By Jim Hearson
- This article is inspired by Football Shirt Friday, which takes place today, November 19 – see here for more
Football shirts matter – and not just to kit fans like us. They commemorate shared experiences – the ecstasy of those highs, the agony of those lows – they represent where we’re from and who we identify with, and – more often than not – they’re brightly coloured and eye-catching.
So it’s not really a surprise when their power is utilised for days like Cancer Research UK’s Football Shirt Friday, which has been raising money for the Bobby Moore Fund for years, with the money being used to research and battle against bowel cancer, the second most deadly type in the UK.
They’re not alone in realising the draw of the football shirt, of course. They’ve been used to raise awareness for other kinds of cancer, too – who could fail to look forward to the latest sausage-themed effort from Heck-sponsored Bedale AFC?
What was met by derision five years ago when the first meaty number was unveiled has grown into a behemoth that people look out for each season – great news for Prostate Cancer UK, which is featured on the shirts and gets a portion of the proceeds. They’ve gone further this year with a see-through effort that replaces Heck with ‘check’ and downwards pointing arrows to encourage more men to look out for the signs of both prostate and testicular cancer.
While Bedale have moved on from pink kits, the colour has remained de rigueur for other teams that are raising awareness for breast cancer – and there are a lot of them, all over the world. They’re often worn during the awareness month in October, with Charly and Puma fitting out their teams in Mexico, and adidas and Umbro doing the same in Brazil. In England, West Ham Women went from claret to fuchsia for the entirety of October 2019, while Derby adopted the shade for their third kit the following year.
In Spain, Rayo Vallecano not only came up with a cancer-awareness shirt in 2015, but also one for the LGBT+ community. In recent years, football has been moving towards removing sexuality- and gender-based barriers and that’s been further reflected in the kits that have been worn.
I wrote about a few of them a couple of years back, but since then, Stuttgart – whose CEO is Thomas Hitzlsperger – added the extra colours of the spectrum to their red band this year, while Kappa did a similar trick for Vasco da Gama, changing their black sash to a rainbow too.
Some teams haven’t gone the whole hog, deciding only to go with kits that are worn in the warm-up, which is fine, but how many people really see them? Fans who get to stadiums early and people like us who ready about kits – not the millions you’d get actually watching a game. Still, kudos to Forward Madison, Adidas for their annual MLS Pride range and Hummel, who have recognised many different identities for some of their teams this year.
From all of the colours to just two – black and white. The scourge of racism has continually raised its ugly head over the years, but at least now, it feels like there’s a concerted effort to tackle it, with consistent messaging, knee-taking and pressure being applied to social media companies that many feel could be doing more.
Coventry’s 2019 third kit commemorated two tone music, which in itself was seen as a resistance to racist sentiment in the 70s and 80s, while who can forget Nike’s Stand Up Speak Up campaign in 2005, that blessed us with iconic black-and-white halved shirts for the Netherlands, Portugal and Russia, as previously featured on this very website.
I’m sure many of you have been going through this, nodding sagely and thinking ‘ah yeah, I remember that’, but possibly wondering how much penetration these shirts and campaigns have beyond the kit community.
Well, as the furore over the EPL’s resistance to Shelter’s #NoHomeKit request has shown, there are plenty of good-hearted people who like the idea of using football shirts to champion progressive causes like those mentioned here. Of course, there’s the other side of the coin too – gammons frothing at the mouth because of dragging ‘politics’ into football (we won’t mention the annual poppy debate). Whether they like to admit it or not, kits matter to them, they matter to us – they matter to us all.