Sting like a bee. A nice summing up of a style of marketing and particularly appropriate today as we see the worst kept secret in football design finally made official: Celtic's "bumblebee" away kit has returned.
The strip was originally an Umbro design from 1996-98 and split opinion. Some said it was ugly (they were right) and some said it was inspired (they were right too). As gaudy 90s kits go, it was up there with the best of them. Luminous and cluttered, the beauty was in the basic idea of having a hooped away shirt that hinted at green and had an acceptable alternative to white. The finished product bore a passing resemblance to a common flying insect and the Parkhead faithful had something to wear that was a departure from the usual uniformity.
Ever since, and building momentum, the Celtic fans have hoped for and requested some kind of a return to the Bumblebee. There has even been a petition! As Umbro had designed the kit, once Nike took over hope seemed to be fading but soon Umbro were to become a wing of the American giant and doors reopened. The mock-ups have been doing the rounds for a few months but the finished article has arrived and few are disappointed.
The marketing machine has been working overtime on this and why not. The international third strip has been met with a lukewarm reception (I don't care what anyone says, kilt shorts are neato!) and this was always going to be the club and Nike's trump card. Were we supposed to see the guy in the bar in Madrid? How did we know for months before release that the bee was back? Did the genius of wheeling out the old Paul McStay quote, "There's a buzz about the place." and releasing Bumblebee-themed training wear catch us unawares? We may have been manipulated to within an inch of our lives but it was a rollercoaster ride with a sublime climax.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Nike have got it right because they listened to the fans. More than most, Celtic hold meetings with supporters groups where a multitude of matters are discussed, including the playing wear for coming seasons. The Bumblebee has no doubt cropped for years and the powers that be have now declared the time is right. The reprise is simple, plain even, with the full effect of the hoops in all their retina scarring splendour. A nice cut, the sponsorless long-sleeved version almost elegant, and a representation of an ideal. We can ask for little more from a football kit.
But Celtic aren't alone. Blasts from the past are cropping up everywhere. Last season's Liverpool away, for example. Not universally greeted originally in the late 1980s but it certainly stirred the emotions when revisited a year ago. Next season, Celtic's rivals Rangers will be wearing a shirt that reflects an old 80s checkerboard pattern. Guess what, the fans love it.
Everton fans hated their Le Coq Sportif "v-neck" design twenty five years ago but its return has been met with both healthy debate and not insignificant support. If nothing else, the many new retrospective and retrogressive designs have got fans excited about the new kit releases again. While some have gone for the classic and timeless, such as the Manchester City and England approach, there seems to be a fashion for the obscure and cult. It's a surefire way to create McStay's beloved "buzz".