No return to traditional stripes
1 July ~ "Five, four, three two, one..." the countdown ended with a small cheer as the electronic shutter went up and the people at the head of the queue filed into the Southampton FC outlet store in the city's West Quay shopping centre. Those in the carefully managed lines which eased up to the shopping centre doors would be among the first to own the coming season's kit.
Some may have been among the 58 per cent of people in a poll run on the independent supporter site SaintsWeb who ticked the "don't like it, won't buy it" box, or the almost seven per cent who went for "don't like it, but will buy it anyway". But as the cuddly canine club mascot Sammy Saint posed for photographs with smiling fans of all ages, it seemed impossible to believe that there had been any controversy at all around the launch.
That had begun earlier with an apparently leaked image which was circulated online just ahead of the official unveiling. Many fans were incredulous on seeing the plain red shirt, while others pointed to an off-kilter badge in the picture as evidence of some sort of wind-up. The stripes will be there tomorrow, they said. The official launch, however, only served to confirm that this will be the Saints' third kit out of the past four seasons, and the second in succession, not to feature the club's traditional red and white stripes.
Even before the official unveiling, calls had gone up across social media for a "save our stripes" campaign and a boycott of the new shirt. For the traditionalists, the issue at stake is not just a lack of respect for Southampton's heritage – the Saints having played in red and white stripes since 1896 – but fears that ditching the stripes presents a threat to the club's identity.
Others point to the club's relative success recently, or argue that it's the club badge that matters. Those with longer memories bring up the 1980s, when the traditional stripes were mostly absent. One of the kits of that era, an "'inverted Ajax" design worn when the team finished second in the old Division One in 1982-83, is even regarded as something of a classic – popular enough for a reproduction version to be on sale in the club shop many years later.
An hour after the shirts went on sale and Sammy Saint is still entertaining a long queue. It seems that for all the online hyperbole quite a few fans actually like the new kit, at least enough to pay £50 for a replica shirt. And it does have white stripes – the unmistakable corporate logo of kit manufacturers Adidas. Neil Cotton