Boro’s Iconic White Band Is Marketing Open Goal

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.


57 thoughts on “Boro’s Iconic White Band Is Marketing Open Goal

  1. Its also a bit Aberdeen, Wrexham, Bristol City lite!

    I agree what we do on the pitch is more important but a first year marketing student could embarrass our marketing department on the importance of Brand identity. What it conveys to me is a small town club with a very localised small town mentality with a belief that they cannot and never will attract interest from areas outside of Teesside. Would Arsenal play in all Red Shirts or Newcastle play in all white shirts with a black pinstripe. Would Real add more colour to their White shirts or Barca play in all blue shirts with red collars and cuffs.

    Arsenal used to play in York City’s old shirts, Leeds didn’t always play in all white nor Liverpool all red, Man City didn’t always have Sky blue shirts but they settled on an identity and stuck with it. A white band (preferably not a sash) or a white yoke differentiates a Boro shirt whether it is on the beach or at Wembley.

    The new shirt looks to me like it was chosen by someone who is not a passionate Boro fanatic or sat in a German Office asking “midleburg who?” and run out of ideas and interest.

    Instead of “Brand identity” they have opted for “Bland identity”. When Mercedes drop their three pointed star, Ford their Oval, Audi their four circles, Coca Cola their font and Michelin their Lee Tomlin then I will happily admit I am wrong about the power and importance of Brand identity.

    I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t ask Grant to wear a Curly perm wig for the photo and a dodgy tache. I just hope they don’t wear it tomorrow night, its a gamble not worth taking.

  2. RR

    Your post did make me chuckle especially the bit about Michelin man!

    We won’t be allowed to play in the new kit tomorrow as all the kits have to be registered with the league at the start of the season so we will stick with the white sash.

    It’s funny how a new kit is so divisive amongs the fans for example the current kit reminds me of international rescue or fireball XL5 crew. Forgive me if half of the bloggers do not know what TV programmes I am rambling on about!

    Looking forward to tomorrow night with hope and expectation but “typically” we have been there before.

    Sorry repeat “believe, believe etc etc

  3. Fat Bob –

    I seem to recall teams in the past playing in their new seasons kit at the end of the previous seasons last game although I could be suffering from sort of dementia. Just not looking forward to supporting a team in red and white stripes with lace trim regardless of which league we are in. Still I suppose we can always chant “are you Forest in disguise” when they have a “Typical Boro” moment.

    The Gazette made me smile when they dug out some “fashion” expert to prop the clubs kits decision up, confirming my thinking and rationale behind the shirt, definitely not a Teessider. Still I didn’t like the sash last year and as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for!

  4. I picked up my new shirt this morning and I quite like it, as AV stats prove Boro historically have worn all red more often than the white chest band or the yoke, even more times than the band, yoke and epaulettes added together. I don’t think that a total red shirt is anymore different to a shirt with a white chest band than a shirt with a white chest band is to a shirt with a white yoke. Each season the shirt will have some change to it otherwise we would all be wearing the same shirt for the last ? years and the club would make very little money from sales.

    Mine will stay on its hanger until next season, this seasons shirt has brought us this far, I see no reason to abandon it now and besides if we get promoted maybe in the future fans will demand a red shirt with a white sash as it was of the great season 2014/15.

    Come on BORO.

  5. Does anybody know if / how I can get coverage in Turkey please (flying out today)? At least my mate will be texting me with updates if I can’t follow the match but even worse, don’t land at Stanny until 16.30 on final day

  6. What happens inside the shirt on the pitch is more important but as AV says you don’t have to fly in the face of what the fans would like.

    Many are not bothered if it is all red or not, they are fans and will buy whatever but if there are a sizeable number who would like some white on the shirt why not latch on to that fact.

    I must admit I am no lover of it, my first thought was Liverpool lite and lo and behold up pops a picture of Souness wearing a Liverpool shirt. When the monstrosity of a badge came along as we rebranded we had the same dumb marketing on the kit, we looked like a poor mans Liverpool.

