Now that the World Cup is over (and there will be a couple more bits and pieces to tidy it up over the next couple of days), it is time to start looking forward to the new domestic season, which starts in just over four weeks, and what better way could there be to start it all off than with our annual look at the kits that the teams of 2010/11 will be wearing. As ever, it’s a mixed bag in the Premier League this season, with some clubs getting it right, some clubs getting it woefully wrong and a couple of clubs treating the launch of their new kit as if it is some sort of state secret.
The cultural impact of the football shirt has probably never been higher. There are now several websites dedicated to following the development and design of football shirts. Some of these sites even have enthusiasts using graphic design software to design their own mock-ups of what they would like to see. It would seem that the actual designers themselves don’t often pay too much attention to what they say. Meanwhile, pictures are leaked onto the internet, then demanded to be taken down by tetchy sportswear companies that don’t seem to understand that they are getting free advertising from those that they are throwing legal threats at. It’s a strange world. Anyway, with our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks (feel free to disagree, but will any of you really care if your team has a successful season?), on with the show.
Arsenal: There is nothing more infuriating than when a piece of classic, instantly recognisable design is ruined by naked commercialism wrapped as modernity. It was this sort of folly that has seen Arsenal looking like Charlton Athletic for the last couple of seasons or so, but they have hit a spectacular return to form with a kit that nods (obviously) towards the fortieth anniversary of their 1970/71 double-winning season. Of course, it would have been better if they had taken a gamble on the club’s original crest, but we can’t have everything now, can we? Perhaps they are saving that for the fiftieth anniversary.
Aston Villa: Villa have also fallen into the trap of trying to over-complicate a classic design, but they returned to a simple design last season and this year’s is a continuation of this. Nike have gone for the approaching of not fixing something that isn’t broken again for this season, with the only the chequered design under the arms offering anything out of the ordinary – a sly nod to Birmingham’s heritage as Britain’s “Motor City”, perhaps? Still, it’s far from intrusive and doesn’t detract from another reasonably pleasant design.
Birmingham City: Ah, the wisdom of the crowd. Birmingham City gave their supporters a choice of four kits to choose from for the new season, and this is the one that they chose. There’s a time and a place for a chevron, but the effect is ruined by the stripe carrying on over the sleeve and conspiracy thoeorists might even demand a recount, considering the way that the point of said chevron points right at the sponsors’ name. The winning design, for the record, only picked up 33% of a quite tight vote, so Birmingham are lumbered with a kit that two-thirds of those that voted didn’t choose. The folly of the first past the post system.
Blackburn Rovers: How Umbro’s fortunes have picked up since they were bought out by Nike. Anyone that remembers some of their crimes against fashion of the past will be pleasantly surprised by what they have recently managed to turn out and, while they sometimes play the “heritage” card a little too heavy-handedly, such claims are relatively easier to swallow when they turn out shirts like this. Again, the brief must have been simple. Blackburn wear blue and white halved shirts. There is, however, plenty of scope to get this wrong, but the only thing wrong with this shirt is the honking great sponsors’ logo slapped across the middle of it.
Blackpool: It is perhaps a sign of the low expectations at Bloomfield Road at the start of last season that Blackpool opted for a home kit to last for two seasons rather than just the one. How much money could they have made by having a new home kit for the first time in over forty years? Still, it’s orange (slightly darker than the tangerine that they used to wear), and it has manufacturers logos on the shoulders and the chest, and they have new sponsors for this season in the form of a short-term loan company, which feels kind of appropriate for the Premier League these days.
Bolton Wanderers: It hasn’t been looking too bad yet, has it? Reasonably tasteful designs, so far, with a hint to the history and traditions of the club concerned. Well, we can usually rely on Bolton Wanderers to upset that particular apple cart. To be fair to them, Reebok haven’t made quite as much of a pig’s ear of this season’s kit that they did with last year’s (although, quite frankly, they would have been hard pressed to), but the stripes from the neck down to the underarm region have a hint of “training bra” about them and the sponsors’ logo still looks like an alien has smeared its face with marmalade and attempted an impression of Zinedine Zidane at the 2006 World Cup final.
Chelsea: Talking of bras, Chelsea’s kit last season looked rather as if it had one built in. This design lasted for just a season, and Adidas have decided on a slightly saner option for this season. The red around the neck is a nod to the Chelsea Pensioners, but there still seems to be some sort of “absorbasweat fabric technology” (I made that up, but you understand what I mean, I’m sure) going on too. Still, this is an improvement on last season, at least.
Everton: Le Coq Sportif have still got the Everton contract, and after last season’s kit based on the 1984 FA Cup winning shirt (which was ruined by the white, V-shaped panel on the front being too big – a fault that made it look like Everton’s players had run onto the pitch straight from a restaurant), they have gone for something altogether more sober. The blue cuffs are a nice touch, too (any good Evertonian will tell you that their shirts traditionally always used to have blue, rather than white, cuffs).
