Posted by Jay29ers in Untagged
Since I started writing this blog some four years ago a common theme has been recurring. That is the desire to see football fans involved in the design process, either by way of consultation, kit votes or simply allowing the fans to design the kits themselves in competitions.
Well now I'm done. We've got the input, we've had our say, the manufacturers and clubs have moved on the information we've given them and we've been greatly rewarded. Now it's time to allow designers to design.
This about-face is is purely due to the kits we're seeing now being, on average, by far the superior of those of any period in the past. Seriously. I used to comment on the irony of being such a football shirt obsessive when I only really liked about 10-15% of the new releases I saw when I visited Football Shirt Culture. Now that percentage is closer to 40; maybe even half the new shirts actually impress me.
We have one company to thank for this: Umbro. They took a look at kit design when they were bought out by Nike - probably taking advantage of the enhanced resources - and decided it needed stripping back and reassembling. They embraced social media, not simply as a way of getting their message across but also inviting (design) fans to give opinions on past and future kits. They checked what people were saying on FSC and were happy to meet with the commentators. The result was the 2009-10 England Home kit and their rapidly improving Tailored By range.
The parent company, who had admittedly shifted somewhat to a more understated, classic style in 2006, followed suit, immedately adapting the cut and effect of their kits which, season on season, became more akin to the Umbro approach. They, similarly, have become more popular.
What we have now is a new stage in the evolution of kit design. The manufacturers are not listening to us anymore. Not through arrogance or disregard, but simply because they have learnt what we want. There's no need to consult fan groups anymore, even if they still do, because there is a mutual understanding born of consistently well-received kits. It now seems so finely-tuned that it must be almost a visceral sensation to judge the mood so efficiently.
All of which is great for us. To take the example of the teams I support, Celtic have just launched Home and Away kits which demonstrate an understanding of the desires of the fans whilst also, crucially, giving us finished designs which we would have been hard-pressed to come up with ourselves. Faithfulness and originality are often awkward bedfellows. Nike nailed it.
Likewise the new Olympique de Marseille kits. adidas took a while to get up to speed but the last couple of years have shown they've reined in their approach and are back to doing what they do best: classic, timeless designs which make the most out of their prevailing three stripes. In the case of l'OM, they've attempted to engage the supporters groups by including the colour orange and, whilst controversial, the Home kit will grow on most. The Third shirt is simply one of the most innovative football design pieces in history - even allowing for the inclusion of a minor grammatical error (via adidas incorrectly editing the words of IAM rapper Akhenaton) - and despite it being yet another nod to the South Winners, it will be popular through respecting and revisiting traditions but not sacrificing creativity.
This is where the manufacturers can fall down. Pay too much attention to what the fans want and creativity will be compromised.
The new Liverpool kit is fine. It has brought back the simple Liver Bird crest - by popular demand; it has a collar, ugly shame notwithstanding - by popular demand; the overall look is uncluttered - like the fans had demanded; the Hillsborough flames have been augmented with the number 96 and relocated to just below the collar on the back - via consultation with the family group which the club are prepared to deal with. It's very nice but very safe. Warrior didn't want to rock the boat with their first Home kit, and they've done ok. But they've bottled it. They didn't create a kit, they engineered by commitee.
(Incidentally, the goalkeeper kit doesn't get off so lightly. It's retro to the point of being unacceptable as a 2012 product and will leave Pepe Reina looking like an out of shape Ray Clemence after an extreme trip to the barbers.)
Saleability will always influence the design process. Anything too extreme will be jettisoned if it alienates the buying public, but the more out-there designs can often bring in revenue from the neutral or more fairweather fan markets. It's a difficult balance and Cardiff City found that if news of a drastic change to a (especially home-) shirt is communicated in a clumsy and poorly managed way then there will be a backlash.
In the case of the Welsh club, the thinking was that if they had changed their home colours from blue to red then they would have increased merchandising revenue, via the Far East, to such an extent that they would have easily assembled a squad capable of winning The Championship at a canter. Perhaps the change should have been accepted. Cardiff have failed to become a worldwide recognised brand in their blue shirts - which would surely have remained in the guise of an away kit anyway, possibly even worn in a percentage of home games - and with even the popular template of this season returning average figures it seemed many were bemoaning the loss of a basic tradition which they didn't even purchase.
We live in a time when we can trust the club, manufacturers, designers and marketeers to provide something that will both please the fans and generate revenue. If we like something then we should put our money where our mouths are. If we don't then someone else might.
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