Seasons’ Meetings, no. 12 – Dundee v Rangers

I’ve normally written pieces for the Museum of Jerseys empire and my own blog on Rangers’ strips, but like most nerds I do have a broader locus of interest as well.

Denis and I were talking about Dundee’s recent decision to wear their navy first-choice kits in a match against Rangers’ royal blue home jerseys. While not quite a clash, I certainly found it less than comfortable to watch, especially in a match played under the floodlights.

This got me thinking about the slightly unusual history of kit-management in matches between Dundee and Rangers in recent years, and by nudging an apostrophe to the right, I contend we can look at four specific episodes under the auspices of the temporarily amended Seasons’ Meetings feature.

I do have something of a soft spot for Dundee (well, the club at least). My grandfather, a sewing machine salesman, settled in the city after the war, translocating from Glasgow with his wife. My uncle and my father were born on East coast, although the latter at least made his debut in a hospital across the Tay, in Fife. Grampa never really had any strong club affiliations, despite his love of football, but was an admirer of the early 1960s Dundee side that reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. Later, when I was finding my own way into the sport, one of the first matches I watched on TV in any form was highlights of a match from Dens Park.

More pertinently, Dundee were members of the Scottish Premier Division in the early 1990s, just as my interest in the sport burgeoned. And they had some really natty kits, from the Matchwinner effort of 1991-92, through the iconic Asics Sampdoria tribute of 1992-94, to the sorely under-rated return to Matchwinner in 1995.

There is something of an unusual shared kit history between Dundee and the club I support, Rangers, though. Dundee’s traditional colours are similar to the Scottish national team; navy shirts, white shorts, navy socks. Rangers have always played in royal blue jerseys, so in matches between the two, it’s been expected that one would use their change kit to avoid a colour-clash for the sake of the referee, players, and spectators. For the last 50 or 60 years, it hasn’t quite been as simple as that.

Football, as much everything in life is, is cyclical in nature. Fashions come and go. Ideas that seem resolute one decade are dismissed as passé the next. Management of kit-clashes is no different, with new ideas about what’s considered acceptable arising every few years. Up until the advent of the Premier League in 1992, sky-blue-wearing Manchester City and royal-blue-wearing Chelsea would almost always change kits when playing against each other. Then, in the 1990s they wouldn’t. But in the 2000s, they did. And in the 2010s we seem to be back to accepting the ‘soft clash’ of two different shades of blue. This is the Overton window of soft clashes.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the Overton Window, it generally refers to the range of what political ideas society finds acceptable at any point in time; anything outside the window is considered radical. However, what society finds acceptable changes over time, so what our grandparents’ generation might have found ‘unthinkable’ in their youth might be ‘popular’ or ‘policy’ today. Equally, the converse is true. So slavery is abolished, fascism waxes and wanes, gay marriage is legalised.

It’s a trite comparison, but opinions on what constitutes a kit-clash change regularly as well, and it’s here I’d like to expand on the concept of a soft clash. It’s generally understood that if Manchester United were to play Liverpool, as both play in bright red, one side would have to change shirts. I would categorise this as a hard clash. Then there’s the concept of the ‘overall clash’, popularised by Denis at MoJ, where a match of colours can be solved without either shirt needing to be changed, by reducing the overall amount of the clashing shade in either kit.

For example, in the 1987 FA Cup final, Spurs continuing to wear white shorts with their white shirts alleviated confusion with Coventry’s similarly pale shirts, and dark shorts. Mexico versus Ireland at the 1994 World Cup illustrates the perhaps counter-intuitive nature of the theory. Ireland’s away kit was white-green-white, but by wearing the white home shorts, which in theory clashed with Mexico’s white pairs, they reduced the amount of green on their kit and made distinction easier for the viewer.

There are however instances such as Manchester City and Chelsea, as noted above, where each plays in blue, but different shades of blue. Then there are teams wearing claret with blue sleeves against sky blue, orange versus red and blue, yellow against white and so on. A soft clash can’t really be managed by changing shorts or socks, but is tolerated by the sensibilities of the sport at the time – all of these are examples of a current trend for teams to resort to the overall clash phenomenon so they can continue to wear their home kits when it might be better for them to change. They’re not really clashes as such, but you definitely feel an uncomfortable sensation in the middle of your brain while watching a game where the combinations above are fielded.

