The football shirt. It’s a thing of beauty, a thing of power; it’s a thing that can become an icon, in the same way, a musician or a film star can. At least that’s what I think. But in recent times, I’ve begun to doubt the football shirt and the creative process behind it. “Why?” you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked.
One thing that is worrying me as a self-proclaimed football kit guru is that the production of truly classic kits is slowly decreasing. The reasoning for my theory is that if designers keep on re-using, sampling, and remixing old favourites to make new kits, as we’re currently seeing, then we’re eventually going to stop producing new ‘classics’. The idea is simple: a kit worn during a team’s successful period provides a template to be used as the basis of that same team’s shirt today.
For example, Manchester City has just revealed its new away kit. Newcastle the same. City’s takes inspiration from the kit worn in, arguably, the most important game in the club’s history, a play-off final victory against Gillingham where they were 2-0 down at half-time back in 1998/99. Newcastle takes it from one of my favourite ever kits – the 1995/96 away. Both are takes on kits from the good ol’ days. Both are decent kits.
The majority of Adidas’ World Cup kits this year featured a design aspect from kits of the past, whether it be the pattern on Germany’s kits, based on the winning West Germany side of 1990, or the design on Argentina’s away. I love some of this year’s World Cup shirts.
The question, though, is – why must we look back on the past for creativity?
Maybe it’s calling on the power of nostalgia. Maybe football now just isn’t what it used to be, and we want to remember better times. Maybe we all wished we still lived in a time where David Ginola was dancing down the wing for Newcastle. But, for me, this is lazy design work; a lack of creative empowerment that ultimately leads to a stunt in development in kit design. If brand designers can just splurge out a design that has already been created, then the future of aspiring designers and creators looks bleak, lacking in artistic evolution and creativity.
There are reasons why designers can get away with this process. A renewed audience comes about circa every 10 years, and with them, fresh eyes that didn’t see the classic kits that are being used as inspiration now. I’m 20 years old. I’m part of this. All I know is more modern shirts. But even I realise the opportunity that is there to create shirts that can be really, really special, instead of using the reputation of others.
Specifically speaking, my worries are cultural. The financial side, of course, is booming. Football shirts make money and fans love buying the new ones, especially when brands are tapping into the emotional history of the club or country. It’s easy. I know people who love this nostalgic inspiration and want to see more of it. But there is a blatant lack of imagination and invention going into certain kits, and I fully believe that it’s damaging.
For many, football is art. What I care about, as a football gear nerd, is not the finances – it’s the fact that these new designs are damaging that artistic element. It rinses and repeats. It’s boring. It’s an absence of anything fresh or truly exciting. The newest kit I own is the pink Porto 2014/15 away shirt, and that’s only because I went on holiday there one time. From a purist perspective, I don’t think the current design processes from brands is anything to be spending money on.
One remedy to this – one I have argued we should see more – is utilising the talents of fans and concept artists. Parma is releasing a very special kit; a kit was designed by the fans, and a kit I love. We have seen this approach in the past, with some clubs taking submissions from fans and eventually running with the best ones. This doesn’t just maximise the flow of creativity available to the club, but it’s also a very smart way of making money. Allowing the chance for fans to have an input in it design brings its positives. An increase in creative flow but also, a great opportunity to increase sales because fans are more likely to buy a kit they’ve been a part of. I’ve said it before and I am saying it again, concept artists are the future of football kit design, and clubs need to start taking notice of them.
The production of iconic kits is slowing down. Think about it. In X amount of years’ time, we will reflect upon the shirts released over the past few years; how many recent shirts can be claimed as iconic? It’s the basis of these kits that are the icons. In the years ahead, we will still be looking at the 80s and 90s for examples of truly great design. Of course, every theory has its anomalies. See Nigeria home. See China away (yes, I said it). But in reality, this lazy creative thought process of recycling the past is killing the artistic development of football shirts. It’s making money, but at what artistic cost?
I fully support this claim. But then again, of course, I would. Tell me you disagree and why. Or why you agree, which is probably unlikely. I am open to the debate. Hit me up, here.