Seemingly random use of away strips
21 January ~ On December 1, Liverpool went to the KC Stadium to play Hull City and opted to wear a white change kit, while Manchester United did the same on Boxing Day. There was no real need for either side to do so as red doesn't really clash with black and amber, but it did at least alleviate any chance of confusion. Just two days after United's visit, however, Fulham too decided to change at Hull – wearing their red away kit instead of their white home. Sadly, such sartorial inconsistencies are becoming the norm rather than mere aberrations.
Since Warrior replaced Adidas as their kit manufacturer, Liverpool have emerged as bad offenders in this regard. Last season, they wore their black away strip at White Hart Lane and purple third at Norwich. The wisdom of such choices had been called into question as early as August 2012, though, when none of their three kits was deemed to provide enough differentiation to Hearts in the Europa League, meaning that the Scottish side had to wear white in both legs of the tie.
It could be argued that the black kit would have sufficed, but then UEFA are stricter on colour clashes than in the Premier League. One would think that similar colours cause the same problem regardless of which competition they are worn in, but even in England there are discrepancies. The Premier League permits opposing sides to have the same colour shorts, but the FA Cup does not. This is why Swansea lined out in purple and gold at Old Trafford in the Cup recently and then were in their usual all-white in the league a week later. Though some teams have alternative shorts to use with their home shirts (and many do in the league, despite no regulatory need to do so), the Swans do not.
The reason that shorts clashes are not considered a serious problem is that it is almost impossible to commit a foul with the part of the body covered by them, so officials do not need to differentiate. The sleeves are generally considered a more problematic area, for adjudging handballs and offsides. Often there are no changes – Arsenal never do away to Spurs, for instance, and are inconsistent in doing so against other white teams. It's rare to see Manchester City play West Ham or Aston Villa with both sides in home strips.
When West Ham have an away kit of white shirts with sky-blue shorts and socks, as worn in the recent League Cup semi-final, the effect is very jarring, with many viewers commenting on what could be termed the "overall clash" (in that no constituent parts were the same colour but there was still confusion). The home kit would surely have been a better choice, but the Hammers as-yet-unworn black third kit would definitely have solved any problems, especially as sky-blue v white is often regarded as a clash anyway.
Of course, the main reason for the needless changes is money, and clubs' desires to showcase shirts so as to sell more. In the final home game of the season they are even permitted to wear the following season's away kit, if they so wish. Tottenham did this in 2003, premiering a sky-blue kit and forcing Blackburn to wear red in the process. All well and good, but it seems they couldn't don an alternative at home three years later, when Blackburn forgot to bring a change kit to White Hart Lane and we were left with two teams in blue and white. Proof, if it were needed, that using the degree of similarity to determine when a change required is almost as quaint as the rattle or celebrating against a former club. Denis Hurley