As well as a cynical money-making exercise, new kit launches have become part of the normal cycle of the close season.
This season the club are going with the thematic ‘New Era’, which depending on your mood is either a simple reflection of the club playing in League 1 for the first time in 15 years, or the signal of a more radical, and for the die-hards, gut wrenching change of direction.
Darryl Eales is clearly no Assem Allam wanting to change his club’s name, or Vincent Tan wanting to change the shirt colour or Pete Winkelman, changing the club’s location, but he is the owner and he hasn’t been afraid to radically change things over the last two years. So, who knows what ‘New Era’ means?
Last season’s shirt was unashamedly retro, celebrating 30 years of the Milk Cup win. I wasn’t a fan of the original, it was too pale and I didn’t like the shadow stripes, so the reboot didn’t do much for me. It is understandable, however, how the designs have taken on new meaning given the successes of last year.
Such reverential nod to the past added to a wildly successful season should give Eales more licence to change the club to his vision. After all, Oxford fans literally let Robert Maxwell rob their grannies for success.
Late last season the emergence of Oxford/Headington half-and-half scarves raised a theory that the club might revert to its original colours of old-gold. But Eales is a Birmingham fan, and it seemed unlikely that he would want to watch his club running around looking like Blues’ rivals Wolves.
The club also ran a Twitter poll about past kits with the Adidas yellow and royal-blue offerings of the 80’s being wildly backed. For me, having grown up with the club playing in those colours this would have been perfectly acceptable. But, you only have to think back to the last post-promotion kit in 2010/11 – the 1975-inspired striped shirt – to see how sensitive people are to change.
The grand reveal on Monday unveiled a kit which throws together references to glories past while at the same time creating something entirely new. Either this is very clever design or it shows that designers have basically run out of ideas.
The yellow and navy is loyally retained with a pinstripe that harks back to the club’s back-to-back titles in the mid-80s. The sleeves with the thick yellow trim is lifted directly from the 1996 promotion shirt.
The simple Ox’s head is now our ‘official’ badge despite having worn it for the last year. The pinstripe stops just above the head to allow it space before continuing directly below it. I like that, it shows a shirt which is designed to have a badge. Details, it’s all in the details.
Call me shallow, but last year’s unbranded shirt left it looking a bit cheap, and so the Starter logo gives it more balance aesthetically. Starter, who make what is now known as athleisurewear, have their roots in US Sports rather than football. Their logo is on what is apparently now known as ‘snapbacks’ or more simply ‘hats’ in the club shop and it first appeared on the JPT final shirt. It seems to suggest that Starter helped with the sourcing of the design rather than actually manufacturing it themselves. The benefit seems to be that we’ve got much closer to what we actually want rather than having to be a slave to Nike’s ‘England in different colours’ templates.
If football kits are art, which they’re not, then this shirt continues a narrative of a club which is both a product of its history and forward looking at the same time. Ultimately, seasons make the shirt, not the other way around but, from a pure design perspective, it’s one of the best we’ve had.