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Soup of This Day #210: With The Boys From The Mersey

July 10, 2012

Robert Gibb's 'The Thin Red Line'
At the Crimean War’s Battle of Balaclava in 1853 a thin line, just 2 men deep and comprised largely of men of the Sutherland Highlanders, was all that stood between a Russian cavalry charge and the vulnerable British depot. The line was so thin that: a. The Russian commander became convinced that it was a ruse and withdrew after just 3 withering vollies from the implacable Scots; and b. William H. Russell of The Times, viewing the engagement at some distance could barely make out a ‘thin red streak tipped with a line of steel’ – This then popularly became what Kipling called the ‘thin red line of ‘eroes’, that was all that separated the British from their enemies – Image: Robert Gibb, 1881. Robert Gibb is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Sporting teams, like armies, wear uniforms. For both, they allow easy identification on the field of battle and they create a sense of belonging for the wearers. Each member of the unit is part of a greater whole – Failure is diluted amongst the collective while success is shared by all.

A uniform is in essence a wearable flag, engendering similar emotions to that token of cloth. Flags embrace, encourage and invite – Become 1 of us, they proclaim. In some cases membership is even automatic – You were born here? Yes. Then this is your flag.

Uniforms are less inclusive. They indicate a clique – Become 1 of us for we are special, they cry. Yet even as they recruit, their honour is cherished and closely guarded. Uniforms might invite into a collective but they also are set as a point of difference. When King Hal spoke to his men before Agincourt (as he surely did in 1415 as his fictional counterpart did in Shapespeare’s Henry the V, although possibly not as eloquently) it was to solidify membership of a very exclusive band. Were you there? asked countrymen when the victorious returned to England. Greater therefore was the victory for the few, their simple uniforms a passport to acclaim.

Uniforms too can serve as a warning – Presenting a sight so fearsome that they terrify opponents at the merest sight, convincing them to cede the territory in play before the battle has even kicked off. The British Army used this effect for some centuries, deploying men in red, often in inferior numbers. The thin red line might have earned it’s sobriquet at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 but in actuality it had served Great Britain for some time before and would go on to serve for some time more, at least until the exigencies of modern war replaced it with clothing that made the wearer difficult to see and consequently shoot.

And that is where sporting uniforms diverge from their modern military counterparts – Modern sporting attire must be highly visible – In the fast paced cut and thrust of a football game you need to be able to quickly identify friend from foe and often against the backdrop of a multi-hued crowd. Which is ok because while we often associate a sporting contest with a battle, it’s not really the same thing – Your opposition tends not to shoot at you on the football pitch.

At least not if they’re playing it right.

So a sporting uniform is free to take whatever colours best suit. For Liverpool FC, for the 1st 4 years of their existence, the colours that best suited were blue and white. This was slightly confusing as neighbours and arch-rivals Everton also played in blue so in 1896 the Anfield club switched to a red top, white shorts and red socks – Red being the colour of Liverpool, the city. This was to prove a more resilient combination, surviving largely untouched for 68 years.

But then came December of 1965 and Liverpool FC had a European Cup tie against Belgium’s Anderlecht. Manager Bill Shankly was seeking an edge and so proposed sending his lads out at Anfield in something a little different, a little more intimidating. The final product is best explained by Liverpool’s then centre-forward, Ian St John:

‘He [Shankly] thought the colour scheme would carry psychological impact—red for danger, red for power. He came into the dressing room one day and threw a pair of red shorts to Ronnie Yeats. “Get into those shorts and let’s see how you look”, he said. “Christ, Ronnie, you look awesome, terrifying. You look 7ft tall.” “Why not go the whole hog, boss?” I suggested. “Why not wear red socks? Let’s go out all in red.” Shankly approved and an iconic kit was born.’

For the record Yeats was 6ft 2in so obviously the new kit was quite effective. And as it happened the result on the pitch similarly reached new heights – Liverpool went on to beat Anderlecht in that Anfield stoush 3-0, winning the tie 4-0 on aggregate, although it’s debatable as to whether that was more about the playing personnel or the change of shorts. The uniform might be intimidating but not half as much as the men wearing it.

Particularly if they play rugby for New Zealand. The All Blacks sport formidable attire – A pitch-black strip from jersey, through shorts and socks, it ironically pales in comparison to the might of the men who wear it. Just ask Ireland, who as recently as June of this year toured the southern nation, enduring a 3-test series against the reigning world champs.

