Has there ever been a group of people more singularly devoted to shamelessly trashing the club's identity for the sake of a few quid than the Arsenal Marketing Department and their counterparts at Nike? Yesterday, in their latest money-spinning wheeze, they launched a new third kit for the coming season. If you have not seen it, it looks like a dour version of the Spurs first-team strip. On top of a second kit that looks like Chelsea and a first team shirt that has virtually dispensed with our iconic white sleeves, one wonders if anyone will actually recognise Arsenal Football Club next season?
It is highly questionable why any team would need a third kit anyway if they have suitably contrasting first and second choice colours but, as football clubs try to eke out every last penny from their supporters to pay their players, there seems to be no depths to which they will not sink to in order to keep the cash rolling in.
Any change in a club's kit is sure to divide opinion. Looking back through the history of the club there were times when the team played in entirely red shirts and had an all-white strip as its second choice. Those who remember back to the 80s will recall the green and blue change strip and in the 90s we had the famous yellow and blue "crazy wallpaper" offering. In the last season at Highbury, the Marketing Dept pulled off their most outrageous move to date by changing both the first-team colours from red and white to "redcurrant". Their spin on the redcurrant kit was that it harked back to the original Arsenal kit which they wore when they first moved to Highbury (long before the great Herbert Chapman introduced white sleeves and created an indelible identity for the club which is recognised throughout the world). They may have been factually correct about that but this really gets to the crux of many supporters' annoyance with the constant tinkering with Arsenal’s colours.
The Arsenal Marketing Department and Nike always try to create some tenuous link with the past to justify their actions. The problem is that rather than reinforcing Arsenal’s heritage and identity, it erodes it. The club has been in existence for over 120 years and, inevitably, and as I mentioned above, there have been aberrations in the kits over the years but there can be no argument that the colours most associated with Arsenal FC are red shirts with white sleeves and white shorts and a change strip of yellow and blue. These colours, particularly the white sleeves, have been absolutely crucial to the club’s identity over the years. Putting it in "marketing speak" so that the club’s marketing people and Nike can understand, this is also known as "branding". Dilute the branding and you dilute the brand. It won’t be too long before nobody will be able to recognise Arsenal just for being Arsenal.
Should fans be getting upset about this? Well, yes they should. Over the past few years we have lost Highbury, had our club crest changed to something that resembles a cartoon and had our "Victoria Concordia Crescit" motto taken off the shirts. (Hilariously, the Arsenal marketeers considered it old fashioned and defunct only a couple of seasons ago but have now re-instated it on the new third kit inside the collar! Again, a feeble attempt to create some tenuous link to the past.) At football clubs, players and managers come and go. The only real constant is the supporters and the club itself. The synergy (now there’s a good marketing word) between club and supporter will only exist if a sense of identity and culture is maintained - and central to this is what the players are wearing when they run out on the pitch.
Currently, Arsenal’s first kit looks more like Charlton’s or, dare I say it, Liverpool’s. The second kit is Chelsea and the third one looks like Spurs. Can we please have some kits that look like Arsenal? We want a first team shirt with proper white sleeves not just a white stripe and a second kit which is yellow and blue. (In fairness, last season’s away strip was wonderful). As a compromise, the third kit can be anything the marketing people want it to be.
So, we are stuck with three really duff-looking sets of colours for next season. Can supporters do anything about it? The only real answer is to not buy them. Ultimately, that is the only meaningful message that can be sent to the soulless suits and their team of designers that come up with this rubbish. Instead, go and buy yourself a classic retro kit - something that actually appertains to the club we all love.