    Oddly didnt the club fade out of the premiership that season. The white was discarded with the whole of the midfield.

    You can see red and white stripes in the distance and it might be Sunderland or Stoke or Sheff U or even Brentford.

    Black and white stripes could be Toon or Notts County ( I do live in the East Midlands)

    A red shirt could be ManU, Liverpool etc.

    A Boro branded shirt was just that, instantly recognisable.

    A Premiership badge would make it better

  7. I prefer a white chest band, but I’m not going to get worked up about it. In my opinion the white sash from this season is the worst kit we’ve ever had. I cringe every time I see it. It’s the only bad thing about a season that’s been brilliant so far.

  8. No expected return to the white band but still a 100% better than the ‘Miss Boro’ sash offering of this season – plus red shorts instead of white are a must for anyone wanting a child-friendly washable replica kit.

    I also now realise why Tomlin was told to put on weight by the marketing department in order to highlight the slimming nature of pinstripes – plus I liked his long sleeve version he was modelling with that artistic lycra lower blue/grey sleeve – though the photographer probably shouldn’t have said ‘cheese’ when taking the picture as Lee seems to have been distracted and seems to be looking elsewhere.

  9. As a football kit it is OK, nothing more, nothing less. The problem for me with it is that it just isn’t Boro. Not only is it not Boro but it’s drab, bland and anonymous, made a lot worse by the fact that it is red and white stripes and an identikit copy of the Mackem’s current away kit. If I was a Forest fan I would probably love it and therein I suspect lies the real problem!

    A few years ago the club gave the fans a choice of three or four shirts (and even paraded them around the ground at half time at one home game), put pictures in the Gazette and then let the fans vote for their choice. It engaged the fans, it was a good bit of PR, raised interest levels and in the end the shirt selected was the most popular with the fans, great result, win/win.

    Its a shame that on the eve of what is probably the biggest game in the history of the Riverside the club decided to do this. Very poor timing on something that they must have known was going to be a contentious issue (if they genuinely didn’t think that then I’m even more worried about our supposed marketing competence) when more than ever Middlesbrough FC needs unity.

    Would waiting 24 hours (or after Wembley should we be fortunate enough to make it that far) have been that much of a problem. The town is bursting with excitement, the fans are all behind the team and wishing them well, there is a buzz… why on earth would you launch something contentious in the middle of the most exciting 7 days for nigh on 6 years?

    We should be buzzing (no pun intended) about the big game tomorrow night, that should be our sole focus but instead we are blogging about next season’s team Kit. Things can and do transmit even if unintentional. The merest hint or risk of possible negativity should have been banished until after the big event.

    Surely it would have been better to save this kit launch for a quiet spell. The whole thing seems very disconnected in its concept, design and eventual release. “Typical Boro”. Had we just won promotion at Wembley and been promoted then the chances are it would have squirmed under the radar (not that that excuses it). I find it a very bizarre and surreal thing for the club to have done and of course if we get beat then there will be that lingering aftertaste. I dislike the kit that much that for me its almost up there when the FA scuppered our season when they couldn’t wait just a few weeks to talk to McClaren.

    1. By launching today and putting it on general sale on Friday, I suspect that the club is looking maximise the feel good factor around the game and the massive crowd expected.

      I’m sure they are hoping to sell a large number of shirts for tomorrow’s game, and (hopefully) a visit to Wembley.

  10. Design by a committee in my opinion, and my opinion is worth ‘nowt’ anyway.

    What were they thinking about? Whoever designed that shirt should buy some new pencils, hells bells what will the so-called away kit be like, yellow with red trimmings?

    Perhaps they are trying to make it a collectors item after the fans reject it. As steveh says about the Miss World sash that was bad enough, looking like some stuck-on white gaffer tape.