Fulham: Following their success last season, Fulham have switched manufacturers from Nike to Kappa, and the new supplier’s first kit for their new club is from the cookie-cutter, but not necesarily a bad design. The badge and manufacturer’s logo are a little bit high and the Kappa logos on the shoulders seem somewhat ostentatious, but this is another return to something approaching tradition after a few years of allowing Nike playing fast and loose with their designs.
Liverpool: As if trying to summon forth the spirit of John Barnes and Ian Rush, Liverpool start the new season with a new kit that is based upon their 1990 shirt – the last time they won English championship. They may be need more basic building blocks in place than a new kit required to get them going in that direction. According to the club, “The traditional all red kit has key features including a jacquard fabric, laser cut woven club crest execution, and rich metallic gold piping detail that helps to create a jersey steeped in history, with a stylish modern twist”, which means that it falls between two stools and doesn’t really manage either of them terribly successfully. Back to the drawing board, Adidas.
Manchester City: Umbro couldn’t possibly have topped the shirts that they made for Manchester City last season, and they have gone for an almost identical kit for this season, with the only significant difference to the shirt being a sky blue rather than white collar. In a just world, Manchester City would have worn they kit that they wore last season until the end of time, but merchandising doesn’t really work like that, does it?
Manchester United: For once, what matters with this summer’s Manchester United shirt isn’t so much what it looks like but what it has come to represent. Who will buy one? Is the green and gold protest over, or will people without a sense of irony buy one and wear a green and gold scarf at the same time? Perhaps the most significant affect of the protests at Old Trafford last season is that people may think harder about this sort of thing than they have in recent years.
Newcastle United: Back in the Premier League after a short break, Newcastle continue their long-standing tradition of allowing a kit manfacturer to get the design of their kit massively, amazingly wrong. Their contract with Adidas is over, so it’s Puma’s turn this time, with a shirt that is perfectly respectable up to the arm-pits, but then goes horribly wrong on the shoulders. How difficult would it have have, we may wonder, for their designer to have not coloured the shoulders in with black marker pen whilst finishing off his rough draft? Still, at least Newcastle supporters have been spared having to wear that yellow monstrosity that they were forced into last season.
Stoke City: Perhaps it’s deliberate. Stoke City aren’t the only club to be wearing fuzzy stripes for the new season, and there tantalising possibility remains that somewhere, a marketing goon has concluded that making the stripes indistinct will confuse opposing players – as if they could be any more confused than they seemed to be by Rory Delap’s throw-ins last season. The inclusion of red sleeves is also, shall we say, “uninspiring”.
Sunderland: It’s down to Umbro to show Adidas how to make a red and white striped shirt. Plain, simple and to the point, with a black diamond that may or may not be a nod to the 1973 FA Cup final winning shirt, this is a shirt that proves that you don’t need all the flashiness of modern football kit design to create something stylish.
Tottenham Hotspur: Spurs had their most successful season for a couple of decades last season whilst wearing arguably the worst kit that they have ever had. This season, Puma are still in town with a shirt which is, well… odd. The navy blue epaulettes are a bit of a shock to the system at first (were Puma aiming to recreate the spirit of 1981, only to choose the England shirt of the era rather than the classic Le Coq Sportif shirt of the same era by accident?), but it’s a grower, and it does at least have a more than a hint of individuality to it.
West Bromwich Albion: Albion supporters have been lucky over the last couple of years to have consistently had amongst the most pleasingly-designed football shirts in the market place and this year’s effort, which seems to be based upon the shirt of the late 1970s team that constantly seemed to be on the point of challenging for the championship without ever quite managing to, but it is ruined by the sponsors’ logo. It’s such a staggeringly bad logo (based, it would seem, on a Monopoly hotel) that it actually draws the viewers attention away from the rest of the shirt. Which is probably what the sponsors want in the first place, damn their eyes.
West Ham United: West Ham have changed suppliers from Umbro to Macron over the course of the summer, and the look of their new home kit remains a closely guarded secret. For now, therefore, you’ll have to make do with Macron’s away kit, which is based on a West Ham away kit from the early 1970s. What’s wrong with a sky blue shirt with two claret hoops, hmm?
Wigan Athletic: Wigan have had an odd couple of seasons, kit-wise, first opting for a kit made by the American company Champion, before changing to one made by those stalwarts of non-league and Sunday league football, Vandanel. After Vandanel started to get into financial trouble earlier this year, however, the club severed their ties with them and opted for a new kit made by a company called MiFit, which would be somewhat mysterious were it not for the fact that MiFit is a DW Sports Fitness-owned gym brand, which is owned by… the Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan. No surprises there, then. It won’t be launched until next month.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Wolves celebrate their second successive season in the Premier League with a new kit made by the little-known company Burrda, who are also now making the outfits worn by the Belgian national team, Leicester City and Watford, as well as (it says here) the British handball team. Their design for Wolves is a muted jaffair, and all the better for it.