The Clothes Maketh the Man?
As regular readers may have noticed, this Almanac professes a fondness for Celtic F.C. when not providing utterly unbiased, objective analysis of the day's sporting affairs. The other day, while travelling on a public bus, the Bentley being in the garage having it's steering wheel re-diamond encrusted, my eye was caught by a cherub-faced young urchin of the inner city, due to his sporting a green and white hooped jersey, as is often the fashion in those parts.
However, rather than having my weary heart cheered by the famous garment, I instead turned away a little grumpily.
You see the young whippersnapper was wearing the jersey from the 2004/05 season, which, as any Celtic fan knows, was the season which culminated in the horrific last minute loss of the league title at Motherwell, was the first term of the post-Larsson era and which was hallmarked by the deathly lurch of Martin O'Neill's glorious reign to its ignominious end.
Anyhow, well over a year later, and I find that the poor, unfortunate garment that the team wore seems stained by the failure and disappointment of that seasaon. I find myself repulsed by the little black trim under an unfashionably prominent collar (perhaps not coincidentally, it was the last jersey that Umbro would design for the club before the current contract with Nike) and quickly compare it unfavourable with the sleek, well cut shirt from the 2000-01 season (O'Neill's first and treble-winning term) and the natty button collar number from 2002-03 (the season in which the club reached the UEFA Cup Final).
Was the jersey fatally flawed? Is it simply the fact of the season's failure that tainted that particular design, or was there something fundamentally wrong with it from drawing board to factory, to the torso of such unlamented personages as Henri Camara? Can a team overcome bad threads?
There is some sporting attire which is evidently horrendous - Scotland's bizarre striped shorts from the 1986 World Cup, for example, the point of which seemed to be to make the Scottish players' genitalia appear victims of some oversized censor's marker.
I have always wondered if the Carlow GAA team's outfit, a three-tone (red, yellow and green) number, while bright and gaily coloured, was a little too bright and gaily coloured for the teak tough terrain of inter-county Gaelic football. One can picture a gap-toothed Carlow full-back spitting in frustration as his attempts at the pre-match intimidation of his opponent are garner in response only generous compliments on the attractiveness of his plumage.
Then there are strips which are clearly fingered as responsible for their team's demise: Manchester United's short lived grey number being the most famous example. While the height of mid 90s street fashion, the sartorial requirements for sneery loitering in shopping malls were not, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, commensurate with those for sporting excellence.
Following a 6-3 defeat to Southampton at the Dell in 1996, Ferguson suggested that the grey shirt blended too easily into the crowd's presumably ghostly pallor, thereby making it difficult for the players to pick each other out. The shirt, like anything subject to the cantankerous knight's wrath, was banished forever.
Some strips, on the other hand, demand success. Was it not inevitable that, after patenting the now popular figure-hugging tight shirt in association with Kappa, the Italian national football team would eventually wear the apex of sporting style all the way to the greatest honour of all?
The 1970 Brazilian team may have played football in a manner superior to any before or since, but, in that magnificient, timeless strip, they could hardly start knocking it long, could they?
It is difficult to prove whether the quality of strip design has a direct influence on team success or not, and unfortunately universities are too busy attempting to find cures for cancer and such to mount a proper empirical study. But I like to think that when a top player is lining up a shot at goal for last minute winner, or a goalkeeper is preparing to thrust himself toward a spectacular save, they won't be distracted by the troubling thought: "I LOOK RIDICULOUS IN THIS OUTFIT!"