By James Dutton
TOWARDS the end of the ‘Filthy Submission’ podcast, and when the hand-wringing over Liverpool’s latest crazy away defeat had been done and dusted, the conversation took a lighter turn.
The 1987-88 season was mooted as possessing the best set of kits in Liverpool history, before ushering in a tidal wave of fury from around the room surrounding the away kits that have masqueraded as football shirts since the vintage strips of 2008-9.
“The ultimate Liverpool away kit should be ideally white, or yellow. You can maybe go with green or grey, if you’re feeling bold and a bit fruity. But, ultimately, they’re your options. Get shut of this black nonsense.”
It is an ideal that I have always agreed with, and to hear someone backing up my long-held beliefs on a podcast that airs to thousands was a source of pride. But it also finally gave me the impetus to delve into the history of the black away kit that inspired such vitriol from Neil Atkinson.
The black away kit isn’t so much the death knell in the fortunes and aspirations of Liverpool Football Club as the nail in the coffin.
In 2002 Liverpool finished 2nd in the table, claiming a then club record Premier League points haul of 81. The next season Liverpool played in a black away kit and finished 5th, signaling years of mediocrity and the slow death of Gerard Houllier’s Reds
In 2009 Liverpool finished 2nd in the table, claiming a club record Premier League points haul of 86. The next season Liverpool played in a black away kit and finished 7th, signaling years of mediocrity and the slow death of Rafa Benitez’s Reds.
Now this is not to claim that there is an exact science, or a sinister kit related hoodoo at play, but, historically, the black away kits have had an adverse effect on form away from Anfield. In fact, there is an inverse correlation between success on the pitch and the dark shade of the shirt worn.
The black kit made its debut on the same day as El Hadji Diouf and Bruno Cheyrou for the 2002 Community Shield. Fittingly Liverpool lost, and the trend began.
After an opening day victory at Villa Park, the black away kit visited Middlesbrough, Charlton and Sunderland before Christmas, leaving with its tail firmly between its legs on each occasion. It did, though, feature in a 1-0 win at Southampton (Liverpool’s last and only victory at St. Mary’s), but one which ended an infamous 11 game winless streak that had begun with the black away kit at Middlesbrough.
The black front, the silver sleeves, the red collar, the silver shorts. That kit had nothing going for it; P8: W3, D1, L4.
And so it retreated back to the drawing board, never again tried by Reebok. But it was not to last, and Adidas duly brought it back from the dead for the 2007-8 campaign. But in a quirky way as the European away shirt.
This rendered its means utterly futile and pointless, but it remains by and large the finest black away kit in the club’s history, despite the curved red stripe that gives it a peculiar training kit feel. Not hard, admittedly.
But, perhaps in part to its aesthetically pure design, Liverpool enjoyed good fortunes with this one. It heralded Momo Sissoko’s one and only goal for the club in a routine victory at Sunderland in August 2007 before disappearing from domestic view.
It returned for the momentous 4-0 victory at Marseille in the Champions League group stage, the 1-1 draw at Arsenal in the quarter-final before hanging up its boots for an early, unfulfilled retirement. This was as good as it got for the black away kit; P3: W2, D1, L0
Now it forever trades on former glories and harks after those vintage, heady days in 2007 when Fernando Torres scored that delicious solo goal in the Stade Velodrame. Since the 2009-10 season (ie. since Liverpool went downhill) the black away kit has reared its ugly head during every pre season.
The sale of the 2009-10 version was promoted alongside a free club beach ball, so it received all it deserved on that miserable day in October 2009 at the Stadium of Light. That fateful day signaled the nadir of the black away kit and is immortalised in image whenever you google Pepe Reina.
It was a miserable season for the black away kit, it never graced a victory and remains tinged with regret; P7: W0, D1, L6.
Despite its sleek design the 2010-11 incarnation fared little better than its predecessor and is forever tainted by its unfortunate association with Hodgeball and the likes of Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic; P6: W1, D3, L2.
Last season’s black and silver lining away kit flew in under the radar, trumped by the outrage that surrounded THAT cyan-inspired third-kit. Fortunes in the away kit mirrored that of those who wore it, as it flitted between cup success and wretched league defeats; P5: W3, D0, L2.
Liverpool’s away days this season have seen them resemble the cast of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Thanks, Warrior. #WeComeNotToPlay
It is a monstrosity. A fashion disaster, and by the far the worst of a sorry bunch. What’s worse is a cynical commercial contract that has seen it worn when a change of strips hasn’t been necessitated by a clash of colours – away to Spurs and QPR for instance.
It’s difficult to predict how many more times we’ll be conned into witnessing it; probably at least once, and it could yet make a completely meaningless and pointless appearance at the Madejski next month; P8: W2, D2, L4.
Whether there is a deeply ingrained psychological syndrome through the team connected with the concept of a black away kit is impossible to prove from this, but unquestionably it has become the harbinger of doom, despair and decay. No one would be upset to see it wave its last goodbye, yet that won’t happen anytime soon.
It all leads to the fundamental question – why? Why do they keep returning to the black away kit? Is it the club? Three different kit suppliers – Reebok, Adidas and Warrior – have now marched blindly down that ally and produced reel after reel of black away kits. As was mentioned on the podcast, to change any aspect of the red home strip would be sacrilege, but they have free rein to experiment with the away kits, and experiment they do.
Sunderland away should be forefront in the minds of the kit designers. Nevermind that beach ball goal in October 2009, Liverpool were wearing gold shorts that day. Gold shorts. In September last year they wore red socks at the Stadium of Light to compliment the black shirts and shorts. It’s often proved a problem ground for the players, but even more so for the kit man who has to prepare for these fashion disasters.
Liverpool have not worn yellow since 2007, nor have they had a proper white kit since 2007-8 (the pinstriped effort of 2010-11 doesn’t count, it was awful). This needs changing.
Good thing we’re in safe hands with Warrior, the world renowned hockey-kit manufacturers. .