OPINION: Kits are going to be better in the Premier League next season
With Aston Villa sealing promotion this week, we are in for a real treat on the shirt front.
Who were you supporting in the Championship play-off final?
For neutrals there were great stories on either side of the Wembley turf. Both Villa and Derby can claim multiple first division titles throughout their history. Modern day legends like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole all played their part in various ways alongside young talent like Jack Grealish and Mason Mount.
If I’m honest though, none of these factors were at the forefront of my mind when thinking about who I wanted to leap up to the top of English football once again.
My primary concern was to see the return of a true bastion when it comes to great football shirts. Yes, though I have very little against Derby County as a club, I was rooting for Aston Villa in the hope that we would see their kits where they belong.
Thinking about next season, it gets even better when you consider we’ll also be seeing Norwich City once again in the Premier League. Few teams rock yellow and green as well as the Canaries, and it’s a combo which will be a welcome addition to next year’s colour palette. Even fellow promotees Sheffield United have something to offer, despite how vanilla their designs are in comparison.
So what exactly is it about these three teams that shows we have reason for optimism in regards to Premier League kits for the 2019/20 season? How much of an upgrade is it (if at all) over the teams that are dropping down to the Championship?
I’m glad you asked.
The three sets of kits we’re gaining
From a shirt perspective there is so much to like about the fact Norwich will be playing in the Premier League next season.
It starts with the fact they will be wearing kits made by Erreà. The Italian brand have a decent portfolio of teams throughout the football league, but Norwich will be flying their flag high alongside all the usual suspects in the Prem. Brand diversification is always welcome, and the best thing about Erreà is that they won’t simply be playing the role of plucky underdogs in terms of kit design. They’ll likely raise the bar.
If we ignore the shirt sponsor, each of Norwich’s kits in 2018/19 were gems in my book. The previously mentioned yellow and green colour scheme was given plenty of room to shine in the home shirt, with a triangular based pattern straight out of the 90s. For the away, we were treated to a double sash look with a continuation of the geometric theme in the blocky makeup of each of the diagonal stripes. This idea was developed even further for the vibrant third shirt, taking the sash approach and throwing multiple lines in alternating directions. Not one for the purists, but certainly plenty to chew on from a design perspective.
Norwich weren’t the only beneficiaries of Erreà’s experimentation last season however. Over in the brand’s homeland of Italy, we saw without a doubt the best complete set of home, away and third kits across any team in any league. The kits, of course, belonged to Parma.
In our rundown of the Top 100 Shirts of 2018, Parma placed 7th, 10th and 16th for their third, away and home kits respectively. I don’t have enough time to talk about exactly what made each of their shirts so strong, but in short we saw a fantastic appreciation for the heritage of the club, in tandem with some fresh thinking all wrapped up in plenty of attention to detail. If Norwich’s kits next season are even half as good as Parma’s last year, they’ll be some of the best kits in the Premier League.
Finally we have to talk about Norwich’s shirt heritage. The club are far more than just a memorable colour scheme, over the years they have enjoyed a ludicrously good array of designs alongside some memorable sponsors. In the early 80s they were one of a select group of teams blessed to possess adidas’ legendary pinstripe template, a look that could only be eclipsed by what followed later in the decade in the form of their shirts made by hummel.
If any team wore either adidas or hummel in the 80s they were lucky, but to enjoy both was frankly greedy. The crazy thing is however, none of the Canaries kits in the 80s will go down as their most famous. Overshadowing the two giants of the shirt game were Ribero, who conspired to create the busiest and boldest of designs, the infamous bird-poo shirt. (Ribero’s logo would later be replaced by Mitre, but that’s a different story).
Norwich’s classic yellow was splattered with varying sized flecks and green and white, and the audacity of the look would be enough for it to live long in the memory in and of itself. However, the shirt’s usage in the Canaries famous felling of Bayern Munich in 1993 only cemented its legacy, providing the rare and exciting marriage of a bold 90s kit with a famous footballing achievement.
Though, like most other teams, there have been few shirts to have reached the heights of the 80s and 90s, we have to give a mention to some of the fantastic sponsors Norwich enjoyed around the turn of the millennium.
