A little while ago my friend/nemesis/sexual tension cohort Denis Hurley brought something to my attention that has played on my mind ever since. It was a photograph of a club GAA final in Ireland in which the two sides were wearing their first choice "jerseys". So far so GAA - it can traditionally take a lot for a hurling or Gaelic football team to wear anything but their usual colours - but on this occasion the sport had demonstrated something quite remarkable, and something that could someday emerge as an innovation in association football.
As Denis pointed out, one of the sides, though wearing their usual colours and clearly recognisable (to people who follow the GAA club game closely), had adapted their strip so the secondary colour of green - the primary colour of their opponents - was significantly reduced in coverage. The hoop around the centre of the jersey was much thinner and the sleeves were now completely devoid of the colour. The shirt had also been combined with the - we assume - change shorts and socks in red (with green), which we believe replaced the first choice green versions.
How novel. So the club's identity and tradition was barely compromised, but a compromise was reached which allowed both sides to wear their ideal colours, without the risk of a clash. It's not the first time we've said this: Football could learn something from GAA.
Too often fans make a journey to a cup final - League Cup, FA Cup, Uefa Cup, Champions League - and find that instead of their side reflecting the scarves and flags of their supporters, they stride out of the tunnel wearing colours that have no significance other than whatever Nike or adidas think will sell on the high street that season (yes, that is a double meaning you spot). How hard would it be, in so many of these cases, to slightly amend one or both of the competing teams strips so they go from being a clash to merely "not ideal"? Or even "not ideal" - often enough ammunition for a referee to order a change - to "not a problem at all".
Off the top of my head I thought of two examples; one in the club game and one, very recently, internationally.
In 1992 Liverpool played Sunderland in the FA Cup Final. Notable for Liverpool's first appearance in a Cup Final for three years, and their first since the departure of Kenny Dalglish, the game also marked the first time a team from the second tier, represented here by Sunderland, had made the showpiece fixture for ten years. So surely both teams would have been keen to appear in front of the crowd in their, respectively, all red and red and white stripes, black shorts and red socks. Alas, the underdog was forced to change, into white shirts (with navy sleeves), navy shorts and white socks.
Now Liverpool versus Sunderland has always been considered to be a kit clash before and since, but in 1992 it was exacerbated by the Reds carrying an excessive amount of white for a team with that nickname. Thanks to the new adidas "Equipment" ranges, Liverpool players' right shoulders were covered by three huge stripes stretching round from the upper back to the chest. If Sunderland were to wear their traditional red and white stripes, that simply wouldn't do.
So, if you'll allow a touch of hypocrisy, I'll rewrite history by filling in those stripes in red, leaving only a thin (say, 7mm?) white outline. The game would now be in, probably, "far from ideal" territory. So the Sunderland kit would need some amendments too. It wouldn't need to be much but the equally proportioned red and white stripes would need to be white leaning, perhaps a 20% swing in the lighter stripes' favour, to ensure the risk area of the sleeves would be clearly distinguishable. The shorts could remain black but the socks would need to change, from red, to black or white - both sock colours far from alien to contemporaneous Sunderland first choice kits - or, with the assumption that Liverpool's sock tops had been filled in red as well, perhaps a white-leaning white and red hooped design would suit?
Was that so hard? But what about the fans, I hear you cry. Well, we first have to remember this is mainly for their benefit, but it's true they've paid for the version 1.0 shirt/kit which has now been bastardised for this encounter, and we really wouldn't want to instigate riots on the streets of suburbia, with the parents of demanding children burning effigies of major kit manufacturers' CEOs. Well guess what, Liverpool's shirt was a one-off hybrid anyway, and even disregarding that detail, if your team loses, you don't care for the special shirt, and if your team wins, the club can retail it and you'll happily go and buy it in an euphoric victory-induced haze. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Just the other week Brazil beat Spain in the Confederations Cup Final and, again, there was a needless compromising of a classic kit, perhaps the most iconic kit ever. Whilst I actually like seeing Brazil in white shorts, and generally a short change is nothing to lose sleep over, with Spain's blue versions so dark it could have been a great opportunity to bust out the much lighter-coloured blue 70s shorts to avoid the clash. Not the actual ones - they're old, quite valuable, probably fragile and they may have even contributed to Pelé's "issues" in later life - but rather a reprisal, a tribute, a dedication, in the cut and template of the current versions. A vintage Brazil performance deserved the definitive strip, especially on their home ground.
A little tweak to kits can help with clashes in the event of a final when changing is sacrilege, such as the Tyne-Wear derby, and an Arsenal kit importing, in basic terms, the sleeves from the 2008 shirt and the 1988 shorts would help greatly when facing a cup final encounter with Tottenham in simplistic all-white.
It's not something we should make a habit of over a season, but doesn't everyone want to look their best, and in something they feel comfortable in, on their big day?
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