Kit Design Tutorial for BeginnersHere

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There's been some big, big news setting the football messageboards alight over the past few days. Yep, several Major League Soccer teams' kits for the 2009/10 season have been unveiled on FootballShirtCulture.com (Ka-who?). Always a day of note in the football calendar, it really hits home how adidas never fail to entirely incorporate into the playing wear of the forthcoming season a club's history and tradition. Or lack thereof.

Going through the shirts, firstly that of Canadian representatives Toronto FC, we see a futuristic design with a highly prominent sponsor and a crest typical of the league, apparently straight out of The Hurricanes. If these home and away shirts had any more features they'd be James Bond cars and whilst they resemble decent training tops they're not gonna get connoisseurs drooling (not that I can necessarily claim to be that).

The rest of the shirts have similarly bizarre constructions. Houston Dynamo had done ok previously with their Marseille orange third shirt ripoff but now with a new odd rotated collar and stripe design (I'm not gonna try to describe it, check it out) and one alternate coloured sleeve there's just too much going on. The template actually works well with a proper collar on the new Suwon Samsung Bluewings kit and may be a triumph on upcoming European teams' offerings but when coupled with the starry night cereal packet crest it's something of a horrorshow.

We'll brush over newbies Seattle and also Colorado. Their kits are ok. The badges will still leave traditionalists cold but all in all those designs are towards the top of a disappointing scale. Which is more than can be said for New York Red Bulls' adventurous number. If anyone fancies a new take on the triathlon that includes rugby alongside swimming and cycling then this is the kit for you. Incidentally, are they called New York Red Bulls or Red Bull New York? Try humming "Red Bull New York, New York Red Bulls" to the Pompey Chimes tune. Ha! Now you're in my purgatory too! Try getting that out of your head.

Ironically, possibly the most soulless of the MLS teams RBNY/NYRB (energy drink alert! ENERGY DRINK!) has one of the more authentic and classic seeming crests. However, the fact that it doubles up as the oversized sponsor doesn't help and, regardless, it will always be bettered by its Chivas USA counterpart. The reason being that Chivas have a history borne of their inspiration club Guadalajara of Mexico and an almost identical crest. Chivas' classic red, white and blue kit always works so that one will be worth waiting for.

So all in all a disappointment. Subtlety and restraint go a long way in kit design so we should abandon one or both with caution. As for the crests, America and Canada's cities have traditions and legacies more ancient than many of Europe's oldest teams so, although there are some examples of inspiration being taken in names and badges (I'm yet to be convinced in the case of Real Salt Lake) this can be incorporated in a much less cartoon-like manner. As Barack Obama reminded the US nation in his speech (seamless!), his country has much to remember and be proud of from its past and this should not be sacrificed in the pursuit of entertainment (the last bit was all me).

Going forward, if North America and adidas take the lead from the news that Manchester United will be updating a hundred-year-old design next season then MLS could gain still much-needed credibility. But as things stand my recommendation (for the little it's worth) for North American football/soccer apparel would be LA Galaxy home shorts printed with Beckham's 23 and a nice, old #9 CHINAGLIA New York Cosmos shirt. They're both a little bit of history.

 

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So here we find ourselves in 2009. Happy New Year. I hope everyone got what they wanted for Christmas; I certainly did. Liverpool top of the league, Chelsea dropping points, Celtic winning at Ibrox (with the bonus of that allegedly adulterous Rangers-supporting swine Gordon Ramsay no doubt being banished to his shed to witness it) and finally my Christmas wouldn't have been complete without receiving an example of football design brilliance.

My (bespoke?) Liverpool/Marseille scarf went straight from the wrapping to my neck and that's where it stayed as I eschewed other presents. "Indoors" and what? I now need Celtic/Liverpool and Marseille/Celtic versions and three weeks' worth of 09/10 Marceltipool wintertime sideline elegance will be catered for.

But Christmas is also a time of turkeys. And not just the fat, stuffed variety that we consume. Every December 25th, kids and adults alike unwrap the current shirt of their favourite football team, regardless of whether it's a hit or a miss. There may only be five more months of guaranteed sycronicity with what the players are wearing but the football shirt/kit is a seasoned pro when it comes to the under-tree area. This season's aforementioned turkey is, in my mind, Manchester City's bright orange change number and surprisingly, despite the convenience of the poultry link, it's come from Le Coq Sportif.

Le Coq Sportif has a distinguished history of sports, fashion and particularly football design. Success on the field has followed the brand from their comparitively early years when they manufactured the kit of the first French title-winning Olympique de Marseille team through to their supplying to Tottenham Hotspur - including FA Cup victories - and the Argentinian (x2) and Italian World Cup winning teams of 1978 through to 1986. They could claim to have been world champions for 12 consecutive years as a result.

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Something that should be remembered when we talk about football design is that it doesn't always have to refer to association football. There are plenty of other sports, codes, whatever you want to call them, that come under the umbrella of "football". When I talk about football I might mean any one of them or maybe all of them.

I'm lying, of course. When I say football I mean the game where the prime donnes stick the pig's bladder in the onion bag and get paid squillions to do so, but let's just pretend for a while...

A few weeks ago, the Milan football - sorry, association football - team met up with the All Blacks, New Zealand rugby t- sorry, rugby football team at Milan's Milanello training complex. Aside from the fact that Milanello is itself a triumph of architectural and technical football design, the adidas-arranged meeting reminded us of the classic kit designs in both football and rugby (I got sick of it). The timeless black and red stripes of Milan versus the imposing all black of, er, the All Blacks.

Obviously the modern day kits are covered in insignia and engrained with performance technology but, particularly in the case of the All Blacks, the basic and unchanging principles of the design are still the priority. Other than adidas, and at adidas's behest, no sponsor adorns the Kiwi shirt and the three stripes are surrendered in exchange for an association with one of sport's most recognisable and iconic outfits.

