A good friend of mine recently informed me of a presumably unpaid role he’s eyeing up, advising an oft-erring European domestic competition on what their participants should be wearing in each match to avoid kit clashes. Said friend is in possession of an intellect superior to most, is highly efficient, and demonstrates a laudable professional integrity. He’d be ideal.
I, however, would not. Sure, I share both his frustration towards the abundance of kit clashes in the modern game, and I concur, for the most part, with his logical methodology on how to rectify them. But I’m also a stirring little sh*t.
“Cool! So you do it properly for a year, so the kit clashes are banished, and you gain their trust, and then you start dressing the teams up how you like!”
That’s what I’d do. Because chosen kits are not there to simply ensure differentiation. In my warped mind, they’re to antagonise a, on the face of it, sympatico opponent.
Let’s start with an accepted case. Ayr United goalkeeper Hugh Sproat was notorious for wearing a green goalkeeper shirt - so far, so regulation - against a certain Glasgow-based football club who wore blue. No biggie, right? The thing was, he would ensure that, when it was time to play against a Glasgow football club who wear green and white, he wore blue. Not yellow, or red, or black or white. The most repulsive colour to each of Scotland’s biggest two clubs - humour me for now, smarta*se, I’ll get to that - Sproat ensured he turned out in against them. A kind of refreshing even hand, if you think about it, but one which would have been lost on the supporters of both of these giant clubs.
Games which spring to mind are Liverpool’s remarkable victory at Camp Nou in 2007, wearing, nominally, the all-white of FC Barcelona’s arch rivals Real Madrid, and Chelsea’s similar (aggregate) triumph there five years later, keeping it even more Real. Did either outfit particularly antagonise the players or supporters? No news reports of the time seem to suggest so, but on both occasions the underdogs somehow beat the odds. That said, Milan visit Catalunya dressed like virgin brides on a regular basis, and it doesn’t seem to do them much good.
If we’re honest, these examples are more down to, let’s say, serendipity than calculated niggling. Choosing what to wear is often dictated by the threat of a clash wearing anything else, or a predetermined marketing angle that requires certain change colours to be worn in a competition in cases of Home kit incompatibility, or even as first choice.
An extraordinary kit selection can also be due to superstition. In the 2005 Uefa Champions League Final in Istanbul, Liverpool were drawn as the away side and would have been required to wear their yellow Away kit. Their opponents, Milan, however, had worn all-white in all but one of their previous six European Cup Final victories - their home colours in each defeat - so asked Liverpool if the colours stipulation could be reversed. As Liverpool had beaten teams in white to lift their previous four big-eared cups, they were happy to oblige, and were still smiling come the next day. (It only took two years for Milan to get revenge, however, and Liverpool to lose their tradition, when Milan were victorious in Athens.)
There is a dark(er) side to antagonistic kits too, which I’ll outline in a vaguely ascending scale. First up, Alan Rough often wore a grey and purple goalkeeper kit - shorts hoop ahoy! - playing for Hibernian in the 1986-87 season. Antagonistic, how? Well, at first glance it could be argued that he was wearing the exact colours that Hibs' Edinburgh rivals Hearts had worn as they lost to Dundee on the last day of the previous season, depriving them of the Scottish Premier title. It’s an odd one, but quasi-colour-matching your sworn enemies’ outfit - right down to the white socks - for any other reason would be odder.
Then we have Internazionale sauntering onto the San Siro turf in 2007 dressed as the Knights Templar. The opponents? Istanbul’s Fenerbahçe. Awks. It didn’t go down well.
So to boxing - the combat sports are where you’d expect this kind of thing to go on - where in 1991 Chris Eubank elected to wear Tottenham-styled shorts in his fight with Arsenal-supporting Michael Watson at White Hart Lane. The irony was that the inspirational Spurs shorts were compared to boxing shorts on their release, as they were noticeably longer than what was the norm at the time. Sadly, the fight has gone down in history for rather bleaker reasons.
And Celtic are on the receiving end of this with some regularity - remember Hugh Sproat? Not to mention their city rivals wearing orange Away shirts for one season, which was repeated by the similarly polarising Linfield in 2010 - both bound to offend many on a political level. In 2009 this was taken step further, with a Europa League draw placing the Bhoys in a group with Rapid Vienna, after the two teams had met in a particularly unsavoury encounter in the 1980s, for which the Scottish champions’ fanbase still harbours grudges. Rapid, coincidentally or deliberately, elected to wear red shirts for the Celtic Park rematch, as they had worn in ‘84, and despite the colour being of no particular significance to the club.
Some of all this is deliberate, some is (in)convenient, and a debatable proportion is entirely in my head, but, in general, it’s tame. Let’s face it, Southampton getting d*cked on by Everton after taking to the Goodison Park pitch in all-red is hardly an extra-South American team turning out in a white shirt with a red sash in the Fifa Club World Cup to p*ss off Boca Juniors. I want teams to dress as Sporting against Benfica, and Argentina against Brazil. The world of football is showing potential, yet it must try harder.
As for my friend, I hope he gets the gig, I really do. But, sometimes, power is wasted on the good.
Written by Jay (follow on Twitter).