Club colours should be sacrosanct, but there’s an elegant solution

EVERY SEASON, clubs roll-out new shirts that bastardise their heritage, infuriate certain fans and invite criticism and laughter at their expense. While fans complain about the designs, and some are really quite hideous, it doesn’t stop them queuing to buy them, either to wear them on matchdays or stick them in a drawer with all their previous shirts.

With each year that passes, the artwork becomes more bizarre and more over-engineered. No longer can you honestly say your team plays in red or blue or white – it’s in there somewhere, but you might find it among swirling, cod-paisley designs, TV interference from the 1970s or in the form of a shirt that looks as though it has been in the washing machine with a strong colour that makes your own shirt, white with a hint of pink, yellow or lilac. Or it may be the shirt has been designed by a gang of small children let loose on a tin of Crayola. There seems to be no limits to the amount of needless and expensive graphic design that goes into the new season’s home, away or third strip.

We all know why this happens. It’s not for the aesthetic value of the shirt in question, because most are pretty awful. It’s aimed at making as much money as possible. Why not? You might ask. Actually, from a commercial point of view, shirt sales are an important element in any club’s commercial offering. The fans lap it up, but somewhere down the line, the club’s intellectual property is being tampered with.

There are a number of assets that form the club identity: the badge (logo), the playing strip and the stadium are the most prominent. Today, all corporates have brand identity teams that look after the logo and all its attributes. A club should do likewise, indeed many certainly do, but the playing strip seems to change year-in, year-out. Inter Milan is a good case of how black and blue stripes can be distorted to produce confusing brand identity. Stripes are stripes, not zig-zags.

A club’s shirt should be instantly identifiable as belonging to that club. So why not allow it to be a constant, an official strip that only alters to allow for modernisation and technical improvement? This is a strip that can stand-up as the club’s official uniform, always present, always visible and never changing. If you want to make it something that can be sold annually, then simply have the season printed on the shoulders.

Alternatively, if a club is hell bent on producing new merchandise that lures more cash out of the pockets of fans, then a strip for the season can be introduced that adheres to the guidelines of the branding department. If blue is the colour, then why introduce reds, greens and yellows that bear no relation to the club’s heritage? There’s plenty you can do with a sympathetic palette, is it really necessary to wander into the world of manufactured colours with names like rosebloom pink, light mint, lapis blue and stealth? Of course, this ill-defined set of products may be a way to deter piracy, but where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.

When was the last time you watched a game where two teams played in their traditional colours? It’s quite rare that a club wears its first choice for an away game, but in today’s game, it’s hard to keep up with away kit colouring. By all means commercialise your offering, but keep it simple and don’t exploit the audience.

Crap kits: An explosion in a paint factory and other accidents

IT’S clear that kit companies and football clubs are desperate to shift more units this season, perhaps making up for a 63% drop in demand for Premier League shirts over the past year. Given the economic damage done to club balance sheets during the pandemic, the need to drive commercial revenues has meant that the 20-21 season will look more eye-catching, migraine-inducing and eyebrow-twitching than ever before.

It’s hard to imagine a 65 year-old fan wearing some of the trippy shirt designs being churned out this summer: the Premier will be awash with “fluorescent yellow”, “tessellated triangles”, “barcodes”. “neon blue slime” and washed-out pink. Not to mention the little black numbers being adopted by clubs wanting to suggest the football shirt as night club attire.

Thankfully, some good taste has been retained. While shirts like Manchester United’s black chevron meets TV interference and City’s psychedelic nursery print are frankly a grim warning for the future, Wolves have revived old gold and Burnley’s claret and blue is the equivalent of sensible shoes. Everton’s fans will like “Ball-era yellow” and indeed, the new blue home kit.

Kit sales are vital for a club’s commercial revenues. Manchester United are the world’s top club by shirt sales. In 2018-19, they shifted 3.25 million shirts, only Real Madrid sold for than three million, with Bayern Munich selling 2.6 million and Barcelona just under two million.

The virus has severely impacted shirt revenues, demand (according to Love the Sales) but you may wonder if the new designs are deliberately aimed for abnormal times, their boldness may be provisioning for another lockdown, a more remote audience and the coming globalised generation. If you are not able to see them in person, they have got to look startling to appeal to online retail consumers.

Or it could be that the designers are becoming more adventurous because they are bored. Let’s face it, a traditional red, blue or white shirt is limited. Once you have one, you don’t need another until it wears out. By making shirts that tweak the style, introduce features and even change the tone, fans will clamour to have the new version. But again, there’s only so much you can do with a club’s first kit so the answer is to make the second kit more innovatIve (if that’s the right word). And to really squeeze the fans, a third kit can be produced that can be so bold it evokes animal prints, hangovers, illegal raves and urban art. The second and third kits represent a pure opportunity to monetize the supporters.

And they moan. They accuse the club of money-grabbing and over-commercialisation. But, they buy them, wear them everywhere they go and kiss the badge. If you feel your club is abusing loyalty by churning-out new strips, then it is simple – do not buy them.

It is astonishing how some kits that appalled us have become iconic. Arsenal’s bruised banana is one such shirt. At the time, it was considered awful by most fans, but it also represented a glorious time for the club. Coventry’s brown kit has never stood the test of time, but then they never won the championship in it!

It is possible that the real age of the crap kit may be upon us, a reflection of the times we are living in. Will someone produce a shirt with the covid-19 virus image embedded in its weave?


Photo: PA Images