SOS (Save our stripes) maybe?

So we have a changed kit for the cup final, will it really be a black day at Wembley, or a special designed fleece the supporters yellow little number?

Even the greatest moments in a team’s history can be tainted if their kit isn’t to supporters liking, as Southampton FC well know!

Matt Le Tissier’s catalogue of magnificent goals stands comparison that of any of the greatest players. In his day the Lightening Seeds life of Riley, the back drop to goal of the month candidates, pretty much became his signature tune. His breathtaking strikes feature in videos, DVD’s and YouTube compilations. Fans of other clubs and familiar with them. Blackburn fans applauded his goal of the season at Ewood Park. Surely nothing could tarnish such a wonderful legacy?

Well actually there is something. For the two seasons that were perhaps his most productive from 1993-1995, Southampton wore what is considered by many Saints fans to be their most grotesque kit ever. The shirt featured a huge chevron across the chest - probably the largest manufacturers logo on any kit in history and a stripy polyester V-neck that looked and felt as though it had been salvaged from a surplus of Saints 1980’s Patrick shirts. Meanwhile the sponsors name was displayed seemingly as an afterthought on an unsightly black patch. Chants of “what the fucking hell is that?” Greeted its unveiling at the final home match of the preceding season. Even worse, the away kit carried the same design in baby blue and turquoise, as we reminded whenever we recall Le Tissier’s ball juggling at Anfield and rasping free kick winner at St James Park.

Its hard to believe that it has been 40 years since Saints became one of the first clients of Admiral and moved away from the “classic” regular red and white stripes that players had worn for decades. The 1976 FA Cup Final saw a new record being set for the number of manufacturers logos on a football shirt, with Admiral’s symbol decorating the sleeve piping. For the following season Saints wore split “candy” stripes which initially were not to every supporters taste, although it’s fondly remembered these days and its surprising that the look has yet to make a comeback. The “reverse Ajax” design worn 1980-1985 was adopted principally to give maximum prominence to sponsor logos that were now permitted on shirts.

The classic stripes were becoming a distant memory when Hummel foisted their Danish bacon look on us in 1987 but a backlash was not long coming. Fanzine The Ugly Inside launched a campaign known as SICK (Saints In Conventional Kit) and the stripes returned in 1989 to general acclaim. Still, the makers were at a loss to know what to do with the sponsor logo, while the away shirt carried a trim in a hitherto unknown hue described as “Solent green”. Brown may have been more accurate.

Since 1995 the home shirt design has seen minor variations on the red and white stripes, although in three seasons they were not present. For the clubs 125th year anniversary the team wore a commemorative strip of white shirts with a diagonal red sash, mimicking the clubs first ever kit. There was no sponsor logo and the kit was hugely popular. Erstwhile executive chairman Nicola Cortese showed unusual sensitivity on that occasion, before doing the opposite on the clubs return to the Premier League in 2012, whereupon a most un-Saints like all red strip was adopted. At least the version produced by Umbro for 2012/13 was unique to Saints at the time, reminiscent as it was of an earlier Nottingham Forest look. The following season Adidas couldn’t even be bothered to supply a bespoke design.

Saints European campaigns have stirred another sleeping dog. The interdiction on shirts with striped backs. In 2003 then chairman Rupert Lowe spotted an opportunity to fleece customers/supporters, by commissioning a special shirt with a plain red back and a hideous front that resembled a butchers apron. This seasons Europa league shirt, which is not available to buy, also features a red back with white lettering and numbering but is otherwise no different from the standard home kit. It is a reasonable compromise but the Premier League are again threatening to enforce UEFA’s dictum. TV commentator Gerald Sinstadt even had a whinge about this in a recent newspaper column, suggesting that the home anthem should be changed to “oh when the Saints go marching in, we’d like to see some clear numbers”. Well for his information the bold black letters and numbers on the backs of the striped shirts stand out perfectly well for the fans at St Mary’s and nobody connected with Saints is in any mood to give up on the hard-won stripes.

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