Friday, July 13, 2012
It lasted just four and a half games. Late in the 1995-96 season, Manchester United travelled to Southampton and wore what has become a notoriously infamous kit. Decked out in all grey - a strip only permitted after the Premier League relaxed the rules regarding what colours could and could not be worn - Alex Ferguson became increasingly frustrated as the home side tore through his title-chasing team to head into the half-time break leading 3-0.
Storming into the dressing room, the manager bellowed "Get that kit off - you're getting changed" at his players, who quickly switched into the club's white-and-blue third strip. They may not have salvaged the match - eventually losing 3-1 - but they would win every game that followed until the end of the campaign, finishing the season as champions and, after winning the FA Cup against bitter rivals Liverpool, landing the domestic double.
The grey kit was "retired" two days later and never seen again, but it is far from the only instance in which the club's colours have been at the centre of controversy. This point was further highlighted by United fans' 'Green and Gold' protest, and rows over designs and colours are clearly nothing new. Just a short distance away from Old Trafford, Liverpool have become embroiled in a far more sensitive issue as they launched their 2012-13 shirts in early May.
A decision by their new kit manufacturer to return to a retro-style badge is at the centre of this argument. In switching back to an emblem reminiscent of the one that adorned the famous red kit throughout the glorious 1970s and '80s, when the club was the undisputed king of Europe, they have moved the two 'justice flames' - which have become part of the club logo in honour of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy - onto the back of the shirt. This raised concern among the campaigners supporting the families of those affected, with the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) calling the decision "insensitive" and complaining about the lack of consultation, going on to say the club had once again "chosen to ignore the HJC and their families".
Perhaps more than any other, this summer seems to have forced the issue to the very forefront of fans' minds and nowhere is this more true than among Cardiff City supporters. The club's Malaysian owners have not only decided to switch from the traditional blue home shirt they have worn since 1908 to an all-red kit but have also rebranded the club with a new dragon emblem instead of the historic bluebird logo.
Understandably the reaction has been hostile, with Supporters' Trust chairman Tim Hartley saying: "While we understand that the Malaysian owners desire to change the kit colour and badge, many fans will be disappointed by this." Red has been chosen for the prestige in which it is held in Eastern culture - which they hope will help promote the club in the owners homeland - and many fans believe that the choice to retain blue as the away shirt and a small bluebird at the bottom of the new badge only serve to add insult to injury.
The problem is far from a uniquely British one, however, and Cardiff may find an unlikely ally in supporters of Serie A giants Inter. Famous for their blue and black striped shirts, the Nerazzurri have decided to make their away shirt red to, according to NikeStore.com, "honour the team with bold colours and symbols". Already reeling from seeing their treble-winning side of just two years ago broken up as they attempt to make the drastic cuts necessary for them to fall in line with UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations, the new colour has quickly become a public relations disaster for a club with a rich history of such gaffes.
Much like the Cardiff switch, the Inter shirt has been given a poor reception, largely because teams on the peninsula are known by 'their' colours, with most club nicknames - from the Azzurri (blues) of Napoli to the Bianconeri (white and blacks) of Juventus - merely an extension of this. As soon as it was launched, fans took to message boards and forums, quick to cite the words of founder Giorgio Muggiani.
On the evening the club was born back in 1908, the designer of the original Inter club badge said in a now infamous speech: "On this splendid night our colours will be given - the black and blue with a golden background of the stars. We will be called Internazionale, because we are brothers of the world."
With heated cross-town rivals AC Milan known as the 'red and blacks', Inter's dramatic switch has now predictably caused anger with the club's hardcore supporters. Known as the Curva Nord, the Ultra group have written an open letter to the club and president Massimo Moratti stating their opposition to the new strip.
The letter in its entirety can be found on their website, but its main points are as follows: "It is an insult to our history and traditions. That colour belongs to another team. It's a real punch in the eye and another in the stomach that has left us breathless. For us, red should appear only on the jersey combined with green and white in order to identify us as the champions of Italy or, as in the case of the centenary, representing a cross superimposed on white, which is the colours of our city's coat of arms.
"The creator of this brainwave was probably catapulted to Earth from Saturn, not to know that red is the prerogative of another team. Evidently no one has ever taken them to the stadium during a derby, otherwise they would have seen two colours in their respective ends of the field - one blue and the other red. Separate, distinct and far apart, a symbol of an opposition and rivalry that will never fade.
"We urge fans not to buy this clothing and they certainly shouldn't come to the stadium wearing it."
Strong words indeed, and ones that left Sky Italia to speculate that, with the situation as it is, "the shirt could be a flop before it is even worn". Having none of the mitigating financial circumstances of the Welsh side makes the Nerazzurri's decision even odder. It might, for very different reasons, last longer than four and a half games, but their new red shirt has certainly left Inter supporters feeling every bit as grey as Manchester United did on that fateful trip to Southampton.