Some football teams wear pink, get over it

The conventional thinking on Merseyside is that when Everton brought out the salmon away shirt a number of years ago it had a single purpose: to make supporters buy the home strip. By creating something that no one would want the salmon strip gained a kind of cult appeal, but the blue sold more.

Nike showed off a Bradford City away strip of a similar colour alongside a claret and amber striped home shirt and perhaps that a similar agenda might be at play. Football clubs have lost control of what supporters consider to be “the shirt” and the fact that the Bantams home shirt is distinctive and rare in the world of football heightens that problem. Wearing anything claret and amber to a game and you are wearing “the shirt” regardless of what is the current vogue.

The away shirt though is pink and the colour pink – although not this shade of it – has connotations. Pink is feminine – it will be interesting to see if the away shirt gets a significant uptake from female fans – but when worn by men it is gay. We have the Nazi to thank for starting this connotation – Jews were given yellow stars, Romany given black triangles, and homosexuals pink triangles – but the gay rights movement reclaimed the connection.

Others do not though and it is interesting – if somewhat depressing – reading comments flying around about the new garb how easily the connotation between gay (or female) and pink is drawn and how quickly that becomes negative.

“Look like girls play like girls” is one side of a line, “It could be an ‘Away Gay Day'” is simple homophobia. In the space of four months we have gone from the players not being fit to wear the shirt to the idea that shirt not being fit for the players.

Then others go much further suggesting that the players might be embarrassed to wear the away kit, perhaps even refuse to play in it, and that any supporter buying it should “take a serious look at themselves.”

Another has suggested that the pink will cause trouble at grounds. That away fans – their sexuality questioned by home supporters – will respond with fists and that the fact that eleven men are wearing bright pink will bring violence. I wish I were making up the fact that people would present such a spurious justification for violence but sadly I am not.

Sometimes football is embarrassingly anchored in a different era, other times it is dangerously so. Anyone verbalising such thoughts might be correct, but then again the same could have been said in September 1970.

Players would be embarrassed to play alongside Ces Podd who made his début that month, some would refuse to play with a black man. Perhaps people said that anyone supporting a black player needed to “take a serious look at themselves” and perhaps there was the suggestion then that it would bring violence as one set of fans felt the need to fight to empathise their right to hold onto petty, poisonous bigotry.

Footballers like Podd – and supporters who would not allow those bigotries to be justified – challenged the way that supporters thought and changed it. It was football being an instrument of social change – eventually – and it is something that should be and will be celebrated.

City have already played their first gay player but that player – and the other who followed him, and the others at every other club – decided that he would keep that to themselves. Football has an environment which suggests that gay players should keep themselves in the closest and the reaction to things like City’s pink away kit highlight the reasons for that.

In the end Ces Podd was just another footballer, this is just another away kit, and the next gay player to play for City is just another player. Consider it this way and football gets to that instrument for social change via acceptance and something other than 22 men kicking a bit of leather around the field.

How clubs lost control of the football kit

Were one to be asked the simple question “What colours to Bradford City wear?” one would answer in no time at all that the Bantams wear claret and amber.

Indeed were one to be asked the same question about almost all the clubs in the league then a similar speedy response spring to mind. Arsenal: Red with white sleeves, Newcastle United: Black and white stripes, Tranmere Rovers: White and blue, QPR: Blue and white “super” hoops; My Dad has a recurrent and utterly unfunny joke about what colour Leeds United Third Reserves sock tops in 1977 were and – at this point – I’d like to ask him to stop it.

Nevertheless despite a F’ther’s hilarity there is a clear connection in our heads between the team and their colours and strips they wear.

Be asked a similar question: “What kit do Bradford City play in?” and one might struggle more before recalling the amber and pinstripe shirt with claret shorts. Expand that question to “What kit did Bradford City wear in August 2006?” and most of us would be left struggling to recall the exact details.

“Claret and amber,” we would say adding “Stripes” with some confidence but further than that we would struggle.

Ten years ago when City were in the Premiership David Mellor’s Football Task Force issued its edictful charter which would describe to clubs a few desirable traits on pricing and inclusionism one of which was the recommendation that clubs change the home kit no more than once every two years. The calls – like ideas on pricing which have pretty much been ignored at every club except this one – fell on deaf ears and this season eighteen of the twenty Premiership clubs have new home kits, sixteen of them having changed them at the start of last season.

I shall sidestep now the talk of the merits of buying a replica shirt and the ethos and culture around it. You might not like them, you might think they look rubbish on the portly frame of a gentleman of advancing years but you will appreciate, dear reader, that others have different views. Indeed you may also add – with some zest and gusto being put behind you from this writer – that no one puts a gun to your head and makes you buy a shirt and that should you be parents of children who will raise Holy Hell until they have a garment purchased then the fault is not in the stars but in yourselves.

Yes to all these things but understand that people do buy them – often in great numbers – and that this represents a significant source of income for many clubs or rather it has previously and – and here is the rub – is a well that is starting to dry up.

Fashion has a hand in this – in the 1990s wearing a football shirt attained a level of approval that it simply does not have any more – but increasingly the machinations of clubs to maximise the income from replica shirt sales has started to have an effect. Every change of shirt weakened the effect of that change. There was a time when the last shirt looked hopelessly out of step – like a guy at a Sex Pistols gig wearing bell bottoms – but as the frequency of change increased so they became less tied to a time or a team and became more a generic bit of club related clothing.

Club shops up and down the land sell rugby shirts and tank tops, scarves and huge jackets in the colours of the team and none of these gain the kind of official stamp that used to be given to the replica shirt and now seems to have slipped. While no one would concern themselves that their scarf had gone out of date – indeed I wear an appropriately coloured AS Roma scarf to City in the cold of the winter – so increasingly people are less and less worried that their replica shirt might not be the latest version.

