BORO’S new shirt is red. With a Liverpool/Forest/Aberdeen retro eighties echo pinstripe and polka dot lace effect collar and trim … but let’s put the fashionista design considerations to one side for a moment.
I don’t mind it. Even if you instinctively think there is something missing, that it feels alien and there should be an eye-catching white flourish somewhere, we’ll soon get used to it, most diehard supporters will by it irrespective of design, manufacturer or price. And some clearly love it already and queued to buy it so they could be the first on their block. And what ever your opinion and it’ll look much better with Premier League badges on.
And generally I find it hard to get in a froth over a new shirt so long as it isn’t an historic aberration – and this isn’t. Historically Boro have worn plain red far more often than they have the “traditional” white band: in 53 of 108 seasons compared to 15 with a band or even the 28 – mainly between the wars – with dashing epaulettes, or shoulders and another nine with a yoke or swirl or sash or some other neat flourish.
The breakdown of designs over 108 years of league football
But there are other important factors that should be considered and every time the shirt is plain red it feels like a marketing own goal.
Branding is the key to success in the cut-throat modern marketplace. Ask any switched-on businessman in any field from fashion to football and they will tell you the power of a product to be instantly recognised among its rivals in a hectic hard-sell shop front scrum is paramount to on-going success and expansion.
The ability of a simple, unique visual device to stamp an image in the sub-conscious is key to winning the battle for the hearts and minds. A distinct logo helps build an identity, develop loyalty from existing customers and entice new ones. It allows ‘synergy’ the cross promotion of a wide range of products that can be instantly identified as part of the brand.
That’s why companies pay slick spin-doctors and image consultants fortunes in a bid to replicate the almost mystical global market pulling power of the three stripes, the swoosh or the arches.
So it has always left me slightly bemused – and slightly deflated – when a company has just such a visible and recognisable device on their hands they should fail to maximise its branding potential. Boro have just that: our Above Average White Band – or a flourish of some sort on a red shirt – and they have parked it.
When Boro are plain red they are just that – plain. It is an off the peg manufactures template: it a Southamptonkits from two years ago and also available in blue as Sunderland’s away kit.
With a plain red shirt Boro enter an identikit division of teams that blend into the background… although the red shorts mitigate that a bit this time round.
For some it will be a return to tradition. There has been resistance from high up in the club in the past to the popular clamour for the white band. There is an argument that Boro DO wear plain red calculated by the number of seasons.
But measured by media and market recognition, supporters’ self-identity, media recognition and branding the plain red is an own goal.
The band – although historically not the most frequently used – is the one most vividly associated with the club by the majority of supporters. Red hot iron, white hot steel. It is a symbolic colour scheme to unite the Teesside crowd. Every straw poll throws up the same response: the fans favoured home strip design is one with a white chest band.
In last “best shirt poll we did at the Gazette the Charlton era chest band came top with three other banded styles following and the white Heritage Hampers yoke before a plain red shirt popped up in the listings. That’s not scientific but it is a powerful indicator of where’s supporters’ feelings are on this issue. And that is marketing gold dust.
A gallery of greats: Boro recent shirt selections. Which ones stand out?
The most-wanted away strip is harder to call as there is not such an obvious historic emotional template but generally the old blue and black stripes has the edge – although second strips are different and a maverick departure is easily accepted (that white with blue tyre track cross from 1996-97 for instance).
Maybe there is an element of rose-tinted nostalgia involved in a design that echoes Charlton’s Champions, promotions and European campaigns – but sentiment is a powerful marketing tool.
But so is a striking simple design in a vibrant colour combination. It is easy to adapt to modern marketing needs – and not just on shirts. Look around the stadium, the family zone, the club shop, the tunnel. The white band is everywhere.
The red shirt with a white band is a unique ensemble in English football that is instantly recognisable across the country. And beyond. The design is simple. And that’s a good thing. A child could reproduce it accurately and quickly and it would not just be a proud parent that could approvingly identify the subject matter. Look here’s one I knocked up yesterday in five minutes flat. How hard can it be?
A shirt with a white band or similar striking splash stands out proudly from the crowd – and from a distance. Even in grainy black and white tabloid pictures from the past the design leaps from the page and the heart swells.
With the band, or yoke or even sash, Boro are definitely not just another sub-Liverpool wannabee. Wearing an ersatz Anfield ensemble or mock Man U mode, they could just as easily be a nondescript Barnsley or Charlton or Bristol City.
Perhaps more crucially, in a world increasingly driven by the bottom line, the design is easily co-opted in other arenas. It has easily been adapted by MFC Retail in shifting mugs, flags and leisure wear to boost income.
The image of the white chest band is burned indelibly into the psyche of their potential local customer base as being symbolic of success. The band harnesses the cultural power of Big Jack. The bib or yoke echoes the Rioch revival and the escape from liquidation and Wembley for the first time in the ZDS Cup final. The band was reworked for the first time in 1998 for the Magic Merson promotion/Coca Cola Cup final campaign. And it was the uniform of success as Boro stormed Europe and reached the UEFA Cup final.
It is a striking image. It IS Boro. Marketing men couldn’t ask for better raw material to work with. Or shirt designers. And to be fair, Boro have done well in recent years on that score. Since 2007-08 there have been bands, swirls, yokes and a sash on the shirts. They have all ticked the right branding boxes.
This year Boro have reverted to plain red. I’m not outraged by it. I don’t think it is an insult to our history. And I’m not one of the catwalk cognescenti so have no opinion on on the design, fabric, collar shape or width of the pinstripes.
But it is a disappointing and frustrating that such a powerful and evocative image – and subliminal branding tool – has been set aside so casually.