Siberian Soapbox

Norfolk chip shops are not generally considered seminal locations of groundbreaking importance. Surprising, right? They do hold their delightful charms though. The views over the Hunstanton cliffs Hunstanton are spectacular when blended with the gorgeous aroma of deep-fried batter, believe me. I’m not talking any of this hipster deconstructed la-di-bloody-da bollocks; full-on cod heaven. Lashings of gravy on soggy mounds of chips. The stinging stench of vinegar. Ah, pure hedonism.

Well for one little eight-year-old lad a Friday night in one such place was etched into his memory forever. OK, ha ha, I’m a fat bastard and any trip to the chippie is memorable, I get it. That may actually be true, but it’s not the point; over two decades ago, there was another reason.

As I waited for the sizzling heaven to be prepared, I turned and saw an Ipswich fan. Had it been a few dozen kilometres down the road in Norwich, it might have been an issue. As it was, the average age of residents in the town was about 75, and not many cared about or even knew what football was to be honest, but for me there was something fascinating about the kit. It was the one with Fisons as the sponsor before even Mauricio Taricco rolled into East Anglia. What do you mean you don’t remember?? Heathens.

The reason I remember it so vividly was the lacing in the front collar section. My elder brother told me the new Manchester United kit would have the same, and I was hooked. Laces on a kit? Madness. As it turned out I never bought that particular replica kit, but it was memorable. United’s FA Cup final annihilation of Chelsea the following summer was enhanced all the more by the lace-up kit for me. I have a sneaking suspicion I am not the only one.

Then came the 1995-96 version with the shaded Old Trafford design, and two years later the best collar of all – the one that slid from black to white and stuck up to a point when emulating Eric Cantona. I think it was the anticipation of waiting two years for the next kit to come out that built them up to more than the sum of their parts, and that is where the rage starts building up.

Do you even know how many kits there are nowadays? Honestly, there is a fair chance that if you support a top-flight club, you won’t even know all of them. Home, Away, Third, European Home, European Away, EFL Cup fourth-choice… OK I made up the last one – probably – but seriously, what the hell is going on? I get it from a business point of view; milk those bone-headed supporters dry, maximise profits. I also not naïve enough to not realise football has become a business.

If we can detach ourselves from the artificial world that football has become for a minute, let’s think rationally. What is the point of an away kit? If two home kits clash. So how on earth can it be necessary in any way, shape or form to have a third? Yes, yes, business, bla bla bla; it still grates on my nerves.

This is far from a modern malaise though. Remember that god-awful grey away kit from 1995-96 that Manchester United brought out? The one that Sir Alex Ferguson said made it hard for his players to pick each other out? That was designed specifically to ‘look good casually’. I shit you not; someone somewhere actually thought that garbage looked good with jeans. Although the delivery was utterly heinous, the intention to market replica kits as something removed from the actual game itself was a sign of things to come.

One of those things to come was actually hilarious and tragic at the same time. West Ham have become a car crash club of late, from their awful form, dreadful managerial appointments and robbing of taxpayer money, ahem, I mean controversial acquisition of a publically funded home. Perhaps the cherry on that cake was the launch of their kit two summers ago. It was a microcosm of football’s obsession with image.

A smartly dressed middle-class young chap walks out on stage, and starts ‘spitting rhymes’ freestyle about his suit, Dmitri Payet and Robin Reliants. Oo, we’re connecting with the younger fanbase thought Karen Brady (probably). “Look at us! We’re cool!” shouted porn baron David Sullivan (almost certainly). All this nonsense was a prelude to the launch of the kit itself. Here’s an idea lads: launch it on the fucking pitch. You know, the place where it is actually used.

The thing is, clubs have no choice but to release a new kit every single year now. If they don’t they are missing out on revenue that all other clubs will be making. Poor parents are fleeced of increasingly eye-watering prices to keep little Nathaniel and Sebastian happy.

Other than a couple of presents, I haven’t bought a new kit for 20 years now. I’m too old and portly to pull it off anyway to be honest. One of the best parts of being a kid following football was getting out in the playground and replicating whatever amazing goals you’d seen your heroes score the weekend before. Key to that was looking the part. Now, it is nothing to do with dreaming, but simply keeping up with the trends.

However much growing up we have to do as football itself evolves, I shed a tear every time a new kit launch happens. To me, it signals fewer children loving football and more loving the Instagram opportunity. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe football has moved on and I haven’t. Well, sod the lot of you, because it WAS better back in the day.