It didn’t start well for Ireland – In the 1st Test they were outplayed to the tune of a 42-10 beating. Still, the Irish are no mugs and in the 2nd Test they came within a whisker of a stirring upset, going down by a penalty, 22-19. The closeness of that contest raised Irish hopes. Hooker Rory Best went so far as to suggest, ‘if [we] can show improvement over the next week, like [we] did in the past seven days, [we] will have a good chance of breaking [our] duck against the All Blacks in Hamilton.’

No you won’t Rory. You really won’t.

Sadly for Rory and Co., their New Zealand duck remained steadfastly unbroken, without so much as a scratch on it. In fact the duck, seemingly a bit miffed at being run so close the week before, put on a black jersey and assisted New Zealand in pounding the Irish into oblivion 60-0.

Yep, Ireland failed to score.

I could make some allusions to a thin black line but the truth of the matter is that: a. The All Black line was not so thin, being comprised of several tons of pissed off New Zealanders; and b. The All Blacks could have worn yellow and pink polka dots and they still would have annihilated any other rugby side with the temerity to step onto the pitch with them.

New Zealand’s helpfully pointed out afterward that, ‘a lack of ball control hurt Ireland’ and that, ‘any opportunities to mount attacks were thwarted either by a strong line defence or multiple handling errors.’ They also suggested that, ‘tackling was also an issue for the Irish.’

No @#$% Sherlock – They lost 60-0 and someone spotted that tackling was an issue? You could actually break it down to something a bit more simple – Playing rugby against a bunch of guys dressed in black jerseys, black shorts and black socks was the issue. There’s a generation of Irish rugby players who will be having nightmares about that clothing combo for some time to come.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post – Liverpool have just revealed their brand new 3rd kit. A 3rd kit is a bit of a chance for invention. The 1st kit, aka the home kit, is the powerful all-red outfit that is for Anfield matches and other fixtures where red does not pose a clash. The 2nd kit is generally referred to as the away strip – It is the predominant uniform for matches away from Anfield and as such it will always be of a colour that is markedly different from red – For the next season it is black and grey.

It’s not all black. It’s important to mention that. Please don’t hurt my football team New Zealand – We come in pieces.

The 3rd kit is for European ties, if your club has them, and for those rare occasions that your team’s home and away kits clash with your opponent – For instance if Liverpool were to play someone who has red and black stripes. Therefore this extra uniform will usually be markedly different – White perhaps, or yellow.

Or nightshade.

That might look dark purple but apparently it’s nightshade.

Is nightshade even a proper colour? It is a family of plants – The nightshade family is also known as the potato family. Because it contains potatoes. Which are a lovely vegetable in almost all forms and now are represented by Liverpool’s 3rd strip.

It’s not quite as intimidating as you’d think. I think I’ll make mine an all-red 1 thanks – I could do with the extra height.

With The Boys From The Mersey

  1. I have been dismayed at all the alternate uniforms everyone is wearing these days in all sports. Even the throwback ones have gotten out of hand. Too many and too often. All for cash, as the most rabid fans need to have one of each. One home, one away uniform and maybe once or twice a year where something honoring years gone by is worn. Not a uniform with 150 different ways to wear it (a la Oregon’s football program). They only have a dozen or so games a year. No need to have 150 possible looks. Ah, tradition. It dies hard.

    • It has got ridiculous -And I figured that before I read your note on Oregon. The big clubs in the EPL now do 3 uniforms with some, such as Man U doing 5. These are cycled over every 1 or 2 years and the average fan just can’t keep up with that – Not at $130 a pop for a Liverpool fan in Australia. Worse – In England as for here, teams plaster sponsors names over the replica kits. This means that not only would I have to pay my $130 but it is for the right to act as a mobile billboard for Standard and Chartered. That’s not for me. I’m afraid the nightshade number will have to remain on a hanger in the club shop where I’m concerned – I’ll wear 1 of my old shirts and wave 1 of my old scarves, all the while being the same loyal fan I’ve always been.

      Just googled them and Oregon has more uniforms for their football players than for their cheerleaders. That’s a little bit weird.

      • Yes, in Oregon’s case their athletic program is essentially funded by Nike, so you would expect some cutting edge designs…but not so many versions they could never wear them all in a dozen seasons. Sounds like the EPL is slowly moving towards baseball…different uni for each day of the week it seems.

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  1. Soup of This Day #321: I Know You Ain’t The One To Play The Game | Longworth72

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