By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 17, 2012) US Soccer Players -- Once upon a time, the US National Soccer Team Players Association had an event in the magical land of Las Vegas. On the schedule was a game, so uniforms were needed. I came up with a traditional design mashing together vintage Crystal Palace and Birmingham City shirts, and nobody complained. Fast forward a few years later, and all I see is what I got wrong. It's not easy designing something classic, even when you're using classic sources.
Colors that work in theory might not work at all in practice, details matter, and supplier templates will likely severely limit whatever options a team might have. It doesn't help that uniform design in soccer is always a work in progress and a moving target. Euro consumer protection laws aside, no one buys a soccer shirt expecting it to stay the standard for years to come. This isn't the New York Yankees or the other baseball teams that settled on a design and never got around to making noticeable changes. It's not even pro basketball, where the classic jerseys tend to stay classic.Even the exceptions in soccer aren't standard. Juventus and Barcelona play with the width of their stripes on their classic home jerseys. Manchester United and Liverpool manage to do a lot with what's supposed to be a famous and basic red shirt. Real Madrid with white. They change suppliers and sponsors. The away shirts, third shirts, and Champions League uniforms are an exercise in fashion for most clubs.
Back in the late 90's, I went to a chain discount store in Chicago that might as well have been a museum for recent soccer missteps. They had everything. The questionable design choices from MLS clubs that changed suppliers every season. The puffy goalkeeper jerseys from Euro 96 that helped date any footage of that tournament. The big collar Premier League jerseys from that same period that became passé quite quickly. The shirts with the button that had the club crest engraved into it. You wonder how long some of those shirts sat there, moving from the main racks to the discount racks to that little circular rack where they hang the stuff they desperately never wanted to see again.
What none of these designs were was retro, a fad that would take strong hold in the North American market. To some extent, the absence of that widespread retro scene in Europe was probably a good thing. No back of the closet storehouse of replica vintage athletic apparel that at the time cost more than what most people wear to work. No wondering why you really thought you needed to have that baseball jersey with the zipper even if it cost twice as much as the button version. No falling so deep into the well of nostalgia that stuff you made fun of as a kid suddenly made sense to wear in public 30 years later.
Yes, there were attempts at going retro in Europe, but more often than not it ended up looking like a guy that used to sit behind me at Baltimore Orioles games wearing St Louis Browns gear. Yes, there used to be a professional baseball team named the Browns, and yes they moved to Baltimore. No, it didn't end up with people trailing down the aisle waiting to engage our historically prescient fan in discussions about baseball in times none of us lived through.
For professional soccer, the focus is normally on the now. A big part of that is the uniforms. Like those regrettable Euro 96 goalkeepers, the uniforms alone can date games. It divides and subdivides at a rate that's almost unknown in the major North American sports. The length of the shorts and an odd fondness for pinstripes might tell you that the clip you're watching is the National Basketball Association in the mid-90's. The lack of buttons on the shirts and players that looked like they walked in off the street is Major League Baseball in the 70's and 80's. But those are lengthy blocks of time where only a handful of teams really changed up their look. Meanwhile, contemporary soccer can't stick with a basic color scheme, much less a design, for longer than is mandated by government.
In North America, it's the leagues themselves telling their clubs no. Design changes have to be authorized at league level. There's a waiting period. There's also not the supplier pressure since each North American league signs with a league-wide supplier for their official attire.
Soccer is different, producing enough variations on a theme that they have little choice but to push the extremes.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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