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Soup of This Day #370: Shine Like It Does

April 14, 2014

Saint George
Saint George 1-on-1 with the dragon. The dragon is clearly offside, having got in behind the last defender, however it appears as if Saint George is stabbing the fiery lizard with a corner flag so let’s just call that play on then – Image: Paolo Uccello, c1460. We think Paolo Uccello is not affiliated with Longworth72 but can’t be sure. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Sportswear giant Nike recently revealed the kits that the England football team will wear when playing in this year’s World Cup. The launch was a little mired in controversy, mostly because the replica jerseys will retail for a relatively expensive £90 (A$160).

90 English pounds is a large sum for the average fan who seeks to don the same cloth as their heroes and thus participate in the England World Cup experience. That cost is particularly egregious, the cynics will claim, given that the England World Cup experience will inevitably end in a penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

Sure, Nike do offer a low-fi ‘Stadium’ version at a reduced price of £60 (A$100). It’s made from recycled plastic water bottles and wicks away sweat and spilled beer like an industrial extraction fan. It looks like the real deal, but while the ‘Stadium’ jersey has the same basic construction, it does not have the same level of technology as the authentic model – Missing out on the aerodynamic fit, laser cut ventilation holes and something called ATOM fabric. All of this means that the authentic kit is lighter and more comfortable than the ‘Stadium’ model, plus it has boosted ‘moisture management’. Which I think means that you can urinate on this bad boy and you’ll end up dry, smelling of cut grass and winning.

And that’s just the physical tech – There’s also the intangible vibe – The ethos behind the authentic playing kit for instance is not necessarily born out in the ‘Stadium’ version. The former has within it’s strands a calling that is much loftier than that held by your average fan.

‘You can see subtle references to the armour in the pinstripe, which carries a hint of shine, and the white satin tape on the shoulders. We wanted to add some small detail that echoed the glow of the armour worn by St George.’

Which is noble.

Saint George is the patron saint of England – His cross motif adorns the English flag. According to the popular legend, this knight was on his way home from the Crusades whence he came upon a princess who had been offered up to a dragon as sacrifice in a deal designed to secure water rights. The maiden was apparently used in lieu of a sheep.

It’s not clear if there were no sheep available or wether the locals valued their sheep more than their princess.

Fortunately for the latter lass, George was a decent sort and so took pity upon her – He engaged the dragon in a match, slayed it good and proper, and thus was able to free the princess and her community from being beholden to said dragon from there on in. In gratitude and recognition of their rescuer’s faith, they all had a tall glass of cool water and then took up Christianity.

Here at, I try to respect all beliefs and those that hold to them.

Except for folk who hold that the moon landings were faked – That belief is irredeemably stupid. In the case of Saint George though, I’m willing to accept the whole, George-killed-a-dragon premise as viable. There was a dragon and it was set to eat a maiden. George was a brave knight and he fought and killed the dragon. Good for George (And the maiden, who by all accounts was admirably stoic throughout her ordeal). I am down with all of this.

I’m not so sure about a football shirt echoing any of this though. Football does not feature actual dragons. There are, it’s true, sometimes dragon mascots, but those are, and this bit is crucial to our understanding of what constitutes a dragon vis-à-vis the Saint George incident, typically just people dressed up as dragons. Actual dragons of the fire-breathing, maiden-consuming type are not with us any more, except in the imaginations of the same people who believe that the moon landing was faked.

Sadly for the latter, there is no evidence that the moon landings were faked and, since the initial codification of Association football back in 1863, there have been no recorded instances of dragons needing to be slain. So the England football team will likely not need to slay a dragon. It is likely that they will not need to rescue a maiden either – I suspect that local security forces will be tasked with that should such interventions be required. Instead, the England team will need to just play football and as part of this endeavour will need to wear appropriate kit.

For sure, there’s nothing inappropriate in kit that has been inspired by Saint George, but I figured that the £90 is a fairly steep price to pay and so I’ve decided to take a look at this from another angle in order to determine if the cost is justified for a fan – The England football team are paying homage via their kit to Saint George but would the kit of Saint George have paid knightly homage to football?