    I guess we’re stuck with it. Disappointing. Please don’t play in it tomorrow.



  11. Steveh –

    I have no great enthusiasm for this season’s kit but it’s far from our worst kit ever.

    I suspect someone from the design dept. involved with next season’s shirt took on board the white band (which I would love to see return) and used the Ramsden’s logo as a signifier in it’s place. From a distance or watching highlights on your phone, that’s what it will look like.

    It’s an interesting solution; by using (as AV says) an existing template this facilities cost and then tweaking with the logo, we create a synergy incorporating contemporary fashion trends, the historical legacy of the Club, customer consumption patterns and minimum production costs.

    That’s what my pitch to Steve Gibson would have been anyway. Now about my fee…

  12. I must admit I don’t like current home kit, with the fiddly strip of white going in a diagonal from the shoulder, and then into the white shorts, then red socks. Just a muddle. But it was popular, and sold well so I know I’m in a minority. And hopefully it will see us through a couple more victories before it gets retired.

    I take the point about branding, but I’ve seen so many strips over the years, and I just think simple is best… I could do without the daft polka-dot trimmings on the new shirt.

    The blue away kit this year looked strong for me – the bands merged into a powerful overall dark blue effect which I like. The all-white kit with red trim was elegant, and again strong visually. We could simply have reversed the red and white from that kit in my view.

    I know it’s similar to Liverpool, but visually an all-red kit, particularly if scarlet, gives a team a powerful presence. And didn’t we lift the Carling Cup in something like that – which have to be the most joyful / memorable pictures of Boro we’ve got.

  13. Scanned the net (as you do) on the hunch that… well! landed in the SportsDirect webpage of football training shirts and low & behold, there was a red Adidas footie training shirt looking not too dissimilar to the ‘new’ Boro one. But here’s the catch-it only costs £11-00. Therefore stick yer badge on from the old shirt and give it to a mate for a prezzie savin yerself £34-00- well sorted.

  14. Funny I was just thinking today that when we get promoted I hope we get our shirt with the white band back, not a white diamond or some other stupid shape and then I saw the new shirt…Horrendous. Seriously did Boro have any input or did Adidas just give it to one of their juniors to come up with something?

    I travel around Asia a lot and wearing my Boro shirt I get people who recognise the white band from our Premier League days and talk to me about Juninho. I have always thought how much of a marketing blunder it is only selling our shirts through the club. As others have mentioned why do we want to look like Liverpool,Forest, Aberdeen or numerous others when we can stand out from the crowd? If you turned on the TV and the Boro were playing you would instantly recognise the shirt. This seasons shirt always makes me think we are off to a polo game.

    Missed opportunity indeed ! Engage with your supporters Boro.

    I am sure those of us in Australia will be up early to watch the game and the team will make us even prouder to be a Boroboy or girl. Good luck and cheer loudly for those of us who can’t be there.

  15. It will make a change, and I’m (heresy) bored with the white band. A bit of rotation won’t hurt, but they should wear the present kit until the playoffs are over.

  16. Some excellent overreactions on here. Is it really that contentious? I’m sure the vast majority of fans couldn’t care less as long as we are winning and it is broadly red and white.

    And I’m happy to be corrected but the fans choosing from a sample of shirts was I’m sure only ever for the away shirts.

    As has previously been mentioned, I’m sure the club thought it would be a positive to put it on sale now, and judging by the number of people buying it, I’d imagine it is a success.

  17. Take a look at what the German National team did with a chest stripe. A subtle difference but it looks very good. The away version would make an excellent choice for the Boro away kit.

  18. It’s so anonymous it looks like you could pick it up from the T-shirt rack and not the replica kit rack.

  19. When the ball hits the net like a big Pizza Pie that’s Amore (bieta).

    Fernando sends the Riverside Caracas!

    1. Bamford rocket blasts Boro to Premier League take-off. Fans break out with ‘Fly me to the Moon’!

      That’s for the 25th of May!


