Let's Talk About Kits, Baby…

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Clothes do not always make the man.

Whoever said they did obviously never wore a Manchester United kit.

Manchester United, in collaboration with seminal rock band The Stone Roses, have recently released a limited edition line of clothing through Adidas that brings together Manchester’s rich footballing and music heritage.

Predictably, it’s awesome.

Replete with lemons and Jackson Pollock style football shirts, the whole thing is unspeakably cool, and it got me thinking about the importance of football kits.

It was the 1992/1993 season, and the Reds were locked in a title race with Aston Villa and Norwich (yes, Norwich – these were very different times). The Premier League had just been born, and United had not won the title for twenty six years. Being an inveterate Rocky Balboa fan, this appealed to the romantic idealist in me. I loved to cheer for the underdog. And, in this scenario, Manchester United were (incredibly) the underdog. There was something else, though. As I watched them play an away game sometime early in that fateful season, I was immediately struck by something;

Their away kit looked cool.

It was the blue and black one. I still have a picture of my brother wearing it as we had our pictures taken at Old Trafford with Eric Cantona (ok, it was a hologram, but who’s counting?) Two sizes too big for him it might have been, it being my shirt and all, but it still looked cool.

And so began my love affair with Manchester United football shirts.

Wearing a Manchester United shirt has always made me feel better. Bigger, bolder. A cut above. ‘Not arrogant’, runs the famous phrase on the Red Army banner, ‘Just better’. They also bring back great memories. Around that time of the 1992/1993 title winning away kit, there was also the yellow and green half and half, a tribute to the club’s roots in Newton Heath, a kit which always makes me think of King Eric scoring that breath-taking, jaw dropping volley against Wimbledon in the FA Cup, and of getting ‘Giggs 11’ printed on the back of mine at the club shop (a shrewd move, seeing as they charged by the letter – not many people were plumping to have ‘Kanchelskis 14’ put on their shirts round our way). The season after, there was the blue and white striped one with the names of club legends stitched into it (probably my favourite football shirt I ever owned, for what it’s worth). This one reminds me of going to watch United beat Middlesbrough 3-0 in 1996, lifting the title on the final day at the Riverside. Then there was the classic red ‘Sharp’ one at home, with the laces on, which will forever be intrinsically linked to Cantona and his upturned collar, as will the classic all black away one that just made them look so cool and intimidating, everything a 13-year-old boy wants to be, in short. Of course, this is the one Cantona wore when he got sent off for kicking the idiot at Crystal Palace, something which lends that shirt even more menace and cool.

After that, they began to get a little patchy (the less said about the grey one in 1995, infamously dumped at half time after a woeful first half against Southampton at the Dell, the better). Perhaps it was because I was getting older, a full-fledged teenager hell bent on buying Ben Sherman shirts and Kangol coats, but the kits began to lose their appeal a little. I kept my old ones, but never really fell in love with the ones that continued to be released (it probably didn’t help that the style, around the late 90’s, began to decree that footballers wore them big and baggy, with long sleeves that made them look like potato sacks. Very unflattering).

Lately, though, I’ve began to come full circle. With the advent of Ebay, it became possible to obtain any shirt your heart desired. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what era football shirt you sought. Blue away one from 1985? No problem. Hankering after the white away one with red piping from the late 1980’s? Easy. All of them were a quick Google search away. Nostalgia is big business, of course, and I am now at the age where I am succumbing to it. So it was that I recently bought the blue snowflake one from 1992, most closely associated with the Class of ’92 (getting the jacket in the same design has proven rather more difficult – turning into my personal Holy Grail). I also bought the rip off version of that shirt, or ‘tribute’, from a couple of seasons ago, (because I’m an addict). And it isn’t just the shirts of my youth that I’ve started to go for. I know I’m probably in the minority here, but I quite like this year’s green striped away shirt (no, it does not look like Newcastle’s home shirt, I have to keep pointing out to people – the stripes are green). Probably also in the minority, I liked the zebra one from lockdown, too (Paul Pogba’s screamer against West Ham). How about the white one with the black collar from 2014-15, the one that had ‘Youth Courage Greatness’ written on the inside? (Juan Mata’s beauty at Anfield, obviously.)

Not every great shirt necessarily resulted in a great season (Ralf Ragnick and finishing 6th in 2020-21, anyone?) Still, the fact remains, Manchester United, as well as being the best football team of all time have had the best football kits of all time. Fashion and Manchester go hand in hand, so perhaps it’s only natural. Also, to be the best, you have to look the best. Look good, feel good, as the saying goes. (Not that they were in any danger of doing so anyway, but Newcastle United were never going to win the title in that horrible, yellow kit from the other year, were they? The two tone yellow striped one that made them look like Chupa Chups lollies). The city of The Stone Roses demands a certain look. Manchester is cool. Manchester United are cool. Wearing their shirts makes you instantly cool. Well, cooler, at least. Just look at those pictures of young stars Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo posing in the Roses themed Adidas gear and tell me which modern day footballers look cooler.

Do yourself a favour, grab yourself a Jackson Pollock themed bucket hat or long sleeve white t-shirt with lemons down the side, and let’s party like its 1989.

The past is ours, to paraphrase the great Ian Brown.

Let’s hope the future is too.