I intend to, at varying points throughout the couple of weeks before the tournament begins, to touch upon the varying paraphernalia surrounding the World Cup. The shirts, the balls, the goals, the nuts and bolts that hold the whole shebang together. The more you think about it, the more important the kits are. One of my primary recollections of watching England in the early 1980s is this shirt. I was ten years old. I didn’t know any better. I thought England dressed like that all the time. I didn’t realise that this shirt (made by Admiral) was something of an aberration in a long line of plain white shirts.
What you’ll probably find at some point, in the run-up to this year’s finals, will be an eight page article about the team kits, possibly with a running commentary from somebody like Wayne Hemingway saying things like, “well, this year’s Togo shirt is very colourful, but it could really do with leather elbow pads”. You can see all this year’s kits here, and I think that, for once, most of the manufacturers have made rather a good job of it.
The curse of the modern football kit is what I would describe as the “identikit”. Big manufacturers, most notably Nike, would design one shirt, and simply alter the colours to suit the appropriate countries. This reached a nadir in Japan/South Korea four years ago, when the USA played Portugal – both teams were kitted out by Nike, and the USA came out wearing their first choice kit, which also happened to be identical to Portugal’s change kit. No wonder the USA won whilst the Portuguese looked so lethargic. They must have been thinking that they were playing in a training match. Quite asides from this, the “identikit” was quite disheartening for supporters (not England, though – they’ll probably wear Umbro in perpetuity. You have to feel a bit sorry for Umbro, while I think of it. In 1994 they supplied England, Scotland, Brazil, Chelsea & Manchester United – plus many others. By next year, they’ll only have England left, but I digress). You turn up for your match in you £40 shirt only to see the opposition’s supporters wearing something more or less identical. It hardly fills you with a unique feeling of national pride.
This time around, I think they’ve sorted it out pretty well. My favourite is the Holland shirt, as above. It’s plain and elegant. A simple, classic design. Opening a copy of The Sun today, I saw the England team dressed in the new red away shirts – again, simple and elegant More than a touch of the 1966 shirts about it, as well, which was probably the idea when they designed it. Also scoring high marks are Nike again, for their Brazil kit seemingly modelled on the 1970 design. It’s something of a pity that it has taken until 2006 for sportswear manufacturers to realise that supporters should be given the opportunity to be dressed reasonably well, rather than like extras from the world’s worst psychedelic circus, but it is a start. Trust me on this: things are likely to get worse rather than better in the future. Think about Cameroon and their sleeveless lycra shirts. See?
There are, of course exceptions that prove this rule. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Adidas are the main offenders. They’ve added unnecessary coloured piping to Germany’s shirts, a mind-bending tricolore to France’s away shirts, whilst they appear to have run out of red dye three-quarters of the way through making Trinidad’s shirts. I should also make a special mention of this effort from Costa Rica. The designer appears to have run out of ideas and allowed his three year-old to have scribbled over the artwork with some tippex and a blue marker pen.
Of course, none of this really matters. England could be wearing ballgowns and high heels for all I care if they hold the trophy aloft in six weeks time. Hmm. Ballgowns and high heels. I should pitch that concept to some sports manufacturers…