  20. As I said before the shirt isn’t a big issue for me, if 70% are not bothered what the shirt looks like but 30% preferred some form of white band/hoop/sash/shoulder it is silly not to have everyone happy.

    It is which division we wear it in that counts.

      1. Are we near 100 yet, AV? Feels as though I’m steaming diagonally across field, right to left, from right wing to left angle of the opposition 18 yard box- l swivel on me studs and crack in a blinder into the top right angle of the goal, leaving goalkeeper to curse as he collapses in a heap on the turf after forlornly grasping at air as said shot went whistling by him like a veritable ‘thunderbastard’. (l’ll name the Boro player who scored that goal in real life in one – clue it was at Ayresome Park and not at the Holgate End, AV)

      2. As I said before the shirt isn’t a big issue for me, if 70% are not bothered what the shirt looks like but 30% preferred some form of white band/hoop/sash/shoulder it is silly not to have everyone happy.

        It is which division we wear it in that counts.

        Ground hog day it may be but the point is the same, just in different words. It is just like before, thinking the plainish shirt doesnt matter didnt go down well with some before but that this time they wont notice is marketing folly.

        The worrying thing is did they think? Some think the new badge was designed, overpaid who ever did it unless a primary school did it.

        None of this is of much import but as an example of muddled thinking is a concern.

  21. Wow, the shirt. Opinions are like backsides we all have one.

    Me, I like this new shirt, a lot, I have never ever been a fan of the white band variety I was really happy when we played in the red shirt, shorts AND socks and hardly a splash of white……see when it’s all red then you can’t see the blood

    Whack a Premiership Badge on the sleeve and we’re ready to rock and roll

    I’m there tomorrow night just can’t wait and do not expect a typical Boro moment, you know the one; no team a goal down away from home has ever made the final………….


  22. Question- why do l need ‘moderating’? Am l a suspected enemy of the state or is it perhaps my engine ain’t what it use to be and is out of synch or what?

    It’s a disgrace that’s what it is – you allow all and sundry on this blog, even Leeds Utd supporters (coughs and spits), and then you goes and moderates me- I’ve never been so insulted! l mean I’ve never had so much as a yellow card all season- you should look more carefully at that Foreverdormo, born troublemaker that one. Bet he even lives on Broadway East. Born troublemakers they are, well known!


    **AV writes: I think it is probably because you are posting from a new device or IP address. All ‘first time’ posters go into a holding pen. So it you have a flash new tablet or are posting from home rather than work say, it will get detained as suspicious. Forever Dormo once complained about posts going missing and when I checked he was in quarantine because he had spelled his own name wrong. You can’t be too careful.

  23. Can we talk about the match now…

    The best kind of victories are victories like the win at Norwich. Get an early goal and then defend it with your life. Backs to the wall, all hands to the pumps, throwing bodies in the way of every shot, taclkes flying in everywhere, goalie having a worldie, shots against the post and bar, hanging on by the skin of your teeth, come on Ref blow your whistle, 7 MINUTES!? where did he get that from? And then the relief, the euphoria, the joy, the celebrations….

    That is exactly the kind of game I do not want tomorrow. Acouple of early goals please and then a hour of singing wembley here we come. That’ll do me. It’s better for my heart.

  24. I understand we have the dubious pleasure of Lee Mason tomorrow night as the man in the middle. Those of you of a passionate Boro persuasion (and with the acumen to have an independent opinion) will no doubt remember the Aliadierre/Liverpool/Mascherano sending off from a few seasons ago after Mascherano had grabbed Aliadierre’s face and the ensuing farce when we appealed.

    The rest of you will be oblivious to the history in your shiny new Forestpool shirts.

  25. Your thoughts and well worded blog shares the thoughts and ideals of us , the not so silent majority!!

    In the end I prefer it to the captain Scarlett or thunderbirds kit we are wearing at the moment.