Does it matter which Arsenal shirt you wear? As long as it is red and has white sleeves it is an Arsenal shirt. If it is blue and white hooped it is QPR. If – as my scarf suggests – it is claret and amber stripes it is Bradford City. These things are in the DNA of football supporters and it is not for a club to alter even if they could.

In trying to have more control over football in the money drenched post-Gazza’s tears years clubs as a whole have found themselves less and less able to exert the authority they claim over supporters. For every attempt to create the pre-game venue fans still call into their favourite haunt for a beer. For every attempt to mobilise a fleet of official travel one sees numerous recognisable cars in a convoy on the motorway to away games. For every change in strip one notices that one starts to see more and more of what people might call classic shirts.

One struggles to think of a way that a club has tried to package up and resell football to its supporters that has not – in the longer term – failed. The sight of David Beckham in the green and gold of Newton Heath joining the Manchester United supporters protests about their club’s owners and their attempts to wring every penny out of their loyalty said much. If even the most famously consumerist and notoriously wide-eyed supporters in the game will not accept being told how they should support their club – and how they should think of their club – then no one will.

Newcastle United could no more tell their supporters that the club no longer wore black and white stripes than they could that they were no longer to make a cult hero of Kevin Keegan or that they should like the person in the number five, not the number nine, shirt. Even if the club were to send the team out in some day glow yellow then St James’ Park would still be peopled with black and white stripes and grim resignation of having to put up with the situation until status quo was restored. Wearing any of the Newcastle United Toffs shirts would be just as correct – if not more – and one could argue that anyone who wore this classic 60s City shirt at VP next year would look more like a Bradford City player than the ten on the field.

The more a club attempts to control what the fans do the less the fans seem to want to do it. Spurs have launched six new kits – three designs, two sponsors – for this season but the result seems to have been that supporters would rather distance themselves from the idea of buying a kit at all. Assuming the “glory” of finishing fourth in the Premier League did not cause a spontaneous ripping off to run bare chested down the street of last years then, they seem to be supposing, it will do for next.

Bradford City though – as with a good number of teams – have differed from the traditional kit with last year’s claret shirt and this year’s amber number and while it is confusing for those watching on TV and can be be a tough hard to get used to the club has not effected any permanent alteration of that DNA of football. In short by changing design so frequently – from wholesale changes to the marks and flashes that appear and disappear at will on kits – clubs have lost the control over the football kit just as they lost control of what supporters call the stadium they play in by changing it too often.

Some clubs manage to effect permanent changes: Leeds United and Tranmere Rovers both moved to wear white to ape Real Madrid, John Bond rebranded to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic as AC Milan, Bill Shankley gave Liverpool red and not white shorts; but on the whole there are things are immutable despite the efforts of those who offer up alternatives.

Bradford City play at Valley Parade, wear claret and amber striped shirts and think that all the best things in football are summed up by Stuart McCall and even when those things are not true at a given time, they will be again in the longer term.

These things are are weaved into football DNA.

The kit – is it a problem?

For a number of years some Bradford City fans thought that the club could move to wearing an all claret shirt putting the style and attractiveness of an AS Roma over the traditional stripes which the Bantams wear most often.

Those people have had twelve months of watching City wearing such a strip and it looked respectable. Some say they preferred to watch City wearing such muted attire but most were less impressed, happy to give the claret shirt a go, but keen to move back to something more, well, Bradford City.

No one seems to have asked for an all amber shirt.

Yet an all amber shirt with claret shorts and socks seems to be what Bradford City will be wearing next season and owing to reverence of Saturday’s tributes, the blinding quality of Gareth Evans’s goals and the eye-splitting idiocy of the pitch invaders the new shirt hardly got a mention.

Of the mentions one heard of it few could find anything positive to say. It looks like Watford and while closer examination shows it has claret pinstripes that only serves to make it look more like a Hull City top.

Lots of people wanted stripes, some people fancied claret but no one wanted amber and it is amber which we have.

Two questions emerge. Firstly, most obviously, is the question of who decided this design and who at Valley Parade had the chance to veto it. These are practical questions and ones which – if one were of a mind to – one could put down to a malaise at the club – a narrative which piles poor decision onto poor decision.

Secondly though one is forced to ask if a club’s football shirt really matters? To the outsider one gaudy outfit looks much like another and the mums that have washed football shirts for the last couple of decades of rapid change will probably tell you that none of them have any sartorial elegance.

No sartorial elegance but plenty of tradition which is what a shirt encapsulates. It is a tribal identifier, colours if you will, which is no about looking good just about looking like you belong in a sea of similar coloured scarves. Some clubs have changed colours and built new traditions – Leeds United wore blue and yellow but won the league in a Real Madrid inspired all white and not are indelibly cast in that colour – and perhaps had Stuart’s City romped to League Two last year City would have done the same. We did not.

So does it matter? To those interested in history and tradition it does but those people are already writing a line in the books that says (once again, for we have been here before) “for two seasons City wore alternatives to stripes…”

Does it matter to supporters? Since the rapid changing of shirts began City have been in amber pinstripe while the likes of Robbie James and Phil Babb wore a similar and equally un-City like top and no lasting effects were felt, or so we assume.

Ultimately question of how much a shirt matters is measured at the tills of Valley Parade. There was no rush to buy this new top, there was no huge interest in it. If the average shirt buying man of Bradford decides that he will spend the £30-odd on something else and wear the top from two stripey seasons ago simply because they do not fancy being asked about The Tigers’ chances of promotion bouncing back to the Premier League as they wander around on their summer holidays then matters of sartorial elegance are of less importance than financial concerns.

If we need all the money we can get why put out a shirt which fewer people are going to buy?