Sponsorship from a local company is something of a novelty in today’s game, but between 1997-2001 Norwich shirts were adorned with the logo of one of the city’s most famous exports: Colman’s mustard. From a design perspective things got even better a few years later, when both Proton and Lotus took turns as the main sponsor. The colours of each logo (in particular Lotus) made for a lovely match with the designs Norwich had in the early 00s, and though there was something of a drop off in quality in the latter part of the decade we still have a lot to look back on and appreciate.
So what about Sheffield United? Should we be as excited about their return to the Premier League from a shirt perspective?
In truth I can’t really present as compelling an argument compared to Norwich or Aston Villa.
The Blades were one of many teams to hold the unfortunate distinction of owning a striped shirt with a plain back last year. Whatever the reasons behind the decision, there’s no denying the approach took away from the overall aesthetic of the kit. Much like Norwich, United were also subject to a sponsor which wasn’t a good colour match to the rest of the kit, with the green ‘Ramsdens Currency’ logo adding very little despite it’s reasonable fit amongst the stripes. One can only imagine that Norwich and Sheffield United ought to have switched sponsors, though having said that a Sheffield United kit with Norwich’s LeoVegas sponsor would’ve looked remarkably like Brentford’s home kit...
Before I sound like I'm being too down on adidas however, we should mention that the potential ceiling which is very high. The much talked about Arsenal home kit looks set to be one of the best shirts the club has had in a long, long time, and adidas deserve credit for righting many of the wrongs Puma have been guilty of in recent years. I’m not suggesting for a minute that Sheffield United fans can expect similar levels of attention for their new kits, but we can at least hope that adidas sprinkle some of the same magic dust over at least one of the home, away or third kits.
Thinking more broadly about the kits in the league next season, there isn’t exactly an abundance of teams who primarily wear stripes either. Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Southampton all traditionally wear stripes, and although Watford experimented with the look this year we’re also losing a striped team in relegated Huddersfield. Despite my previous gripes against adidas for their handling of striped designs, it’ll be good to add their efforts alongside what Umbro, Puma and Under Armour are bringing for their respective stripey teams.
Completing the set are Aston Villa, and as already mentioned I’m particularly excited to see the Villans bring their kits back to the top division.
In many ways Villa’s kits were the shirt story of the 2018/19 season. The partnership between Luke 1977, Fanatics and the club was an unconventional one, and if I’m honest at the time of the announcement last summer I was sceptical. All the talk about the owner of Luke (Luke Ruper) being a lifelong Villa fan seemed like typical marketing spiel, and the lack of any reference point left many people in the dark.
The reality was anything but dark however.
Much like Norwich, we saw superb kits across the board with a mixture of retro goodness and forward thinking experimentation. The home shirt felt like you were putting on a pair of rose-tinted glasses in the best possible sense, with a classic v-neck collar and tasteful cuff detailing neatly complimenting the shadow stripes of the body. On the away side we had subtle pinstripes, once again evoking the 80s, and the third shirt gave everyone a chance to let their hair down.
All credit needs to be given to Luke 1977 and Fanatics for making the most of their opportunity. Although Kappa are taking over as kit suppliers in a much talked about switch for 2019/20, it’s no surprise to see that Luke will continue to work with the club as their formalwear partners. It’s a field that very much plays to the strengths, but we’ll always be able to look back at their brief but ultimately successful foray into the matchwear arena.
So will Kappa have the chops to fill the surprisingly big shoes Luke 1977 left to fill? At the very least, they will be another name to add to the list of shirt manufacturers, further broadening the pool of names working in the Premier League. That’s just the start of reasons to be excited though.
If we use 2018/19 as a benchmark, Kappa were much like Erreà in that they created a number of quality shirts which rivalled any other brand in the shirt game. My personal favourite range of Kappa shirts was found over in Spain with Real Betis. Though Betis are blessed with an iconic look which is arguably hard to mess up, Kappa somehow went above and beyond with a wonderfully balanced design highlighted by a superb collar. Both the away and third shirts also had something about them, and even though all three kits featured considerable amounts of green it was hard to argue with the aesthetics of the collection as a whole.