    I would also prefer white shorts with it and it so reminds me of the Liverpool kit I hope we can emulate the success that they achieved whilst wearing similar…

    It goes to say you can’t please all the people All of the time but hey Boro might do that tomorrow night and on the 25th.


  26. Hope this talk about Boro being cloggers and dirty doesn’t affect ref tomorrow anybody know who it is?


  27. Coincidentally there is an article in today’s Guardian about the importance of kit design and the correlation between classic kit design and successful teams.

  28. Don’t know why there is such an uproar over the new kit design!

    These days the shirt has a life span of nine months before a new one is churned out,you barely have time to get used to it,there are only so many variations of red and a little white that designers an come up with.

    Personally anything is an improvement on this seasons “Thunderbird” shirt.

    The club could produce anything and fans will buy it,a replica shirt is a must have item these days!!

  29. Wow! It seems that both the sash and the polka dot have some historical authenticity – thanks to Werner Heisenberg for the links.

    I didn’t want to go into teenage angst, but the first time I remember the white band was on a Jack Charlton team. Suddenly our red shirt had a naff white band all the way round it, and the players’ numbers were in tiny black numerals squeezed inside the width of the band, which were almost impossible to read. My world fell in! Our proud red shirt turned into a laughing stock! And I couldn’t help wondering if this creeping whiteness was a cunning plan by Big Jack to Leedsify the kit. Not long afterwards we got white socks, but Big Jack stepped down before the process could reach its logical conclusion.… (none of which tongue-in-cheek comments detracts from my massive respect and gratitude to Big Jack for what he did at the club.)

    Whoa! Just read on Wikipedia that there actually was an attempt to change to an all-white home shirt – does anyone remember this?

    Having said all this, it’s a good call by grovehillwallah, the Germany shirt does look stylish and I could live with it much better than some of the versions we’ve had.

    On the subject of the game, it sounds as if the Brentford guys think we are ‘bitty’, not that good, over-celebrate when scoring, and that they are coming to dominate us and put the record straight. Hopefully AK will be mentioning their comments in his pre-match team talk.

    Big night, big stakes. The bigger the stakes, the bigger the joy…

  30. Will we run out in the shirt that has seen us have a tremendous home run or will it be the shirt we hope will start in the premiership.

    At last the day of the match.

    Just to finish with a postscript on the election that made me chuckle, I heard someone ask Harriet Harman where the Ed Stone was, no one is owning up to its whereabouts. One wag suggested the leadership should decided by an Indiana Jones type competition, I suppose ‘Search for the Edstone’ would be a good name, with the finder becoming leader.

    1. Fortunately or unfortunately ‘the stone’ turned out to be a) a gimmick b) his and Labour’s tombstone – you couldn’t make it up.
      What’s worse 10 years of Tories or 5 years of champaigne Charlie socialists? It beggars belief & l ain’t laughing – gone is any hope there’ll be supporter representation on the boards of any significant football club in England or the UK for that matter. Sackcloth and ashes- if we all close our eyes we can pretend it’s not happening.

      1. Spartak

        When push came to shove the luvvies in the labour party don’t care anymore about football than the Tories. Any sensible policy is get the votes then in to the long grass with it.

      2. PPS

        I did hear they were going to make a programme with Anneka Rice as the presenter called ‘Search for the Ed Stone’. Each candidate with their campaign team would compete for the prize.

        Even a rumour that EA Sports were developing a game for Xbox and PlayStation. I could just see Vic junior nagging dad for a copy.

  31. Something I forgot to mention, following on from complaints about over celebration from the Bee’s and Aitor’s comments about team spirit have a look at the highlights if you can from the Brentford match.

    At the end of the game there is a clip of I’m was Kalas with a huge smile, bedecked in his Boro tracksuit coming out of the off pitch huddle to shake Aitor’s hand.

    Fair play to the lad, not on our books, not on our payroll, loan ended.

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