Thom Gibbs looks at the latest kit designs and finds only a few sartorial gems among the racks of polyester horrors and 'Climacool' fabrics
Pre-season is a time to nurse gently the bruises that football has inflicted on our souls in the past nine months. As the new campaign approaches we revert to a position of blind optimism and unreserved excitement. Nothing captures that dumbly hopeful glow better than the first glimpse of next season’s shirts. What unforgettable moments will we associate with our side’s new kit? Will it be remembered as a cocky disaster like England’s Admiral strips of the barren 1970s? Or surreal triumph, à la the radioactive bird poo kit inexorably linked to Norwich’s 1990s European adventures?
Nothing says “disastrous relegation” better than a truly awful shirt, and Newcastle have outdone themselves with their new away strip, a disgusting sunlight-on-rotting mustard semi-striped mess. This “Solero shirt” seems to have been expressly designed to remove the last shred of dignity from the club, the region, the nation, but it’s by no means the only folly this year. Everton have an ill-advised throwback to their League and Cup-Winners Cup winning kit of 1985, complete with a white bib under the chin. Despite being unveiled at the excellently named Everton Two megastore (in the Liverpool One shopping centre), it’s a shocker. Louis Saha looks ready to lash out in anger at the photographer for being asked to model it, as does Ray Winstone, West Ham’s choice for a kit model. He wears the Hammers’ take on 1980s retro, an ugly checked affair, with a mixture of disappointment and suppressed rage etched on his droopy bearded face.
Dedicated kit websites such as footballshirtculture.com come alive during summer with shirt aficionados rating the new efforts. Adidas’s stock templates rouse particular anger, and Middlesbrough, Plymouth and Swindon fans will be none too pleased with how similar their kits are to one another. Puma has decided to smear a giant V on most of their new designs, whereas Nike’s efforts are generally restrained and tasteful (witness Villa, Palace and Fulham) and Umbro’s Manchester City is gloriously uncluttered.
All of the manufacturers enjoy talking up the space-age technology that’s gone into their piece of overpriced polyester, often with unintentionally comic results. Umbro took care to emphasise the tailoring of their Spartan new England shirt earlier this year, which doesn’t quite tally with its striking resemblance to a polo shirt and PE kit. Chelsea’s new Adidas shirt includes “layered chest panelling coupled with a 3D Formotion cut, waffled Climacool fabric, and mesh panelling across major sweat zones”. Thank god.
Lower down the leagues, the quality noticeably drops. Doncaster’s Vandanel shirt has more than a whiff of non-League mediocrity about it, while Chesterfield have opted to sublimate a picture of their ground onto their shirt in the year they are leaving it. The last team to take this approach was Manchester United in 1994, and I fondly remember finding a perfect-looking counterfeit on the continent which was only let down by its use of a picture of Old Trafford cricket ground. Saltergate is unlikely to cause Greek bootleggers similar problems.
Bury have reverted to their first ever kit from 1887-88, a classy red-and-white striped shirt with navy shorts. It’s slightly ruined by “Bury Council” being plastered on the front in the least inspiring font imaginable. These are the crucial margins on which classic kits are made, and logo designers have a lot to answer for.
Newcastle had the high-watermark with their use of the iconic Brown Ale star, and in quainter times teams were sponsored by things like yoghurts and lawnmower companies. Now it’s all anonymous and vaguely threatening online betting giants. This year Wolves have Sportingbet, Sunderland Boylesports, West Ham SBOBET and both Wigan and Bolton 188Bet. All promise to take your money from you with misleadingly approachable, aspirational logos. By contrast, Leicester are sponsorless at their fans’ request for their 125th season kit.
By far the most ridiculous new shirt this year comes from Spain. Joma’s Getafe shirt is disgraceful, scarred with an ugly flash reminiscent of the wild excess of bad late 1990s efforts. It’s not helped by its Burger King sponsorship, but the pièce de résistance is a print on the inside of the shirt of a grinning king wearing a crown. This will cover players’ faces when they perform Ravanelli-style shirt-over-head celebrations. Classy.
From WSC 271 September 2009