The Audacity of Heliotrope

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Listen up! Fredorrarci of the understatedly spectacular Sportisatvshow has contributed a guestpost on the most essential of topics: the kit. For American readers, a kit is a jersey, not where you store the tools you inherited from your grandfather but seldom if ever use.

Watch this.

This is the Palio. The Palio is a twice-yearly horse race held in the Piazza del Campo in Siena. It looks fantastic, like a glimpse of games in the days of empire: a steaming mass of rabid spectators in the middle, a post-race track invasion, a reckless disregard for animal welfare and, apparently, a gleeful web of alliances and corruption. Were I not a hippophobic, aviophobic, claustrophobic agoraphobe, I would make it my life’s mission to get trampled by the winner.

It’s none of this, however, that excites me most about this sporting pageant.


It’s the uniforms.

Now I don’t want to shock you, readers, particularly those of you who may have prior knowledge of my considerable oeuvre (titter ye not, and so forth), so pray do make sure you haven’t just received grave news from the ambassador or had a cardiopulmonary bypass or some such. But it behoves me to inform you that in matters vestiary I am not ordinarily, alas, the towering, alphaically masculine yet suavely elegant, gracefully suave and elegantly, suavely graceful fashionista dei fashionisti you have without doubt — be honest, poppets — imagined your correspondent to be; such is the power of the taut, finely tailored, meticulously trim prose to which you are currently being treated. No, I am the very supermodel of sartorial ineptitude; my default mode is cluelessness; as I type, my otherwise flawless — even if you do say so yourself — torso is adorned with the finest in dreary, predictable, shoddily-stitched t-shirt couture the renowned blind machinists sub-contracted to my local department store have to offer.

But, as befits someone who has spent too much of his life watching grown men run about inconsequentially on a field, what I do know about (read: consider myself an expert on based on little more than my egotism and possession of a Blogger account) is sports kits. And I know that the threads donned by the jockeys of the Palio are glorious. (If the reader would be so kind as to ignore the jockey who has, it seems, taken inspiration from Mr. Blobby, that would be splendid.) In combination, they are a riot of colour. Not one of your mimsy, bolshie-protesters-getting-a-wee-bit-too-tetchy deals, either; more like the full-on, righteous, government-toppling kind. It is as if they are trying to summon enough divine energy to banish some scary and deeply conservative demons.

Which brings us onto football. Something had been bothering me about football kits for some time. There were, of course, the complaints common to most fans about how eager teams are to change their shirt designs as frequently as they can get away with — which, bless our loyal, loyal hearts, is very frequently indeed. There was also the shoddiness of these designs: cynical corporate-driven alterations sold by adland arse-drivel. Think of Liverpool’s “special” Champions League strip; the V on Manchester United’s jersey which, oops, how did that happen?, directs the eye towards the logo of a financial institution’s rotting carcass; Bolton’s home shirt which might actually be a barcode.

But it wasn’t until I encountered the sweet one-two of the Palio and the frankly magnificent Historical Football Kits website that I became fully conscious of what had been gnawing at my brain like that earwig that, like, totally crawled inside the ear of this kid I knew one day and he had to have, like, brain surgery and that. I direct the reader’s attention to the section of Historical Football Kits dedicated to the garb of the teams of the Victorian era. Better still, behold in all its majesty the page entitled “Strange Hues”.

One immediately arresting feature is the presence of certain patterns of varying rarity today: quarters, halves, (very) thin stripes and hoops, POLKA DOTS! But more than that: those colours! There are all sorts of shades we scarcely see these days: pinks, browns, purples, greys. And in such combinations: chocolate and amber halves with sky blue sleeves; pale blue and primrose halves; striped and hooped shirts with three — I say three — different colours (I give you: claret, salmon pink and blue hoops).

There’s a fine essay elsewhere on HFK on the evolution of the football strip in which are posited two sound reasons for the de-elaboration of said item. One stems from the change in the offside law from its old form, still present in rugby — essentially, that everyone must remain on their side of the ball — to something approaching what we have today. This led to the two sets of players mingling on the field far more than they used to, and switching to much simpler kits in primary colours eliminated any potential confusion that might ensue from the presence of two sets of multi-coloured shirts.

Which is fair enough. Two things, though. First, take the example of Australian rules teams Essendon and Richmond. The sole difference between their guernseys is the colour of the sash: red for Essendon, yellow for Richmond, both on a black background. Yet when they play each other, neither (usually) wears a change shirt.

Second, there would remain the possibility of the odd entertaining mishap as a result of kit confusion. But if the recent escapades of a certain seaside accessory Wearside have taught us anything, it’s that such things are often more interesting than the football itself, and are to be strongly encouraged in whatever way possible.

The second reason for the change is that the working class players who came to dominate the game towards the end of the nineteenth century could not afford to buy anything too extravagant (they had to purchase their own kit). But this is no longer an issue in an era in which new colours are being discovered daily in labs and Large Polyester Colliders worldwide. Besides, cost is not a problem these days. It’s the Premier League era. We are all bourgeois now, are we not?

One could make a case that all modern kits are Big Sportswear-driven monstrosities and thus deserve to be pilloried. But if one feels instead that there remains room for discernment, it’s interesting to try to figure out where the boundaries are. Apparently, even if you opt for something relatively simple, but do so in a colour scheme someone somewhere has deemed inappropriate — say, yellow and white — brace yourself for a stream of mockery and no-no-that-won’t-dos. Wear pink boots and get branded a freak. Football doesn’t like freaks. Football is a frothy drama about bitchy high school girls.

Variety has been forsaken for simplicity. Originality and individuality have made way for council-approved colours and designs. It’s Crayola’s world — we’re just the dumb, smiling stick figures in it. Now, there’s nothing wrong per se with kits that conform to today’s norm; there’s nothing wrong with your colours being just red, or just blue-and-white, or whatever. That can be as smart and elegant as anything. But I can’t help feeling there’s something lacking when there’s little room for genuinely distinctive shirts. I mourn for the sheer wilfulness of a team opting for pink, black and cerise (Wanderers’ colours in the first FA Cup final) and being bloody proud of it.

What to do, what to do? Well, when Port Adelaide were admitted to the Australian Football League in 1997, they had to abandon their black-and-white striped guernseys as that design was already claimed by Collingwood. We could lobby for something similar in soccer: a rule determining that all teams should have their own unique colours.

But where’s that going to get us? Street demos and internet petitions are fine for anti-nuclear groups and people who want a Kate & Allie reunion (fingers crossed!), but we need direct action. We need to make designers and club higher-ups think like Victorians. Our approach will be two-fold. First, we’ll spike their water supply with laudanum. Then, the bravest and noblest of our volunteers will do their sacred duty: the spreading of syphilis. We can do this, people. (Well, you can do the syphilis bit, obviously. I’ll just have to stay back at base and co-ordinate matters. Gammy knee, you know.)

For more of Fredorrarci´s considerable oeuvre visit SportisaTVshow

5 thoughts on “The Audacity of Heliotrope

  1. Im just worried about all the sponsorships and bankruptcies – maybe teams should have a blue strip on the shirt, and then the tv cameras can ad the sponsor of the week

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