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The evolution of the kit launch

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At some stage, the humble launch of the new kit for the coming season morphed into a behemoth of an event with security staff, hosts and live coverage for which one can imagine paying in excess of the asking price for a ticket from a dodgy geezer off eBay.

In many ways, the evolution of this entity lends itself to Christian Metz’s ‘Genre Characteristics Theory’. Briefly put, he asserted that there are four development stages that can be applied to a genre: Classical, Experimental, Parody and Deconstruction.

Let’s go back to a simpler time when a kit was something that was worn simply to denote ‘otherness’ from the opposition. Back in the late 70s/early 80s, the kit launch established its ‘Classical’ credentials. According to Metz, this stage is characterised by ‘an original piece of work, which is developing the initial codes and conventions of the genre.’ Typically, the kit launch featured a bunch of kids wearing the itchy material of the new top, beaming from ear to ear since they were just pleased to be there and if they smile wide enough, they might even be allowed to take one of these things home. At some stage, the top would be available from the club shop, comprised of a portakabin and run by the guy who has hung around at the club the longest. Significantly though, such an approach was centered around the supporters – after all, it was they who would be shelling out for the damned thing. Of course, it could be argued that featuring smiley kids was just the oldest advertising ruse that exists and would have won the approval of Roger Sterling given its cynicism in presenting its target audience with themselves smiling right back at them. But if you think this is a cynical approach, you’d better take a seat.

Arguably Manchester United took the genre to the next level – the ‘Experimental’ phase, defined thus: ‘This is where the genre is established and experiments which different sceneries and scenarios.’ Smiley kids are no longer enough, not when there are big businesses paying big bucks for their brand to emblazon the shirt. It is easy to imagine a representative from Sharp cajoling Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins to ‘hold that pose’ as they struggle to maintain their grip on the cumbersome and bulky object to which they must clutch as if they treasure it. These weird contraptions, otherwise known as VCR recorders, really were the future back in 1982 and Wilkins is such a nice fella that he’s even trying his best to disguise his grimace and discomfort – unlike Norman Whiteside.

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By clambering into bed with the brands, the kit launch format was blasted wide open and the ‘Experimental’ phase continues unabated. Arsenal have grabbed the genre by the lapels and given it the full-blown American treatment by enlisting Thierry Henry’s services to host the whole shebang while various players parade down the catwalk. All that is missing here is a commentary informing that Santi Cazorla is sporting this season’s defining look with a throwback to the glam chic of the early 80s with a delicate, gossamer-thin thread highlighting his upper pectorals, alleviating unnecessary friction since the fabric consists of the latest performance technologies…now work it, Santi!

Everton have also contributed successfully to this stage of development as they were pleased to announce that, ‘Club partners Crabbies also had a sampling stall inside the shop for supporters to sample their beverages, whilst Chang also provided free bottles for adults to take away with their purchases’ on their website.

Sharp have a lot to answer for.

Bafflingly, the kit launch was proudly declared to be, ‘A Success’. One wonders what constitutes such a bold claim – perhaps someone bought a shirt? No one turned their nose up at the new top and proceeded to wipe their nose with it? Thierry Henry called in to say he quite liked the trim? If the new kit reaches the club shop and is stuck on a hanger, surely this is all that is required to constitute a success.

A further recent ‘Experimental’ development is the boy band pose, reaching peak performance with Chelsea’s effort. Diego Costa perfected the Gary Barlow role here by being centre stage while the audience strains their necks to escape the gurning face pointing right at them. Behind lurks young Oscar, genuinely pretending that he is really in a boy band. Bless.

Like all genres though, the kit launch will eventually descend into ‘Parody’: ‘the introduction of ‘comedic effects watering down expectations of the film.’ It can easily be argued this stage was already achieved long before the likes of Arsenal and Everton came along. But for it to be genuine parody, the makers have to be the ones creating the joke, not incidentally making their product the butt of the joke, as is the case in the examples above.

Cologne and Norwich City deserve honourable mentions here: the German club for their 2013 kit launch, featuring three players sporting 70s inspired hair (look, for it to be parody, it doesn’t necessarily have to be funny, ok?) and the Canaries for their 2013 effort featuring some young lads running rings around the likes of Bradley Johnson and John Ruddy.

Sure, it’s a disastrous effort in terms of thespian abilities and has a curious effect on the toes, making them curl excruciatingly. But at least the focus is back on the kids, rather than the bloody brand.

But plaudits must go to Southampton for their deadpan Mockumentary, in which the fictional Dr Barry Gale plays the role of the club’s first ever ‘Player Integration Officer’ as part of their #ShowYourStripes campaign which will see the Saints revert back to red and white stripes from solid red.

Finally, according to Metz, the genre evolves into ‘a stage where hybrids are evident’ or the ‘Deconstruction’ stage. In genre theory, this means a blending of the generic conventions in order to push the genre even further into experimental territory, exhausting all avenues of creativity within the supposed generic boundaries before it collapses back into the ‘Classical’ stage.

Maybe this is exactly what West Bromwich Albion had in mind when they created this piece of bemusement:

So where next for the kit launch? Here’s to hoping for a simple picture placed on the club’s official website showing a new top hung on a coat hanger with the caption: ‘New Kit Out Now’. Such a move could be officially declared ‘A Success’.

Featured image: All rights reserved by Duncan Hull

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