attract a sub-10,000 gate. By WSL standards, 5,000 was a very decent crowd, but switching to the Emirates should have attracted a much better turnout. Over the two legs, Arsenal’s answer to Wolfsburg’s high-octane approach – along with the way Chelsea were dismantled by Barca last season – reminded the WSL it still has some way to go, despite its preference for hiring big names.

Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain drew over 27,000 against Bayern, Juventus versus Lyon in Turin (the appointed venue for the final) was watched by 9,000-plus and Wolfsburg’s second leg win against the Gunners had a crowd of 11,000. 

Of course, the competition is the pinnacle of the club game, so it should be well supported, but it should not overlook the fact crowds are still not flocking to bread and butter league games. Barcelona Feminí usually play in front of less than 3,000 at their home games. They have won all 25 of their league fixtures, scoring an average of more than five per game and have conceded just seven goals.

The average crowd across the Women’s Super League is around 1,600 but France’s top division barely draws 1,000 per game, although Lyon have an average of 4,500. Germany is trailing at present and its average this season is 700 with Eintracht Frankfurt the best supported at 1,300. 

The WSL gets a lot of publicity, but general interest still seems lack lustre compared to the enthusiasm for the women’s national team. The Football Association’s ambition of 6,000 crowds for the WSL by 2024 looks a considerable ask at the moment and the pandemic may have put back that aspiration by a year or two. Hosting the European Championship this summer may provide a boost, but will the expected upsurge interest extend beyond internationals?

It is hard to see anyone stopping Barcelona from retaining the Champions League trophy they won so impressively last season. They have lost just one league game in three seasons and they are packed with star names, such as Alexia Putellas, the 28 year-old midfielder who fulfilled her dream as a young girl of playing for Barca. She’s also Spain’s most-capped player. Barca also have Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway), Jenni Hermoso (Spain), Irene Paredes (Spain), Lieke Martens (Netherlands), Aitana Bonmati (Spain) and Mapi León (Spain) in their squad.

Barcelona meet Wolfsburg  and Lyon and PSG provide an all-French tie in the semi-finals. These are four of the top five teams in Europe according to UEFA’s club co-efficients, so the quality couldn’t really be any higher. These should get the turnstiles clicking again.

Manchester City top the Deloitte list

MANCHESTER CITY have broken the strangehold of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United on the Deloitte Football Money League (DFML) and have topped the 2022 rankings. City jumped five places and were one of three clubs to generate more than € 600 million in revenues.

City’s income went up by 17% while most of their immediate rivals saw their earnings fall as the pandemic really hit home on top level football.  Barcelona, for example, who were top in 2021 and 2020, saw their income drop by 18% to € 582 million. Barca’s recent financial problems are well documented, but covid-19 exposed some significant vulnerabilities in their business model, along with a number of other clubs. With matchday money almost disappearing completely to € 111 million, contributing just 1% of overall revenues across the DFML versus 15% in 2019-20, the importance of broadcasting and commercial streams grew substantially. 

Manchester City’s climb up the DFML saw their revenues grow from £ 12.7 million to £ 571 million in the 25 years the study has been produced. In 2020-21, City benefitted from increased broadcasting (+55%) and commercial (+8%). Their commercial earnings are actually 10 times the total reported by clubs such as Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

City’s total was only just higher than Real Madrid’s € 640.7 million and some € 33 million more than Bayern Munich’s € 611 million. Bayern continued to be the most successful club in terms of commercial income, although their € 345 million was almost 5% down on the previous season. The total commercial stream across the DFML was € 3.5 billion, about 7% less than 2019-20. Seven of the top 20 saw their commercial stream grow, notably Leicester City (+39%) and Aston Villa (+20%). Conversely, Everton’s commercial activity dropped by a very worrying 39% and Manchester United fell by 21%. 

The saving grace for some clubs was broadcasting income. Only one of the top 20 (Zenit), saw this stream fall, and some clubs, such as Aston Villa (+99%), West Ham (+98%) and Manchester United (+80%), enjoyed healthy improvements. Overall, broadcasting money, which totalled € 4.6 billion to the DFML clubs, contributed 56% of the overall pot, as opposed to 39% in 2019-20. 

While football was vocal in its suffering during the height of the pandemic – estimates claim clubs lost € 2 billion during the crisis – the DFML teams saw their revenues remain almost static at € 8.2 billion. However, this figure was more than a billion euros down on the pre-covid 2018-19 season. The losses meant that wages consumed a greater percentage of earnings, for instance, Barcelona (84%), Inter (77%) and Leicester (85%) all had inflated and unsustainable wage-to-income ratios.

The top 20 were very active in the transfer market, spending € 2.1 billion while receiving € 891 million. The biggest spenders were Chelsea (€ 249 million), Manchester City (€ 219 million and Juventus (€ 137 million).

The top 14 of the DFML has evolved over the past five years and there is a clear gap between these elite clubs (six Premier, three La Liga, two Bundesliga, two Serie A and one Ligue 1) and the rest of the top 20, some of whom drop in and out of the list according to their season-by-season performance. The Premier, unsurprisingly, dominates the top 20 to the tune of 55% (11 clubs). There are another three Premier clubs in the 10 “bubbling under” candidates. With the Premier’s TV rights issue likely to pull further away from the other leading European leagues, the prospect of more English clubs challenging for a place in the DML seems probable. Broadcasting fees are poised to reduce in 2021-22 but this will be partially offset by a new cycle for UEFA club competitions.

The DFML highlights the clubs that are rising and falling. Manchester City, obviously, have risen the ranks in the last 10 years, while Paris Saint-Germain have also climbed and plateaued. Atlético Madrid have also joined from outside the DFML and are now perennial 13th placers. Tottenham have also improved to become top 10 mainstays, but their north London neighbours, Arsenal, have fallen from top six to a position outside the top 10. This really mirrors their performances on the field of play. Manchester United have also declined and are now at a 10-year low. AC Milan, once a top 10 player, are now clinging to the last place in the top 30.

Clubs are also showing greater awareness around social issues, inclusion and diversity, but they are still slow to back their words with action. For example, only five of the top 20 have signed the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Moreover, very few have ethnic representation on their board, although Leicester City and Manchester City have 75% and 57% respectively. Similarly, only half of the 20 have women directors and overall, there is an 11% presence of women across all boards. Juventus (40%), Tottenham (25%), Leicester (25%) and Everton (25%) lead the way. However, all 20 clubs in the DFML have a women’s football team for the first time in the 25 years of the report, in fact, many of the clubs from the list are dominating the women’s game.

Of course, the Deloitte Football Money League study only provides one snapshot of a club’s financial health and, as widely reported, some clubs have made heavy losses during the pandemic. And then there are external influences, such as at Chelsea where the Ukraine war has been the catalyst to unseat Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich as the club’s owner. The situation at Chelsea could change the way the football authorities look at club ownership in the future. Given the introduction of oil men and nation states transformed football at the highest level and created huge financial imbalances that are certainly not beneficial for the majority of [smaller] clubs, not everyone will see this as a bad thing. Indeed, some might consider that more scrutiny around ownership and independent regulation in football are both long overdue.