It’s that time of the season when minds are weary and bodies knackered, with footballers and fans looking forward to recovering from the rigours of a long campaign over the summer. Matches are usually less competitive, high-intensity thrillers giving way to games played at the slower pace of a pre-season friendly. Save for a few relegation ‘six-pointers’ and cup finals, the calendar is uncluttered, with little to look forward to until the summer tournaments kick-off a month or so away. But football being the unrelenting spectacle it is, there’s always something to fill the emptiness. Enter: kit unveilings.
Kit unveilings are generally held in late July or early August, a staple of clubs’ pre-season tours to whatever country promises the largest turnout of far-flung fans. But this year, perhaps due in part to the international tournaments that will soon kick off, national teams and some clubs have been unveiling their new kits ahead of schedule. As ever, the releases have been overblown events marked by pomp and pageantry.
Dates are set aside for this non-event. The internet is awash with opinions from adults spending productive man-hours debating the merits of colours and patterns, as though it involves more than simply revealing the clothes to be worn by 11 men chasing a football. Not to be left out, the media too are complicit in this charade, churning out endless articles and live blogs with each striving to be the loudest and boasting the most pictures.
In 2014, when Arsenal launched their trilogy of Puma kits, the club showcased the new designs in a twenty-metre high water projection on the River Thames right in front of the London Eye, transforming it into the clock from the club’s iconic Clock End. One wonders what Herbert Chapman would think of Arsene Wenger, with a beaming smile on his face, explaining the ‘Future, Forever, Victorious’ tag that Puma says ‘inspired’ the kit.
It’s hard to track down when exactly kit unveilings became a thing, but whoever created this unholy mess needs to know they have done the sport great harm. In eras gone by, when football was considerably less sanitized than it is today, with tackles bordering on outright violence, you get the feeling kit men just brought the jerseys to the dressing rooms and the players put them on without pondering whether they were designed using the latest ACTV Power Plus bodywear tech that somehow improves performance.
Modern football is plagued with many issues: corruption, diving, balls not in the quadrant at corners, Manchester United having an Official Global Lubricant Oil and Fuel Retail Partner without anyone pulling Ed Woodward to one side to have a quick word. But no issue encapsulates the essence of the game today more than the scourge of kit unveilings. They are a by-product of the barefaced capitalist machine football has become and, just like the game itself, these events grossly overestimate their importance.
Without fail kit unveilings are coupled with stomach-churning PR guff to urge fans to part with their cash. In March, Nike unveiled kits to be worn this summer by Brazil, France, England, Portugal and the United States and, when asked how the design came about, the sportswear giant’s creative director Martin Lotti had this to say: “We did extensive research with players on what their ultimate future uniform would entail and themes started to emerge around fit, breathability and a superhero aesthetic. Once we visualized what was possible, we aggressively accelerated bringing the future forward with a complete system of dress built for speed.”
Nike, according to Lotti, tested “hundreds of yarns” to find the perfect fit to provide “breathability sans opacity”. Eventually, the AeroSwift yarn was chosen. “We got right down to the filament level,” continues Lotti, “and re-mastered it for a texturized surface that helps disband moisture better.” England’s new Nike Vapor kits are said to be 10% lighter than the brand’s standard attire, with 50% more stretch, and capable of absorbing sweat 20% quicker and drying 25% faster than the brand’s most recent football kits. In no other walk of life would this nonsense not earn you, at the very least, an angry confrontation from a large, hairy man sweating from every orifice at this ridiculous attempt to insult his intelligence.
These sort of statements are so commonplace at unveilings that it is easy to assume the manufacturers actually believe what they’re saying; a kind of Roberto Martinez Syndrome where people spout utter rubbish while keeping a straight face when really the situation demands they take a long, hard look at themselves and sit quietly in the corner to consider what they’ve done.
Really not sure about Barcelona's "Tequila Sunrise" away kit. Making me a bit queasy just watching on the telly! pic.twitter.com/wgsFRaKB
— Tom Lewis (@purple_amigo) August 26, 2012
It is perhaps unnecessary to mention, but kits actually have no correlation to a team’s performance, despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s best efforts to deflect blame for Manchester United’s woeful showing against Southampton in 1996 on those grey kits. If football kits did have any effect on performance, Barcelona would be languishing in the lowest tiers of Spanish football. Their away kits over the years have been cartoonishly garish optical migraines that look like they were designed by a child left with an ample supply of coloured crayons.
Football kits are unimportant, and fans ought to know better by now. The most lamentable aspect of unveilings, though, is just how bloody expensive the replica shirts are. Not content with astronomical ticket prices, clubs and national teams are all too happy to line their pockets with a few extra quid gained from their annual fashion show. An average club shirt now goes for about £45-£60 a pop, and just a few days ago Chelsea launched their new kits for the 2016/17 season with astonishingly high prices even by the game’s ever-growing greedy standards. To buy a shirt with a name, number and Premier League logo will cost a mouthwatering £107. It is easy – as the club has done in its defence – to say there are cheaper options going for around £50, but then why sell the expensive option in the first place?
Chelsea are not alone in this unashamed show of avarice – after all, England’s Euro 2016 strip retails for £100. But it’s time for football fans to stop encouraging clubs and manufacturers to bleed us dry at every turn. It wouldn’t matter if England were wearing a sackcloth or a futuristic kit from 2030, they’re still not going to win the Euros this summer. At least we’ll have six months’ respite before their next new kit is released.