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Firstly, an apology. I did come up with the title myself but it seems as though the cycling community got there first. And second.
 
And as art so often imitates life, those pesky cyclists have set the bar for how to carry off undergarments and accessories to complement their activity's standard outerwear.
 
Fittingly, one of the earliest additions to shirt, shorts and socks that were seen on the football pitch with any great regularity were the humble cycling shorts.  Since then fashion and sports science/performance technology development has led to additional items appearing - not least the cycling shorts' apparent heir, the Kinesio tape - and imaginative combinations guaranteed every weekend.
 
The most popular of these additions is surely the baselayer. So commonly worn with the short-sleeved shirt - to allow sweat to be drawn away from the skin and regulate temperature as a consequence - that its long-sleeved equivalent is considered by some to be on its way to extinction. As far as I've noticed no Manchester United player has worn their 2011/12 Home or Away shirts in long-sleeved. In fact, many onlookers are convinced that neither player issue versions were even put into production.  Instead, a short-sleeved shirt worn over a long-sleeved baselayer - despite any unwelcome comparisons with early 1990s grunge-influenced fashions - is now preferable to the long-sleeved shirt of yore.
 
Umbro and England did try to buck this trend, with mixed results. Their 2010-11 Away shirt was designed to combine the benefits of a long-sleeved shirt with those of a baselayer. Star man Wayne Rooney responded by debuting the short-sleeved version with a baselayer.
 
The baselayer shows no signs of having a shelf-life. If anything, its future seems to include development and progression.
 
The Irish company O'Neills have pioneered, it seems accidentally, the idea of having baselayers which match sleeves independently rather than simply reflecting the primary colour of the shirt or matching one sleeve of an asymmetrical outer layer. To date none of the Gaagle baselayers seems to perfectly suit the kit of their respective GAA counties, and players continue to wear white/black "model's own" versions regardless of their kits' colours, but we hope the penny will shortly drop.  Mismatching is not necessarily a bad thing - I regularly wear a red "baselayer" (size too small England 2006 Away shirt) with my Barcelona 2002 Away and have advocated the wearing of a sky blue baselayer with the current England Away - but there should always be the option to achieve brachial continuity.
 
Falling short on this front are Blackburn and Sunderland. Blackburn have one white sleeve and one blue but wear white baselayers; Sunderland have red and white sleeves with a black cuff but wear red baselayers. Both are inadequate and whilst with the latter I would argue that black should be used as a continuation of the cuff, a red and white striped example would appease the rulemakers who decree that baselayers should match the colour of the shirt (despite the fact that any player wearing short sleeves no longer has matching forearms to any teammate in long sleeves).
 
Every time I have seen Arsenal wearing their navy/light blue Away shirt this season I have crossed my fingers that a player would turn out in a sufficiently matching baselayer. Unfortunately, in contrast to United's eschewing of long-sleeved shirts, that is the version Arsenal have worn most regularly - by way of dictation from their captain - and have managed to avoid the unsatisfactory coupling of alternate-sleeved short-sleeved shirt with one colour baselayer.  
 
Is this partly because Nike are yet to provide baselayers produced specifically to match their teams' shirts? If so then we may be about to see progress on that front. Everton have signed a new contract with Nike which includes a bespoke Pro Combat range. It may be leap to suggest Everton will have one white sleeve on their Home shirt next season and a baselayer to match, but it may be a step in the right direction, meaning bizarre sights such as Paddy McCourt wearing a white turtleneck under a Hooped short-sleeved Celtic Home shirt could be a thing of the past.
 
Until then though, any creativity or concessions to the sartorial will have to be limited to what is available to the footballers.  And to us - for I dispute the exclamation, made in my direction whilst watching the Blackburn-Manchester United game with friends last night, that "fans don't wear baselayers!"  

There are options, as demonstrated by rebellious Hull City players wearing black instead of amber/yellow sleeves, Joe Hart carrying clashing - but somehow working - green versions of the enduring favourite, the cycling short, the overlooked practice of tape and outer supports entirely altering sock appearance and Mario Balotelli going with, naturally, skeleton gloves rather than, say, the fantastic examples from Under Armour currently being blacked out by the Spurs kitman keen to avoid enranging current supplier Puma.
 
It is Balotelli who so nearly hit the nail on the head when lifting his Manchester City shirt to display a retro shoddily printed message on his baselayer.  The real question we should ask is this:
 
"Why always plain?"
 

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