Over recent weeks football kit manufacturers - particularly Warrior and Under Armour - have been taking flak over their choice of their clubs' change kit colours. If we're honest, grumbles are consistently heard whenever new kits are released, a major objection being that the three kits over a season do not offer enough protection against the dreaded "clash", but the two new-kids-on-the-block American companies have taken this oversight to a new level.
There are two games which have people up in arms, one already played and one on the distant horizon: Hearts v Liverpool in the Europa League play-off round on 23rd August and West Brom against Tottenham on 2nd February next year.
In Scotland, Heart of Midlothian were forced to wear all white in a home game - changing to Away shirt and socks - as Liverpool's choice of all black Away kit was deemed to too similar to the dark-tinted maroon of the Jambos. Red would have equally been unacceptable and Liverpool's "nightshade" and white Third would have both given purplish-on-purplish action and dropped us in "overall clash" territory. So the home team changed. It's not right, it's not proper but it happened. The world moved on.
Come February, Tottenham Hotspur will visit The Hawthorns and, as things stand, we don't know what kits the sides will turn out in. The argument holds that no Spurs kit will be acceptable, with the all white Home clashing with the navy-and-white-stripes/white/white West Brom kit, navy Away clashing with the navy stripes - and, crucially, West Brom's navy sleeves - and the black and grey halved Third being a bit too "dark, light, dark, light" when employed against a similar equivalent - somewhat proven against Reading. The solution, overall clash fans, may be for West Brom to wear navy shorts and socks and Spurs to wear their Home kit. We know the Baggies don't need much of a push to break out the change items and they're arguably just as recognisible in the shirt's darker accessories as they are in predominantly white. It won't be right, of course, not proper, but it might happen. The world will move on.
It is not acceptable for home teams to be forced to change. Visitors should be respecting their hosts and making sure their own wardrobe holds enough variations - perhaps interchangeable - to avoid clashes. If referees are not satisfied with the alloted kits the away side has at its disposal then they should be forced to wear a goalkeeper kit outfield - if enough units can be sourced in time - printed up training wear or, heaven forbid, wear the home side's change kit. The home side changing any item should be a last resort and result in the visitors being fined, and that deterrent should perhaps be applied to the other undesireable scenarios too.
It shouldn't be so difficult to create three kits which are, one way or another, certain to avoid clashes. Especially when distinguishing players on the pitch is the primary function of change kits, right? Right?
This is where I have a problem with the argument and the anger at Under Armour and Warrior. I dispute that the primary function of kits - certainly change versions - relates to their appearance on the field of play. The purpose of change kits is to make money, and whilst they should also fulfill requirements as playing wear, I understand and agree with saleability as a starting point. Of anything up to a million Liverpool shirts produced this year, only around 0.1% will be worn by the playing staff of the club's sides and the rest need to be sold. It may be exactly the right time to rethink priorites.
I love football kits, you may have noticed, but I also like my football club(s) to compete. Replica kit sales are a major source of revenue, whether this be directly, via the club shop, or through the potential leading to a manufacturer paying an obscene amount of money to produce the kit (or, indeed, a combination of both). If kits are produced, or can potentially be produced, which will sell well, ideally globally, then this will fund player purchases, stadium redevelopment and help ensure, in these dark times, the continuity of a football club.
So when a club, and its manufacturer, release three kits which seem too similar, or for whatever reason provoke anger, it's worth considering that a significant amount of research has been put into finding out what will sell. And what will sell, it can equally be argued, is a fair gauge of what the fans really want. For all the calls for Liverpool to wear red at home, white/black/white as an away change and yellow as a third option - complete with interchangeable shorts and socks - will this truly set the tills ringing? The red Home kit has been well received on blogs, as has the black Away but which was the first replica shirt I saw being worn in the street? The much-maligned (and I agree it's awful) Third, in short-sleeved version on a father and long-sleeved on his son.
There is method in the madness, and Warrior even suggest themselves that the "popular" colour of yellow doesn't necessarily sell in Liverpool kit form. Their research perhaps should have made allowances for an horrendous 2004 Reebok number and an unsightly green Carlsberg logo on the 2006 version, but you can't blame them for their conclusions.
Even if we did have the colour of kits dictated by the loadmouthed minority (my membership is still valid) then should we have those same colours every season? Will a goth ever buy a white kit? Will those in warmer climes ever wear a yellow shirt in the summer, complete with covering of insects after a short walk to the shops? You can't please all of the people all of the time so it's surely best to please everyone at some point over two or three seasons. How many people will buy a white shirt twice, compared with how many will buy a black shirt and then a white shirt? To that we can add all those who will buy one or the other.
The two ends do not need to be mutually exclusive. For me, all Under Armour and Warrior have done wrong is not working back from their trio of bestsellers and tweaked the designs to make them more suitable to the multicoloured rigours of Premier and Europa League seasons. Liverpool's Third kit already has white sleeves and white socks; could they not have made the body white with a nightshade (and orange) sash? Some white change shorts might come in handy too. Would that have impacted greatly on sales? They're the experts I s'pose, but they weren't all that far from having a full set which would have covered all bases.
The most amusing argument I've read, for kits being made with primarily their use on the pitch in mind, suggested a parallel with hi-viz vests, created purely to ensure a worker is seen. The difference is that football provokes a desire amongst millions of fans to look like their favourite players, which means it is a kit manufacturer and club's marketing arm's duty to ensure this can be followed through to maximum gain. Whereas, with all due respect, who'd want to dress like YOU?
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