It might be a subtle tweak to the pattern. A removal of a collar. The reintroduction of a previously removed collar. A new two-centimetre thick sleeve trim. A “Visit Rwanda” advert added to the upper arm.
Sometimes, you have to look really closely to be able to see the change in shirt design from one year to the next, like a particularly tricky spot-the-difference game.
Nonetheless, the annual kits launch has become something of an internet phenomenon in recent years.
From the (clearly intentionally) “leaked” design months in advance to the official confirmation, the ensuing debates, the articles based on a couple of social media posts slagging them off. A football subculture played on repeat, year on year.
And it’s become big business: the Big Six alone released 168 new kits in the past decade, each year selling a different home, away and third kit. If it hasn’t dropped already, your club’s 2022-23 iteration will be coming soon.
It is a long departure from attempts in the late 1990s by Labour’s Football Task Force to ensure every club played in a jersey for at least two years. It was even mooted that clubs include a “sell-by” date on labels making clear how long before the garment went out of date. By 2010, all 20 Premier League clubs produced a new home, away and third kit each year and, with little opposition, they have ploughed on ever since with this money-printing yet environment-damaging and fan-fleecing operation.
Yet in the current climate (crisis) can clubs and their kit suppliers continue on this path? Some steps are being taken by major sportswear brands to tackle the mountains of discarded jerseys forming in the planet’s landfill sites. But here’s where the already polluted waters become further muddied.
Puma take care of the kits for Manchester City and the pair have promoted the fact all of the company’s kits are made from 100 per cent recycled polyester. Yet the 2022-23 City home jersey on Puma’s website states only that it’s “made with at least 20 per cent recycled material”. As does the youth version.
When I asked Puma from an explanation yesterday, they did not respond. Nike, suppliers of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, made a song and dance about introducing jerseys made entirely from recycled polyester a few years ago. Yet the company declined to comment on why a 2021-22 Liverpool “stadium” home jersey on its website promises only that it is made from “at least 75 per cent recycled polyester fibres”. There is, weirdly, a 2021-22 “match” home jersey made from 100 per cent recycled materials.
Chelsea and Spurs shirts do, however, appear now to honour this promise. At the time of writing, Chelsea’s 2022-23 season shirt isn’t yet available but Tottenham’s shirt for the upcoming season claims to have been made from 100 per cent polyester. (And it’s yours, today, for only £115 – entirely reasonable during a cost-of-living crisis.)
Recycled polyester still takes hundreds of years to decompose and causes microfibres to enter the environment.
German side St Pauli clearly weren’t convinced by the sustainability claims of major sportswear brands, and explored how to create an entirely sustainable kit in 2018. They did not believe the offerings from major sportswear brands were 100 per cent sustainable and decided to make their own.
“Their shirts are made of 100 per cent recycled polyester (post-consumer PET) — no petroleum is used as a raw material, the production consumes approximately 32 per cent less CO2 and are very socially sustainable,” Andrew Aris told me. Aris is director of Spirit of Football, an NGO based in Germany trying to educate clubs and fans on football’s environmental impact.
“Ideally every shirt not bought is the most sustainable solution. Brentford using the same shirt two seasons in a row is positive, but shouldn’t this be the norm?”
Meanwhile, English football’s sustainability leaders, Forest Green Rovers, have trialled making kits with bamboo and used coffee beans. In the words of Rovers’ CEO Dale Vince: “It’s time the world of football wakes up and smells the coffee about the future of the planet.”