By Jason McKeown
The launching of a new Bradford City kit will always split opinion. The design and colour scheme is a matter of personal preference, and with a core customer base of 10,000 people we will never universally agree on what the club decides upon – particularly when there is no prior consultation.
So it doesn’t really matter to you that I do not like Bradford City’s 2012/13 home shirt, which was released last week to a somewhat cringe-worthy fanfare (seriously who wrote this, and why didn’t someone else argue it needed to be toned down a bit?). Just as it does not matter that I absolutely loved the pink kit, or thought last season’s home shirt was great. Whether you love or detest the home and away kits on sale in the club shop, the only guarantee is there will be another set of designs on sale in the very near future.
And that is the point of it all. The constant evolution of football means that what was once considered to be a big problem eventually becomes an accepted fabric of the culture surrounding the sport. Or we become desensitised to it. 20 years ago, football clubs launching brand new strips every couple of seasons was a big deal, prompting media outrage at greedy football clubs forcing parents into having to shell out on the latest top so their kid doesn’t – embarrassingly – have to be seen in an out of date version. Now kits change every season, and at Valley Parade we are no different in rolling out another new piece of £45 clothing year on year. No one seems to mind, because it’s an accepted revenue generator.
Which is very true. And for today’s school kids who might be begging mum and dad to buy them a Bradford City kit, they probably get enough teasing for being a Bantams supporter itself to worry if they’re still wearing that all claret shirt from four years ago. No one forces you to buy a shirt, and some people are more than happy to splash out £45 a season to help the club by buying each new one. Others don’t see the appeal or will at least wait for the next new kit which meets their approval. A replica shirt is not a statement of loyalty in the way it was viewed to be by some 20 years ago, when the Premier League was in its early years. It’s a personal choice.
Yet I do still have a problem with this whole arrangement – the way in which our new kits are being differentiated (and marketed, but I’ll not go into this now). Bradford City Football Club wear claret and amber stripes, that is what we are known for around the world. Yes, I know full well that we have had periods in our history where shirts have been white with a hint of claret and amber instead, and that the very first kit worn by the club in 1903 was the hoops style which is being copied next season. But claret and amber stripes are part of our identity. Our uniform. Our battle gear in combat.
Next season’s shirt means that, for three out of four seasons, we will not have worn claret and amber stripes. That irritates me. It doesn’t mean there is any long-term attempt to change tradition, but that is a short-period of time for which to try so many leftfield designs. And you start to wonder where it will end. I mean, if we’re going to accept that a kit change per season is here to stay forever (and it surely is), how many more of these differential styles are we going to roll out?
Wearing claret and amber hoops – because that is how the club started out in 1903 – should feel special. Yet it looks very much like an attempt to make a well-worn style of shirt radically different in order to persuade more supporters to splash out, packaged as something historical. It’s not as though, for example, the 2012/13 season is a special anniversary from our past. In 2010/11 we had the special cup kit because it was 100 years since the club’s historic FA Cup victory. In 2003/04 the club’s centenary was marked by a special shirt and one-off different club crest. Bradford City will be 110 years old next May – is that a special anniversary?
If we’d had several years of claret and amber stripe kits – with different variations of that traditional design – then a one-off hoop kit really would feel special. Just as the all claret kit of a few years ago seemed really cool at the time, but ultimately was somewhat watered down by an all amber kit the year after. Instead of becoming special and something you might consider a collectors item, these one-off designs are becoming the norm.
I don’t see other football clubs going down this route. Newcastle United would never do an all white kit or go to hoops, Blackburn Rovers (the epitome of a boring kit design in my opinion) always produce blue and white halves. Doncaster Rovers – from whom City’s new kit looks suspiciously similar too – always do red and white hoops, not red and white stripes. If these football clubs can achieve the primary objective of launching new kit after new kit – ie, selling replicas to supporters in good numbers – without moving away from the club’s core identity, why can’t we?
We should be very proud of our unique colours and the fact that we are so distinctively Bradford City because of our uniforms. And I personally feel that, in recent years, we have been messing about with our kit a little too much. So please, can we curb it for a while, after next season?
(I promise I’ll actually buy one of the bloody things if we do.)