It might seem like that question has an obvious answer, however a deeper look reveals a conundrum that is as opaque as a knight’s shield. There is for instance, no distinct provision for the wearing of plate armour in football, but neither is it explicitly prohibited. FIFA’s laws simply state that players are required to wear basic equipment, including:

‘…a jersey or shirt.’

Saint George most likely wore a cloth surcoat over his armour. This practice had become more common during the Crusades as it helped the armour to remain cooler under the hot sun. A surcoat is a fairly good approximation of a simple jersey – But is it too simple? FIFA tell us that, for playing footabll:

‘Jerseys or shirts must have sleeves.’

Surcoats could have sleeves or be sleeveless. Let’s go ahead and assume that Saint George’s 1 had sleeves. Even if he hadn’t then it would be a trivial matter to have 1 of the serving wenches sew some on so this is the least of our saintly George’s problems with the surcoat. Of greater import is that FIFA does say that:

‘The basic compulsory equipment must not contain any political, religious or personal statements.’

St George was returning from a Crusade and so likely wore a cross emblazoned upon his surcoat. This is a a little bit political and a whole lot religious. And given the whole ideological premise of the Crusades, he was unlikely to take kindly to a referee insisting on the removal of a symbol of faith. Still, should he have really wanted to play football, he could have acceded to this requirement by simply slipping on another, plainer, surcoat.

He would need to make sure that whatever surcoat he wore, it wasn’t what the kids today call a ‘onesie’, because that would look daft and FIFA reckon that:

‘A one-piece playing suit in place of a shirt and shorts is not permitted.’

This could be a tricky criteria to meet, especially if we look under the surcoat and at the armour – Technically Saint George would have been wearing armour of many different components, and although the whole might be described as a ‘suit’ I think though that we can say that it is not of a single piece.

Which leaves us with the nub of the issues facing Saint George – Even if FIFA says it’s ok, why would anybody want to wear a full suit of dragon-proof armour in a game of football? The laws of the game do provide a possible answer:

‘A player may use equipment other than the basic equipment provided that it’s sole purpose is to protect him physically and it poses no danger to him or any other player.’

A suit of armour, as worn by Saint George would be necessarily protective, given the proximity of a fired-up dragon. But in wearing this protection, is St George endangering other players? Or himself?

Probably not. And yes.

The latter is because Saint George would be undoubtedly be putting his body under extreme stress. English scientists conducted a study in 2011, in which they determined that a full suit of armour would mean that the wearer:

‘…used high levels of energy, bore immense weight on their legs and suffered from restricted breathing.’

Saint George would probably not harm any other player because, a. He couldn’t feasibly run fast enough to catch them and, b. He’d have keeled over from exhaustion anyway.

Saint George’s kit then, is not for football. Football is about running around and kicking a ball. FIFA’s laws are simple because football is simple.

A last thought – Somewhat fittingly the average weight of the armour that was tested in that study was 90 pounds. Let’s call that 90 pounds, the cost of fighting a dragon. £90 though, is too heavy to be the cost of supporting your national football team, particularly as they lose in a penalty shoot-out to Italy.

Whose jersey apparently massages the wearer throughout the game. Wonder which saint they got that idea from?

Shine Like It Does

  1. For whatever reason growing up I was a fan of the Netherlands in international play. I believe it was because of their orange unis. They caught my eye as a youngster and as I read more about the country it seemed like a nice fit…especially since the US at that time was totally irrelevant in football. Saint George’s apparel line does not sound like it would sell well in the US. We like our uniforms sleek and stylish…and highly functional for physical activity.

    • By coincidence, the Netherlands were also my default World Cup team in the absence of Australia – I have some Dutch heritage, thought they were entertaining and they did have a decent kit.

      US teams do by-and-large do good uniforms – I particularly like the absence of sponsors on jerseys – It makes it seem like it is all about the sport. It’s interesting that at the 1950 World Cup, the US team beat England 1-0 in 1 of the all-time great upsets. I reckon that’s some history worth channelling into the modern outfit.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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