WHEN Liverpool paraded Brendan Rodgers to the press after his appointment as Liverpool boss the standard photocall included the obligatory snaps of the new man holding up the Liverpool shirt. That shirt was as new as the boss, having only gone on sale that same day as the new kit deal with Warrior kicked in.
A lot has changed at Anfield in the last couple of months and there’ll be more to come before the Reds run onto that Anfield turf for the first time in those new shirts. Staff changes are almost too long to list but joining Kenny Dalglish in leaving in recent months are director of football Damien Comolli, coaches Steve Clarke and Kevin Keen and head of communications Ian Cotton. The official weekly magazine is moving to new publishers and will only be out monthly and a few main stand stalwarts have been told they’re not going to be able to use the same seats as usual next season because the corporate lot want them.
The day Rodgers arrived at Anfield the name of the outgoing kit supplier was still plastered around the stadium, by the time the stadium re-opens for football the name plastered in its place will be one that is new to football in England but intends to be here to stay. From being one of many clients at Adidas Liverpool are Warrior Football’s only client – for now at least. Instead of getting variations on kits seen all round Europe Liverpool are getting three new kits designed specifically for the club.
Maybe the most noticeable change to the shirt, aside from the logo of the maker, is the badge on the front of it. Gone is the crest that’s been on the shirt since the early nineties and in its place is the more traditional and far more simple idea of a Liverbird with ‘L.F.C.’ lettering underneath. The home shirt is all red other than the use of the yellow for that badge and of course for the logos of Warrior and Standard Chartered.
The badge isn’t quite the same as was used back when Liverpool were the most dominant team in English and European football (partly perhaps to allow the club to control exactly who can use it) but it’s close enough to stir memories of those heady days. So who came up with the idea – Warrior or the club?
Kenny McCallum, Head of Product Marketing at Warrior Sports, says it was Warrior’s idea, part of their bigger plan for the new kits: “It was kind of prominent in our thinking about the kit design,” he says, “the two main themes are what we call ‘modern’ and ‘tradition’. It was a marriage of modernity – as far as performance is concerned – and paying homage to what we labelled the ‘indelible tradition’ around Liverpool.
“When we looked at that one of the key points was to go for a pure red aesthetic to bring the kit into the kind of era, ‘64-’65, with Shankly where he introduced the red kit which signified a winning mentality; a red for power, red for danger, attitude.
Kenny was referring to the changes made by Shankly in the 1964-65 season. Liverpool already wore red shirts at the time but with white shorts and socks. It was ahead of a European match against Anderlecht that season that Shankly came up with the idea of red shorts. Ian St John explained how it came about in his autobiography: “He [Shankly] thought the colour scheme would carry psychological impact—red for danger, red for power. He came into the dressing room one day and threw a pair of red shorts to Ronnie Yeats. ‘Get into those shorts and let’s see how you look,’ he said. ‘Christ, Ronnie, you look awesome, terrifying. You look 7ft tall.’ ‘Why not go the whole hog, boss?’ I suggested. ‘Why not wear red socks? Let’s go out all in red.’ Shankly approved and an iconic kit was born.”
Kenny continues: “That was the overall aesthetic, that then gave us the opportunity to deliver impact with the crest.
“Liverpool’s crest had changed approximately eight times since round about the fifties and as we looked at it there was one crest that stood out which was the Liverbird in amber yellow. It was only ever used once, between 1976 and 1985 and over that period of time the club won 12 of the 18 league titles, 4 out of the 5 European Cups, two FA Cups and a European Super Cup, so it’s instantly synonymous with winning, with a winning mentality. Very importantly it’s recognised by the fans and signals a period of success so we felt it was a great way to make impact particularly in a new relationship.”
(Before anyone writes in, Liverpool didn’t win any FA Cups between 1976 and 85 and a quick calculation points out that 12 titles in nine years would have been too much even for the likes of Bob Paisley, but you probably get the point.)
On a personal note my earliest memory of going to Anfield for what I assume would have been my first visit is an image through the railings at the Anfield Road end of the ground of a certain Mr Kenny Dalglish going to take a corner. A view obscured by other people on what was an overcast day with the young (at the time) number seven lighting up the gloom, at least in my eyes. The red stood out like it had been painted onto a black and white photograph, Kenny’s rosy cheeks almost as red. But more than that, the yellow of that Liverbird seemed to make it glow. Magic was at work that day.
This Kenny, Kenny McCallum, is also a Liverpool supporter but being from Scotland his access to seeing the Reds was mainly on TV and that was rationed even more than it was for fans in England. His only hope of seeing the lads in action on the box would be on a Sunday afternoon when Scotsport was on – sometimes they’d show a bit of action from a Liverpool match, much of the interest being in seeing how Anfield’s Scots had fared. Although he also supported St Mirren these rations were enough to get him hooked.
He has similar memories of the impact of that badge but, as he explained, some of his colleagues had felt the impact in a different way. “One of the things that was really interesting was that the design team in the office, there’s a variety of supporters of different clubs through the Premier League, when we started looking at the amber yellow crest we colour matched it with actual products in the Liverpool museum, we wanted to get it spot on and absolutely correct, and in doing so a lot of the guys in the office who supported other teams said when they see that crest it still dons a bit of a fear, they were like ‘oh no, not again!’, because of the success.
“Liverpool used to destroy teams at that particular time so we thought it was just a good mentality and attitude to bring to the equation, particularly in the first year.”
We had to ask Kenny how long it took him to stop laughing at the new Manchester United home shirt: “I’ve not stopped!” he said.
The shirt is a cross between a tablecloth and pyjamas and from a brand so well-established in the football market it looks decidedly amateur. Contrast that with Warrior’s first crack at designing a shirt for a Premier League side and maybe those worries about how bad the new boys might be at doing football shirts were unfounded, at least in terms of the home kit.
“Yes,” said Kenny, “you’ve got to push the boundaries. The home kit will always be red, we brought ‘high-risk red’, the traditional Liverpool red back to the equation, that was very important to us. Other brands have played around with the shades of red, taking it darker and taking it away from the original so we’ve kind of reset it and brought it back to the original.
“It’s quite interesting when you look at other clubs’ products, we look with interest as far as what does the kit look like and how does it perform, what was the response? And I think the key for us is certainly ‘understand the audience’ – which is the player and the fan – and you understand if you’ve managed to meet expectation by way of the response you get and we’ve been really, really pleased with the response to the kit, to the product, so far.”
Perhaps a little diplomatically, he added: “Maybe in certain respects other kits that have been launched haven’t been as well received.”
The real work in making sure the mere sight of a Liverpool shirt raises fears in opponents again is going to have to be done by Brendan Rodgers, but at least Warrior haven’t given him the added difficulty of sending his players out in a shirt everyone just wants to laugh at.
Kenny McCallum is the Head of Product Marketing at Warrior Sports, kit suppliers to Liverpool FC. For more information visit www.warriorfootball.com.