(Of course, I say this as a rare individual within the kit nerd world; someone that doesn’t mind teams wearing their away and third kits. But that’s another story.)

As noted, the window of when teams should take cognisance of a soft clash changes every few years. Up until the early 1990s, neither Celtic nor Hibernian would change from their first choice green and white when playing each other but nowadays they do. Well, they do when they both remember to not launch three green shirts in a season. Elsewhere in Scotland, Rangers would often play Kilmarnock or Morton without changing, and even into the 2000s there are instances of Dundee United playing Aberdeen’s red and Hearts’ maroon without changing from their customary tangerine.

In researching this piece, I’ve tried to find historic examples of Rangers and Dundee’s approach to colour-management when playing each other, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve heard it said, but I’ve not yet been able to prove it, that until the early 1980s in Scotland the home team changed kit in the event of a clash.  It’s difficult to find much documentary evidence of this being a rule though; up until the mid-70s, teams only played each other twice a season, a lot of photography and television was still black and white, and a more lenient approach to soft clashes mean there’s not a huge amount of evidence readily available.

There’s also the curious case of colour distribution among Scotland’s historical top flight clubs; blue has always been popular, worn by around a third of tier one clubs at any time, perhaps because the national team wear navy. Other than that, the exact shade most clubs wear has been unique to them, and it’s only been the demise of soft clash tolerance over the last three decades, and the switch to the 4x round-robin format that has required teams to change more regularly.

That said, a potted history is as follows; the Gers and the Dee were in the same division for most of the period immediately post-war through to 1976. Thereafter, Dundee became something of a yo-yo side, bouncing between the top flight and the second tier. There are some video examples of pre-1976 matches between the two sides on YouTube, and they do show that the home side tended to change (in the 1964 Scottish Cup final, both wore alternate strips, which was the style at the time).

By the time the two clubs met in 1981, the home side was now switching and that’s more or less how things stayed. Well, mostly…

1988-90

If you’ve read any of my blogs on Rangers kit history, you’ll know that kit controller Jimmy Bell well have alternate socks out faster than you can say ‘bettervisibilityunderfloodlights’. That wasn’t always the case though, with the club only occasionally donning alternate hosiery until the mid-to-late 1990s.

When the club’s fancy new Monaco-inspired away kit was introduced in 1988, it came paired with red socks. As if to illustrate that long lead-in times and lack of forethought are nothing new in the world of football kit design, the only team wearing blue shirts in the Premier League that season also wore red socks. So when the Gers travelled to Dundee in November, they did so with the 1985-88 away socks in the kit hamper.

By the time of the second Dens visit in May 1989, white socks with red tops had been ordered. The following season, the Dees had switched to navy socks.

1993-94

Apparently, sales of Rangers’ classy first adidas Equipment away kit hadn’t been strong, which was thought due to it being too similar to the previous Admiral away kit, so it was decided to do something completely different the following season.

Something completely different ended up being one of the club’s most remarkable strips, for a multitude of reasons. The shirt consisted of orange and navy stripes, which was certainly a departure from the club’s previous change attire, and a bold colourway, before even considering the sociological implications of the colour orange in the West of Scotland.

In my blog on the adidas era at Ibrox, I observed that human eyes focus on different colour wavelengths at different distances – this is part of the science behind the red/green circle test you take at the opticians. It’s also the reason why alternating stripes of equal width can resolve to a different colour from a distance. Take a look at Southampton, or either the Milan sides; on the former’s shirt, the white stripes will appear thicker the farther away it is, while on the latter two the black stripes will appear narrower. It’s this optical illusion that allows the Derby della Madoninna to happen twice a season without everyone’s heads exploding, and explains the logic of Southampton having a red third shirt this campaign.