It should be a great year for Kappa, with the brand returning to work with Monaco next season. Monaco x Kappa is one of those partnerships which stands out from years gone by, and it will be exciting to see if past glories can be recaptured.
Back to Aston Villa, if Kappa wanted to reference an old Villa kit they have plenty to choose from to say the least. Le Coq Sportif, hummel and Umbro all took turns across the 80s and 90s to great effect, though sadly there could be a bit of a conflict of interest should Kappa want to directly reference any designs from that period, given that all 3 of their rivals are still very much active in the world of football shirts.
I would perhaps look to Villa’s brief but memorable spell with Asics are a source of inspiration. There’s one famous kit in particular which is crying out to be brought back to the modern game, and it is of course the garishly beautiful green, black and red striped design from 1993.
If Kappa could combine an understated home shirt with a bold away shirt referencing the early 90s, they would be ticking all the boxes in my book. It would certainly be a tricky rope to tread, and the absence of the Müller sponsor would certainly be a downgrade, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kappa had the guts to go for it.
Claret and Blue will rarely have been in a better place with 3 teams (Burnley, West Ham and Villa) rocking the combo next year, and I’m pretty happy about that, especially given the fact that three different manufacturers (Puma, Umbro and Kappa) will be giving the colour scheme a go. Although I’m expecting big things from Umbro and West Ham in particular, it wouldn’t surprise me if Aston Villa made waves themselves, proving that their kits deserve to eat at the table of the best in England.
The three sets of kits we’re losing
It’s all very well and good getting carried away by what each of the promoted teams are bringing next season, but we have to consider the sets of kits we’ll be losing by contrast. Am I jumping the gun a little by suggesting we’re getting an automatic upgrade?
If I’m honest I don’t think there’s anything I will miss about Cardiff from a shirt perspective. Their home shirt last year did very little wrong, but it also struggled to separate itself from what is a fairly blue Premier League crowd. Things were even worse on the away front, with the Bluebirds being one of many teams lumped with the reasonable but overly used Condivo template.
adidas may yet prove me wrong, but I’m not expecting much from any of Cardiff’s kits next year. In the table of kits that exists in my head they would very much end up in the relegation zone, and although there is an argument that their kits are largely better than Sheffield United’s, there’s a significant gulf in quality between what Cardiff wear and the offerings of both Norwich and Aston Villa.
I really liked Fulham’s home kit last year. The design was simple, but it was sparingly used by adidas across their teams and in Fulham’s case the white and black colour scheme worked to perfection. I’d even go as far to say it was a European contender in my hypothetical table of Premier League kits, though like Cardiff things dipped off considerably with a Condivo away shirt.
It’s also worth noting that Fulham held the unfortunate distinction of being the only team to use four kits last season. This quartertet of designs was born out of necessity, but at a time when even three kits can seem indulgent it represented a bad look for the Cottagers in a season where they could have done with a positive story on any front they could find.
I’ll miss Fulham’s kits a lot more than I will Cardiff’s, but given the choice I would still take Norwich or Villa over them any day of the week.
Last but not least (on the kit front) we have Huddersfield.
I absolutely loved Umbro’s kits in 2018/19, and Huddersfield were very much the beneficiaries. Their home kit didn’t have to do any more than simply exist in Umbro’s lovely template, and it was a look replicated in a classy (albeit it very ‘Bournemouth’) red and black away shirt. The third shirt left a lot to be desired, but as a whole you couldn’t expect much more for a collection of kits for a team of the Terrier’s stature.
Having said that, broadly speaking, I am expecting a slight regression from Umbro next season. Kits like the new Bournemouth home are for me a step back on 2018, and though I’m still expecting gems like the previously mentioned West Ham kits, I don’t think Umbro’s designs will stand out as much next season. I hope to be proved wrong, but I think Huddersfield peaked last year in terms of kits and by contrast Norwich and Aston Villa are just getting started.
As June dawns we have so much to look forward to. Several teams are yet to announce any of their new kits, and even the teams that have already worn their new strips are set to release away and third variants in the coming weeks.
I’m excited about new shirts even in the worst of years, but I think there’s cause for optimism for the Premier League in particular when we look at the teams that are making up the division.