Criticism of Newcastle United has long since passed from being some form of sport into being a sadistic ritual, but their new change kit for next season is surely worthy of some comment. The two-tone yellow striped number from Adidas has already been described as “custard and cream with yellow shorts” (When Saturday Comes), “the worst football strip ever” (The Sunderland Echo, perhaps unsurprisingly and a “garish orange and yellow stripe number” (The Sun) but, whilst it may well be the worst offender of the summer, it certainly isn’t the only terrible football kit that has been designed over the last few months or so.
Bolton Wanderers, for example, have managed this monstrosity, in an apparent attempt to out do their extraordinary vomit-coloured change kit from last season. Chelsea’s new kit, depending on who you talk to, has either got a built in training bra or gladiator style breast plates. There’ll be a full review of what the Premier League will be wearing next season on here at some point next month (by which time they will have all been released), but what is becoming apparent is that there must be some reason for this sudden rash of appalling fashion decisions, and one particular design trend is already raising eyebrows – the return of the chevron.
The manufacturers Puma have clearly decided that chevrons are the way forward and, as such, Tottenham Hotspur will be taking the pitch in a kit which looks as if it has a splash of urine across the front of it. Nike, meanwhile, have decided that a chevron is just what Manchester United need, so next season they will be wearing a shirt with a big black V across the middle of it. Nike have claimed that this kit is in celebration of United’s hundredth anniversary of their move to Old Trafford. A couple of years ago, of course, United had a blue change kit to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the 1968 European Cup final, which they won wearing a change kit of all blue.
One cannot deny that Nike are at least inventive in their explanations. The black chevron has been reported as a nod to the fact that United wore white shirts with a red chevron at the time of their move to Old Trafford, and Nike did make a prototype kit for the club’s considerations using these exact colours. More cynical observers, however, have already started to note that there may be an ulterior motive for the sudden preponderence of chevrons in the Premier League. In advertising, vast amounts of money are spent on the art of drawing the human eye towards a specific target. Could it possibly be that these designs are being entirely based around drawing the eye of the viewer towards the sponsor’s name? That Bolton shirt, for example, seems to have been entirely designed to make you look at the logo in the middle.
It wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened. The history of shirt sponsorship started with a peculiar stand off between Kettering Town’s general manager Derek Dougan and the FA. Kettering Town became the first English club to take a sponsor’s cash in 1976 at a time that it was still banned by the FA. After receiving a stern reprimand, Dougan changed the writing on the front of the shirts from “Kettering Tyres” to “Kettering T”, claiming that the “T” stood for “Town”. The FA were less than impressed by this piece of semantic juggling, and demanded its removal under the threat of a £1,000 (a sizeable sum by the standards of the day). In the early 1980s, Coventry City had two kits – one based on the logo of their sponsors, Talbot Cars, and one completely different for use in televised matches.
The interest in this paraphenalia of the game is good for business, and the unveiling of new kits has become a game of cat and mouse in which leaked pictures find their way onto the internet only to be taken down upon threats of legal action, only to reappear elsewhere soon afterwards. The Football Shirt Culture website appears to have buckled this morning under the weight of traffic on the basis of a teaser picture of the new Manchester United shirt. Amazing though it may seem, there really is that much interest. Getting the design wrong, though, can be an expensive and embarrassing business. There’s a chance that Reebok, Nike and Puma may find this out to their cost over the next few months or so.