Kits Off For The Lads – And Lassies

The close season presents both a problem and an opportunity to the regular columnist. The problem is obvious – no football. I’ve never considered this to be much of a problem though (see “Pre-Seasons Greetings“) and never more so than this season.

Have you bought the Treble video yet? It is absolutely magnificent, as you would expect, chocked to the gills with goal after splendid goal. And the last ten games when the Reds righteously crushed all those who dared stand in the way of the greater glory of Liverpool FC are an orgasmic delight – how’s that for a spot of casual revisionism; it may not have seemed like we ‘crushed’ Arsenal at the time, but through the magic lens of Bigotvision™, all games are transformed into routs akin to Germany’s win over France in the summer of 1940.

The game at Goodison in particular is well worth watching. Seeing the despair of one of the despicable Bitters after Gary Mac’s spectacular piece of daylight robbery nearly gave me an aneurysm as I screamed blue (pun unintended) murder at the screen. It is for moments like that that we bother with the Reds.

But getting back to my original point, which at this stage must seem like something from the Mesozoic, the close season also presents an opportunity to unrepentant BSer’s like myself to indulge in the most obscure of topics, unshackled of the necessity to analyse such vapid tosh as the Uefa Cup final…sorry, just having a moment here at the memory of that win…where was I? Ah yes, obscure topics. Today, as the man in The Fast Show might say, I’ll be looking at the history of the kits worn by Liverpool.

The event that brought on this bout of sartorial reminiscing was the FA Cup final…sorry, another moment there…a match that was not only glorious in itself but also saw us win the FA Cup in an away kit for the first time at what was at least the fifth attempt – we lost in 1950 and 1971 to Arsenal, and 1977 and 1996 to Man Ure; I’m not sure about 1914 against Burnley. And anyone who does know the answer to that last one, and isn’t at least 100 years old, deserves to spend a weekend with Anne Widdicombe in the asylum seeker’s detention centre of her choice.

The win over the Gooners contributed to the rehabilitation of a kit that had some pretty nasty memories attached to it e.g. losing a 3-0 lead at Southampton, Michael Owen’s horror show at Selhurst Park in the Worthington Cup. But one win over Arsenal, allied to a fantastic last day salvo against Charlton to secure third place, helped turn a jersey that was in danger of becoming the nations dishcloth into a collectors item.

Which goes to show that there is no accounting for taste. Or more pertinently, it goes to show that the contempt within which a kit is held is inversely proportional to the amount of success experienced in it. Because the gold kit worn in the last season is a design classic. Easy on the eye, a tasteful mix of gold and navy blue, it deserves a hallowed place among Liverpool kits just for being extremely stylish (in so far as football kits can ever be “stylish”.) And yet its place in the pantheon has been determined by Michael Owen’s ability to run past a man old enough to be his dad. Well, old enough to be his dad in certain primitive societies and the Deep South.

It simply isn’t fair on the poor kits, if I may indulge in a piece of WB Yeats-style personifaction of football jerseys for a moment – I win that bet to include Yeats in a football article, by the way. One change strip that is often remembered with affection was the early 1980’s yellow-with-red-pinstripes effort. Come on people, it was hideous! The kit combined a particularly noxious shade of yellow that would have been rejected by Julian Clary as being too camp with a cut so figure-hugging that it looked like it had been spray-painted onto the body. And yet it is highly regarded among Reds of that vintage because we won just about everything while wearing it. How shallow can you get, eh?

Of course, sometimes the fickle whim of the fans and the demands of good taste coincide perfectly. The risible effort produced by Adidas in the 1995-6 season – that was the green-and-white quarters, in case you’ve forgotten, and I hope you have – will always be synonymous with the White Suits Final. Whenever you think of those cast-offs from the villain’s wardrobe in an episode of Miami Vice, so will you remember that evil green-and-white kit.

Nothing about that ensemble worked. The design consisted of a ribbed style that made the kit shimmer in the sunlight – very Las Vegas. The collar incorporated a set of buttons, portraying an image that hadn’t been seen on a football kit since the days when Royal Engineers played Ye Old Fartonians for the FA Cup. And then there were the white socks. When will kit designers realise that white socks only work in all white kits, a la Real Madrid? The Blueslime often dabble with white socks that only serves to emphasise their inappropriate nature. When you factor in the humiliation of that awful match, you have a strip that has taken its rightful place in Fashion Hell.

But why dump on the away strips, which only have a year or two of life before being drowned in a bucket? The home kit has experienced some pretty dreadful moments. You would think that there is not much you could do to screw up an all-red kit. There’s not much you can do with strips, hoops or quarters to make them look good. And some colours may look good on your car, but not on the human body. Red, on the other hand, is always in vogue, so surely you can’t make a mess of it. Wrong. Having such a striking kit is actually a disaster, because designers insist on meddling with its classic simplicity. Adidas spawned the abomination of throwing its famed ‘three stripes’ brand on to the kit at every opportunity, culminating in the egregious 1993-5 effort that was more white stripes than red. And to think they came up with it after another effort had been rejected by focus groups for not being red enough! Why bother having focus groups if you’re not going to implement their opinions?

Probably because the fans don’t know what they want either. For years we were yelling out for a kit that was Just Red. No white fripperies, no pinstripes, no nothing but red. Yet when Reebok do serve up a kit that is (effectively) all red, the fans moan that it looks pink. Perhaps I’m colour blind, but it looks red to me. Alaves’ kit, now that was pink. I like our present kit. But then again, maybe I’m influenced by visions of Gary Mac against the Blueslime and Uefa Cup finals. Tsk, there I go, contradicting myself again. I have to keep taking my schizophrenia pills.

To round off this meandering trip down memory lane, I would like to make an appeal. It is a little acknowledged fact that the Reds were the first English club to prostitute their kits to Mammon, or in this case Hitachi. Barcelona are famously the only top club in Europe that doesn’t have sponsors logos. In these days of gluttonous TV cash clogging every artery, would it be too much for Liverpool to make a statement and restore to us a virginal red jersey, unspoilt by a lump of moulded plastic which is hideous and probably carcinogenic? (! – Chris Mc/James) Probably, but you can always dream . . .