Manchester United’s resembles a zebra galloping across the Serengeti. Arsenal’s draws inspiration from the night sky. Chelsea’s is in homage to a classic pair of trainers but just looks like another club entirely.
When Chelsea played Newcastle last weekend, their shirt design influenced by the Nike AirMax from the 1990s, someone in the office marched over to the big screens and asked how Crystal Palace were getting on.
Welcome to the strange world of Premier League third kits.
Manchester United shock fans when they unveiled their zebra crossing styled kit
Football shirts have long become their own fashion culture. It’s no longer just about two clubs differentiating each other on the pitch. There’s style, apparently, there’s tradition, community, fun.
Some of them do it well. The bonds that connect generations are celebrated. Southampton mark their 135th anniversary with a white third kit with red sash which pays tribute to their very first strip in 1885, when the players wore an actual sash. No wonder they have worn it for every away game this season.
West Brom’s is a throwback to their promotion season in 1992/93 when their away kit was red and yellow, even if it does now resemble a tube of Deep Heat.
For others, the attempts to stretch tradition raises eyebrows. Everton’s green third kit, or ‘seafoam’ to give it its official colour, is ‘a nod to Liverpool’s vibrant waterfront’. Arsenal’s is blue and apparently ‘represents the lights and atmosphere that illuminate the Emirates Stadium during a night match’. When better to wear that than during an away match at Manchester City against a team who also wear blue?
The initial premise of third kits was for those occasions when both an away team’s home and change shirts would clash with the hosts.
Clubs submit their colour choices to the Premier League ahead of matches and they then run them through a computer system to flag any potential clashes for officials, players, spectators and those who are colour blind.
Of the 92 Premier League games played so far this season, 24 of the away sides have worn their third kit. In only four of those was there a potential clash with both home and away shirts. Most of the time they just wear their home strip.
Because, of course, there is more to it than just tradition. There’s money. This is big business.
While some are confusing Chelsea for Crystal Palace with the Blues’ latest third-kit this year
Sportswear brands have spent more than £360million on licensing Premier League clubs, more than in any other league in the world. When adidas signed their £75m-a-year deal with Man United six years ago they said they expected to have recouped £1.5bn by 2024.
The highest priced adult shirts shift for up to £100. Add a third kit and it gets pricey. What is fun is to enjoy the PR spiel that urges fans to part with their cash.
It’s not just any shirt material. It’s fabric that ‘moves sweat away from your skin’. Its ‘performance fit is streamlined for a fast look and feel’. Collars have ‘taped external seams for a smooth feel against the skin.’ Take my money, now.
Man United’s black-and-white offering was labelled a ‘statement of pure intent’ and ‘a bold look for a football club that’s used to taking on and smashing bold challenges’.
Everton’s ‘seafoam’ colour kit is a nod to Liverpool’s ‘vibrant waterfront’ according to the club
They have not inflicted this on the Premier League yet, but have done so twice in the Champions League.
Kits can no longer just be your average colour either. Chelsea’s is ‘Ember Glow’. Man City’s sports a Paisley design supposedly to pay tribute to Manchester’s musical heritage but which so infuriated Liam Gallagher he demanded the designer be sent to Wuhan. It is not just white. It’s ‘Whisper White’.
Perhaps all this should not be taken too seriously. Some of them are great. Some of them are so bad they’re good. A bit like Batman & Robin. Instant cult classics.
But sometimes, when you see one worn for no reason at all, and when it is closer to the opposition’s shirt than your home kit, you do begin to wonder what the motives are after all.
What the club and fans say
Arsenal (Recommended retail price – £100)
What the club say: ‘It represents the lights and atmosphere that illuminate Emirates Stadium during a night match. It draws inspiration from the night sky.’
What the fans say: ‘This is a million times better than the ‘marble halls’ away kit monstrosity!’
Aston Villa (RRP – 57)
What the club says: ‘The third kit celebrates our home — Birmingham, its different districts and Aston Villa’s place in the Second City. The lower part of the club crest is positioned proudly on the shirt.
What the fans say:‘They were so close to putting the perfect spin on this classic shirt.’
Brighton (RRP – £57)
What the club says: ‘Nike Dry fabric moves sweat away from your skin. Performance fit is streamlined for a fast look and feel. Collar has taped external seams for a smooth feel against the skin.’
What the fans say: ‘Best we’ve had in ages. I love the white badge and tick against the black.’
Burnley (RRP – £52)
What the club says: ‘The club’s heritage is celebrated with a bold but popular yellow colour, with claret details, which help this seasons third shirt convey a sense of identity and pride.’
