England’s new shirt, to be worn during this summer’s European Championship, drops on February 29. The new shirt’s arrival angers some supporters who feel compelled to replace their current shirt, worn by England for all of eight matches, while outraged all the same by the price and greed of it all.
The current shirt’s short reign is of no bother. Only the players have to wear them. One would think England supporters would be happy to make a clean visual break with the Fabio Capello era, but those upset about it have two choices: Either suck it up, gut as well, and pay Umbro the £55 pounds sight unseen, or, well, don’t buy it and save us the whinging.
The FA’s policy is to change the shirts every 18 months. My own cherished England shirt, the white one with the vertical red stripe worn by David Beckham as he throttled that free kick against Greece, even came with an expiration date – St. George’s Day 2003 – sewed on. Despite this claimed expiration, the shirt still fits and I still wear it. And it’s not as if each new kit release is an aesthetic revolution. A few stripes here, some flair over the armpits there, some candy-coloured subtle crosses strewn about like the shake from a bag of Thai curry crisps, really it’s all broadly the same so long as there are three lions over the heart. Most nations don’t vary their design very much from shirt to shirt, Brazil’s new one just thickens the sleeves’ green cuffs, thus seemingly negating the need to buy each new iteration.
But logic and fanaticism see eye-to-eye about as well as Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra. Only the irrational loyalty that defines the modern football fan could explain the millions spent on pricey new shirts every season and the clearance racks filled with last year’s forlorn model. And as football fanatics we tend to blame the sport’s tendency to suck every last dollar and pound from our pockets on outside, malevolent forces when the fault for escalating ticket prices, kits and pay-tv lies with the fan in the mirror.
It’s not always greedy to take advantage of demand. Greed is withholding available medicine from the sick, greed is not charging whatever the market will bear for shirts made of uncomfortable meshy fabric that only accentuate our non-athletic bodies. Football shirts are luxury items. Complaining about their cost or constant redesign is like eating a Hawksmoor ribeye or a Peter Luger porterhouse every night and then bellyaching about the bill or having to buy looser slacks.