Rugby in general, for me, has some of the most wonderful shirts which rival some of football's most famous. Comparitively speaking, rugby union has only recently become a professional sport and this allowed the most beautiful and unsullied kit design to endure through to recent times. Most have finally been replaced with supremely functional sportswear but the classic white collar on the plain green of Ireland and red of Wales were prime examples. For me, a Cotton Traders retro shirt will always be preferable to the current styles.

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You don't mess with classic design.  Or so found Puma when they attempted to stamp their mark on the Feyenoord halves.  Revealed this week, the 09/10 shirts featured two stripes, forming a V shape on the shoulder area and a collarless neck design.  These features appear to not have been greeted by the Feyenoord supporters.

As things stand Puma have stated they will listen to the criticism (mainly in the form of emails and forum posts.  So they'll probably read it rather than listen to it) and then come up with something better.  Seeing as the kits were revealed six months before there's any chance of anyone wearing them they've got plenty of time.  It does make you wonder why they did unveil them so early.  Possibly because they knew there would be a backlash and wanted to see if it would be grave enough to require them to re-design, possibly to build interest and anticipation of the release date or maybe, just maybe, the shirt was never going to be used and was always intended to act as a comparison to prove the actual shirt is worth the €60-70 it'll no doubt retail for.

But let's not be so cynical.  Instead let's enjoy the victory of the fans over the might of a major sportswear manufacturer.  Money generally calls the shots in football and just recently the example of Arsenal losing their white sleeves shows that once a company has paid for the privilege of producing a shirt, that usually means they do what they like.  But not always.

The protracted tale of what West Ham United should wear on their shirts recently came to something of a conclusion with pressure from the supporters leading to children's shirts bearing the logo of The Bobby Moore Fund.  Being cynical comes naturally to me but that affair can also be seen as an achievement for the ticket (and shirt)-buying public.  At the very least, something was done to appease the fans.  It wasn't sufficient but it was something.

Supporters venting anger when their club messes with tradition is not a recent phenomenon.  In 1992 Wolverhampton Wanderers released a shirt covered in coloured flecks which took emphasis away from the usual black and gold and the fan reaction was so vocal - in a time before web forums and email - that the shirt did not last long.  No Wolves kit manufacturer has tried anything similar since.  It would be interesting to see if the likes of Nike would dare.

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So perhaps the power is shifting.  Several teams, most notably Middlesbrough, have recently arranged for several designs by their manufacturer to be chosen from by the fans, the winner becoming the kit for the players to wear and for the supporters to buy.  It's not a huge leap for this to become the policy of a Big Four side and it makes commercial sense too.  If the kit has been voted for by the fans then, on the whole, it'd be something they're more likely to identify with and wear.

But why stop there?  Why not open up everything that goes into the release of a football shirt to the people who actually care.  You can research markets all you like, get all the qualifications in fashion and sports design out there but can you really put into a shirt what someone who lives for the team can?  Expertise is vital in creating a shirt that achieves both performance and aesthetic success but we have to wonder how major an ingredient are the feelings of the fans.  An Anfield flag on the inside of the Liverpool shirt and, to Nike's credit, this seasons's Arsenal away shirt certainly show a finger on the pulse, but could the brands do better?

So we now have a competition to design a Nike kit for Poland.  The winning entry won't be the style worn by the players or supporters (as far as we know) but it'll give Nike something to think about when they finalise their own offering.  And this is only the beginning.  Eventually we may find the kits that our favourite teams are wearing started life, not as a standard template on a drawing board in plush headquarters, but possibly in the head of a fan.

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So Liverpool FC have backed down in their bid to register the Liver Bird emblem as a trademark of the club.  This is due to the move being met with not insubstantial opposition and I have to say that I'm intrigued.

Liverpool City Council were preparing a legal counter to The Reds' application based on the fact that the Liver Bird is used as a symbol of the city in administrative and denotative capacities.  But Liverpool (and I mean the football club) made it very clear that the city would be welcome to use the bird as they already do, at no charge, and the action was simply being undertaken to have some legal footing when it came to the battle against unofficial Liverpool merchandise.  Currently the feeling is that non-affiliated shirts, footballs, scarves etc are being sold as competition to the "genuine" apparell and the like.  This is what Liverpool wanted to stamp out.

millwall-orange-kitSo Millwall have got a new shirt. And it's pretty good. Little wonder. It's orange.

Some of the best shirts have been orange (or "tangerine". It's the last time you'll see me call a shirt that) and it just makes a mockery of Graham Taylor's dislike of the colour. "Do I not like orange". Do I not like orange? Yes. Er, no. Yes I do like orange shirts.

Millwall have gone with the colour of kings, pseudo-literally speaking. The Dutch royal family is known as the House of Orange-Nassau and, despite what Graham thinks, Holland have had some of the best orange shirts over the years. Their 70s number was one of the first to feature adidas's three stripes down the sleeve. That is until Johan Cruyff got his hands on his and tore a stripe off in an apparent show of support of his sponsor Puma (Adi/Rudi Dassler etc). Unwittingly he created a two-striped classic and Puma have recently shown their appreciation in shirts such as this season's Spurs away.

In 1988 the victorious Dutch team of Rijkaard, Gullit & van Basten won the Euro with one of that period's most iconic kits and the patterned design has recently featured (inverted) in adidas's Originals range, despite the Dutch now having an equally superb Nike-manufactured kit. From the flag detail on the neck (echoing Ruud Gullit's horizontal tricolour captain's armband) to the beautiful socks in nassau blue (how many colours does that royal family want?!) Nike have created a masterpiece. Even the bizarre shirt numbers add to the effect.

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