One of the greatest tragedies of the human condition is the realisation that your club’s kit is rarely, if ever, specifically designed for your club. I came to that realisation very late having believed for years that clubs dealt directly with manufacturers to tap into the essence of their existence to inspire a design which would emote to your very soul.
Nope, most football shirts, whether you are playing park or professional football, is simply a manufacturer’s template in a particular colourway with a badge and sponsor sewn on.
The new Oxford home shirt, revealed this week, puts that into greater contrast than ever before. Like countless other teams in the lower leagues, the shirt is manufactured by Puma, and is basically a yellow and blue version of Tranmere’s new shirt, Rotherham’s and, heaven forfend, Swindon’s.
The lower leagues are a good place for Puma to operate; away from the arms race between Adidas and Nike, they enjoy a reputation for being a premium brand without the budget of the big two. You could argue that League 1 is full of once premium brands working at a budget level as well.
The strategy appears to be to hoover up as many clubs as possible to benefit from the aggregated audience they offer. Making money, however, means keeping costs low, which means there are limited options available and those that exist are universal, uncontroversial and perhaps a little bland.
The other cost saving is in marketing; rather than spend money on carefully crafted marketing whiffle, it is easier to issue a templated descriptions for threadbare club marketing departments to use. But, if you do that you should never use such supercilious wibble as ‘flux pattern sublimated into the shirt’ because that sort of phrase is a honeypot for stretched copywriters; it must mean something.
But does it? The simple answer is no, it is promotional boohockey of the first order. Of the many definitions of flux, the one which even remotely makes sense is not the ‘abnormal discharge of blood’ but a description of something that flows. ‘Sublimate’ is less clear and probably refers to the elevation of something, though perhaps not to a higher social plain as is its true definition. Distilled into something more digestible, it might be better to say there are textured wavy lines in the fabric.
That’s the new shirt’s defining motif; a nod to some of the more imaginative styles developed by Puma as they’ve courted emergent footballing nations from Africa, in particular. As well as the sublimated flux; the shirt has blue sleeves with a thick yellow cuff, similar to the 2016/2017 ‘Starter’ shirt although the overall effect is more towards the 2011/2012 Nike edition.
Thankfully, the club have reverted to blue shorts, which gives everyone hope that the world’s most complex problems can be resolved, along with yellow socks, of which I’ve always been a fan.
All in all, it’s OK, a bit derivative and obviously generic, but ultimately OK. I can see how people will like it, because there’s so little to be offended by. Perhaps my shattered illusions of a kit which is truly ours, plus the regimented annual reveal of yet another new shirt – which is necessarily limited in scope in terms of colour and layout – has made the whole thing less exciting than it once was.
It is what it is; so the club are rightly marketing it as an empty vessel whose meaning is derived from the moments that happen in it. These things only become classics if something memorable happens while wearing them – think promotions, cup or derby wins. Whether this becomes a classic remains to be seen.