In the case of Rangers’ 1993 shirt, adidas clearly considered this effect when designing the new kit; while the shirt had blue on it, it was a darker blue than the home shirt and this would be offset by the orange appearing the dominant tone. That was the thinking anyway, and in the first away game of the 1993-94 season, the shirt was worn against St Johnstone’s royal blue with no problems.

Things would be different less than a month later as the Gers made their first trip of the campaign to Dundee. Whether the referee or Dundee made the call is unclear, but the Dee lined up wearing their all-white away kit.

The concern appeared to be there was too much navy on the Rangers shirt, and that’s probably not an unreasonable position to take. The clubs donned the same garb for the second Dens fixture in January, while they lined up in more expected colours for the two Ibrox games; Rangers in blue and Dundee in white.

Curiously, the orange and blue striped shirt was worn in both away games against Raith that season, who played in a navy slightly lighter than Dundee’s, and away against the all-royal blue clad Levski Sofia, all with no problems.

2002-03

Nine years earlier, Dundee had changed when Rangers rocked up wearing a kit too similar in colour to theirs. This time around it was the Dees’ turn to cause sartorial strife.

When they travelled to Ibrox for the second league game of the 2002-03 season, they wore their navy home kit. Rangers, who at that stage were still fairly conservative about such soft clashes, thought, “Eh, no” and changed into their new tangerine away kit. There was something of a strange echo of 1993-94 here, with the Taysiders in a Sampdoria-aping design and the Gers in orange.

Dundee would wear navy at Ibrox again in January, with the home side again changing, this time to white. This arrangement would continue for the three other meetings (twice at Dens and once at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final).

2018-19

There seem to be ever-increasing incidences of clubs releasing kits ahead of the new season that make you think ‘what will they wear when they play X’?

Such was the case last summer when Dundee launched their new home and away strips; the home was all-navy while the away was sky blue with maroon broken hoops. Neither was ideal for matches against Rangers or St Johnstone, I felt.

With no third kit forthcoming (more on that later), Dundee travelled to Ibrox in September having opted to wear their all-navy home kit. As evidence of a softening in their stance to soft clashes, Rangers stuck with their royal blue home kit, but were forced into changing their black first-choice socks for white alternates.

This situation was rectified in the second game at Ibrox, when Dundee paired their third socks with their home shorts and socks.

Their third kit? Yes, the Dee launched a perfectly serviceable white third kit in December, with 10 percent of sales being added to their annual fundraising efforts for their chosen charity partner, the SSAFA, an organisation that offers support to serving and retired members of the Armed Forces. Oddly they decided to give this kit its debut in the December match with Rangers, so the Gers changed, or didn’t change, into their home kit, thus keeping a tradition of at least one of these teams wearing away at home and home away alive.

This first Ibrox game marked the first occasion both teams had worn their home colours, possibly as a result of the resurrection of the Man City-Chelsea soft clash pushing the window of what is currently acceptable. The problem is that Rangers’ home shirt this season seems to be the deepest shade of blue it’s been since the adidas years of the early 90s, and that’s where soft clash tolerance falls down a little.

Denis has written a piece on Hibs and Celtic’s tendency to wind up wearing away kits at home against each other and wondered why this seemed to happen so often in the Scottish top-flight. It may be due to the 4x round-robin nature of the league, where each team plays each other at home and away twice (well, not including after the split, but we won’t go into that here). Therefore, if a particular team does engender a potential clash by an unfortunate seasonal choice of both home and away colours, the likelihood is any awkward management of the clash will be repeated a further three times.

This all could be avoided by more intelligent selection of change colours; knowing exactly who is going to be in the division 12-18 months ahead when kits are entering the design phase isn’t easy, but by and large the 92 percent of the teams in the Scottish Premiership don’t change each season.

Celtic or Hibs should ensure they have an alternate strip that isn’t white or green, and Dundee should have one that isn’t blue (or should actually wear the non-blue one they have). But, of course, there are more lucrative reasons for having kits that seem less than purposeful. Indeed, it does seem entirely likely that both Dundee and Rangers will each wear their primary kit in games against each other for the next few seasons to come.

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