Those familiar with the history of Arsenal kits will about the ‘sleeves tradition’, whereby outfield players all either wear short- or long-sleeved shirts, with no mixing.
Anyone who doesn’t, and would like to learn, should buy a copy of The Arsenal Shirt immediately, as it gives a full account of how it came into being. Without wishing to spoil the work of authors James Elkin and Simon Shakeshaft, basically the custom was instigated by then-manager Bertie Mee from the 1966-67 season onwards, with kit manager Tony Donnelly making the call.
While the common perception is that the captain of the day is responsible for the decision, he will be consulted by the kit manager (a role currently held by Vic Akers). Frank McLintock is quoted in the book as saying:
As the captain I never, ever made the decision on what sleeve length we would wear. It was discussed between the players in the dressing room and there were plenty of rows about it, but it was never just down to me.
Tony Adams did take a more hands-on role, which often amounted to taking a vote among the players. There have been exceptions, such as when the team changed from long to short at half-time in the 2003 FA Cup game at Old Trafford but the subs didn’t, so Thierry Henry looked out of place after he came on.
By and large, though, there was uniformity, such as away to Newcastle in in December 2004. The team began the game wearing long sleeves and many players liked to change into a new shirt at half-time, but a theft from the dressing room meant that there wasn’t a full second set, so the call was made that all of the players would switch.
With such a kit style as Arsenal have, it’s easy to understand why the system is in place, as the red/white proportions do change noticeably. That’s why, in the autumn of 2013, the decision of Mathieu Flamini to take a scissors to his long-sleeved shirts drew such attention, especially as he hadn’t undertaken such impromptu tailoring in his first spell with the club.
Flamini was spoken to and fell into line, rolling up his sleeves as Brian Talbot and Lee Dixon before him. Our friend Jay from Design Football blogged about the Flamini issue and felt that the tradition was outdated. He argued that, instead of long sleeves, players should have the option of short sleeves with baselayers underneath. Until now, the baselayers had only been allowed under long sleeves, but there appears to have been a change, as evidenced by recent games.
Technically, the tradition of players wearing the same sleeve-length remains, but, obviously, the visual is affected, defeating the original purpose. One Arsenal fan, John O’Connell, was unhappy with this and wrote to the club, with the Camden New Journal reporting that he received a personal reply from chief executive Ivan Gazidis. It would appear that the marginal gains Jay wrote about have been deemed the priority, according to Gazidis’s letter:
In the Ludogorets game, the captain chose short sleeves and all the players wore short sleeves, including Bellerin, Ozil and Sanchez. Those players did wear, however, white undergarments which might have given the impression that they were wearing long sleeves.
The tradition is maintained with regard to the shirt with a slightly modern twist with the introduction to the game of performance-enhancing undergarments that players feel can enhance their performance levels.
That didn’t satisfy Mr O’Connell, though:
It has upset me big time. I hope I have touched a nerve, not only with Ivan Gazidis but the club in general. Neville Chamberlain waved a sheet of paper. Ivan Gazidis waves his performance-enhancing undergarments.
It is just not Arsenal and the modern twist is merely caving in to players who neither know or care about Arsenal and will play for someone else at the drop of a hat/wallet.