So another season has arrived and another replica shirt has left fans £65 lighter.
Not that I would complain too loudly, as consumers set the market and allow the club to get away with an overpriced garment made of cheap polyester.
Nevertheless, it’s a reminder, if it were ever needed, that we all belong to the same extended family and have a need to display our devotion.
The environs of Westfield Stratford are dotted with fans wearing the new home shirt, who’ve apparently wasted no time in acquiring essential equipment for the season ahead. That’s reasonable evidence the new shirt is rated among some fans.
The operative word here is ‘some’. The reaction of others to the new shirt has been scathing in some quarters.
It has been called an ‘abomination’ and ‘undoubtedly the worst Hammers shirt of all time’. I’m no fan of modern football shirts; they’re poorly manufactured and look more like Formula 1 racing jackets with logos plastered in every conceivable space. But even I would say these comments are a bit harsh.
In all fairness it is one of Umbro’s better efforts. The home shirt has discarded the traditional blue sleeves for a design that is essentially claret with blue and white flashes on the shoulders.
With a round collar it doesn’t actually look like a football shirt, more a training top or even a casual top to match with jeans.
Yes, they still have high street fashion on the agenda. The design has actually been copied from the Bukta shirt used from 1991-1993.
For those old enough to remember, it was the shirt that carried sponsorship for BAC Windows and Dagenham Motors. The shirt from 1991 has a white button down collar, but aside from that it’s basically the same design.
If anyone’s into omens, we were relegated wearing this shirt. It was the season before the Premier League launched, but at least we won promotion the following season.
The new away shirt also has an air of familiarity about it. A navy blue mix with pink, blue and white trim on the sleeves is a straight copy of the away shirt used in the 2017/18 season.
Last season’s third kit is effectively the same design with a crafty tweak of the sleeve trim. It’s also a close relative of the 2016 Thames Ironworks shirt, which is distinguished only by its Union Jack and collar.
Ploy to sell
It really is difficult to tell the difference between these shirts, and is a barely disguised ploy to sell fans the same shirt season after season.
But again we are willingly exploited by the club we love. Fans will strive to collect every edition in much the same way they collect programmes.
Comparing the new shirts with previous editions is much of a muchness. Football shirts are naturally retro and designers will always look back for inspiration.
Last season’s home kit, for example, was very similar to the Fila shirt of the late 90s. While the home shirt for 2019/20 was a dreadful rehash of the iconic Admiral kit from the mid-70s.
A number of fans lamented the missing pale blue sleeves from the new kit; which they believe is not a home shirt without it.
I have sympathy with this view as the greatest Hammers shirts have invariably carried this feature.
However, some of my favourite kits actually omitted the pale blue sleeves. Adidas have periodically held the shirt contract with West Ham and never disappointed with their unmistakable motifs.
In 1985/86 they produced a shirt with striped v-neck and feint blue horizontal pinstripes. It didn’t please everyone, but with the sponsor’s logo discreetly set on the chest it became a classic.
It also coincided with West Ham’s highest ever finish in the top tier which only adds to its lustre.
My all-time favourite kit predictably comes from the pre-sponsorship era. In 1975 Bukta produced a special kit for the FA Cup Final. It was the traditional colour scheme with pale blue sleeves.
The finishing touch was the badge, rightly restored to the shirt after an eight-year absence. The shirt marked our first cup final win in 11 years, and was used for a memorable European campaign the following season.
A close second would have to be the Admiral kit with its snazzy chevron mix introduced in 1976.
An excellent reference point for club shirts are the ‘True Colours’ books authored by John Devlin in the mid-noughties.
He pictorially represented all kits worn by Premier League clubs during the shirt sponsorship era. The book hasn’t been updated since 2006 and I wonder how large that publication might be now, particularly as clubs can change strips every season.
Being a football fan isn’t a cheap business nowadays. Perhaps we should rewrite our song to ‘I’m forever buying replica shirts’?