What the fans say: ‘What would the glory boys of claret and blue in 1960 make of this? This lemon colour leaves a sour taste.’
Chelsea (RRP – £99.95)
What the club says: ‘Combines vintage club colours, Nike sneaker heritage and a dose of 1990s nostalgia to create a fresh look. Design is heavily influenced by the much-loved original Air Max 180, a shoe which was first released in 1991.’
What the fans say: ‘It isn’t a Chelsea thing, it’s a Crystal Palace thing.’
Crystal Palace (RRP – £50)
What the club says: ‘A smart blend of black, red and blue — a colour scheme which has proved highly popular.’
What the fans say’: Did Puma forget they designed our kit and just changed the colours of whatever they came up with in a five-minute meeting?’
Everton (RRP – £55)
What the club says: ‘The seafoam colour of our third kit is a nod to Liverpool’s vibrant waterfront, while the charcoal creates a contemporary contrast.’
What the fans say: ‘That has to be the worst Everton kit ever.
Fulham (RRP – £55)
What the club says: ‘A modern interpretation on the red and black striped designs as seen on previous Fulham strips.’
What the fans say:‘Nice but would have preferred black stripes rather than the chosen effect.’
Leeds United (£60)
What the club says: ‘The V-neck has the Leeds badge sitting proudly on the chest and has moisture absorbing AEROREADY technology, so you can stay cool and dry. We are Leeds. We have history’
What the fans say: ‘Putrid. Not Leeds. Make it stop.’
Leicester City (£55)
What the club says: ‘The white away shirt fronts a sleek white and silver patterned design, with contrasting blue and gold signature three stripe detailing. #ReadyForAnything
What the fans say: ‘Good to see a return to the traditional white kits.’
Liverpool (RRP – £99.95)
What the club says: ‘Taking inspiration from the iconic European nights at Anfield, the third kit’s design is influenced by the array of chequered flags and banners on the Kop for each home game.
What the fans say: ‘They look like they are wearing picnic tablecloths.’
Manchester City (RRP – £65)
What the club says: ‘Pays tribute to Manchester’s rich musical and cultural heritage. Our city prides itself on doing things differently — the famous haircuts, the incredible music, the vibrant fashion as well as the stylish football.’
What the fans say: ‘Keep it simple mate, it’s not hard.’ — Liam Gallagher.
Manchester United (RRP – £64.95)
What the club says: ‘A bold look for a football club that’s used to taking on and smashing bold challenges. The third shirt is statement of pure intent.’
What the fans say: ‘Black and white stripes to try to bamboozle Pogba into thinking he still plays at Juventus. Smart move.’
Newcastle (RRP – £65)
What the club says: ‘The new third kit is an eye-catching “prism violet” design, featuring a bold pattern based on the steelwork of the famous Tyne Bridge.’
What the fans say: ‘Bang average — kinda like the way our season will go.’
Sheffield Utd (RRP – £55)
What the club says: ‘An iconic limited edition adidas third strip … a sand tonal crest accompanies the sand adidas badge of sport, with the iconic sand three stripes which run down the side panels of the shirt.’
What the fans say: ‘That’s one of the nicest blades kits I’ve ever seen.’
Southampton (RRP – £45)
What the club says: ‘Marking the club’s 135th anniversary with the return of the iconic sash. The third kit boasts a red sash across a white shirt in tribute to the original kit when players would wear a physical sash.’
What the fans say: ‘In 20 years we’ll be saying how iconic these kits are.’
Tottenham (RRP – £100)
What the club says: ‘The third strip is Tour yellow and university gold, inspired by iconic kits from our past and Nike Football’s sneaker heritage.’
What the fans say: ‘Oh yes! Big nod to my favourite ever Spurs kit, the 1982 away kit.’
West Brom (RRP – £55)
What the club says: ‘The red-and-yellow striped kit is the final strip to be revealed from the club’s three barcode designs worn during the promotion campaign of 27 years ago.’
What the fans say: ‘Like it. Seems like a lot of Albion fans don’t understand the history.’
West Ham (RRP – £55)
What the club says: ‘A celebration of West Ham and the crossed hammers that are synonymous with the club, the black body of the kit incorporating the commemorative 125th anniversary crest .’
What the fans say: ‘Thats not a West Ham shirt, It’s a betway shirt.’
Wolves (RRP – £55)
What the club says: ‘We are proud to celebrate the individuals who make up our squad. Our Portuguese players are excited to don a kit that nods to their national team colours.’
What the fans say: ‘This is not going to help with other fans’ opinion that we are basically Portugal.’