Are Premier League clubs exploiting their fans?
This season all 20 teams are unveiling at least one new kit - and hoping supporters will buy replicas
Someone needs to tell England's premier football clubs that the vast majority of the country don't live in mock tudor mansions and own a fleet of flashy sports cars. And while Wayne Rooney wouldn't miss £45 if it fell down the back of his designer sofa for the rest of us it's rather a lot of money, particularly if you have a couple of kids, both of whom have their little hearts set on their club's new strip.
Yes, a new Premier League campaign is about to get underway which means that across the land each club is marking the occasion by unveiling their new home and away strip. Again.
Last season, as Britain experienced its worst recession for three-quarters of a century, 18 of England's top flight clubs (Arsenal and Liverpool the honourable exceptions) brought out new shirts. This season, as the country struggles to comes to term with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's austerity Budget, all 20 members of the Premier League have their players in a fresh strip.
Of course, the clubs aren't stupid – though clearly they think we are – and they've paid PR agencies big money to come up with compelling reasons why people should part with their cash. At Old Trafford, it's a question of saving the environment: "The new Manchester United Men's home shirt is made entirely from recycled materials," the website solemnly proclaims. "Each shirt is constructed from up to eight plastic bottles. Nike have prevented nearly 13 million bottles from going to landfill whilst also reducing energy costs by over 30 per cent."
At Chelsea, on the other hand, it is not so much the environment that counts but the past. This season the Chelsea home strip has a red strip on the collar. Why? Let the club's official website explain: "The red stripe on the shirt plays a significant role in the club's history. It represents the strong link between the club and it's most oldest and loyal fans, the Chelsea Pensioners, who were the red-coated war veterans that adopted the team in their earliest days, and gave the club an edge."
Tugs at the hearts strings, doesn't it? Not to mention the purse strings.
What makes the Premier League's behaviour all the more reprehensible is that in 2000 they welcomed the Football Task Force charter in which, among other things, it was promised to change strips no more than every other season in order to ease the already exorbitant cost of following one's chosen team.
The worst offenders this season are Tottenham Hotspur, who have celebrated qualification for the Champions League by producing three different home and away strips (six shirts in total), each costing £45 and each with a different sponsor. When the BBC contacted Spurs to ask their thinking behind the move, the club replied: "Our aim going forward was to continue to meet demand for greater variety and choice in all of the merchandise ranges that we offer, including replica kit. As a result the club took the decision from the start of season 2005/06 that all our replica kits would have a one-year lifespan and we regularly discuss subjects such as this at our quarterly meetings with the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust."
But the chairman of the Supporters Trust, Bernie Kingsley, denied any such discussions had occurred, telling the BBC: "The club do talk to us but any decisions that might affect their income revenue they don't generally consult us... It is down to the individual whether to buy them [the shirts] or not but in the current financial climate I think the club should be more sensitive."
Opinion on the club's shirt strategy was divided on Spurs' message boards though one disgruntled fan invoked the ghost of Freddy Shepherd in expressing his disquiet. It was back in 1998, when Shepherd was chairman of Newcastle United, that he was stung by the News of the World in a classic tabloid scoop. While being secretly filmed Shepherd was asked what he thought of fans who paid £50 for a replica shirt. "Mugs!" he laughed, before pointing out it cost the club five pounds to have each shirt made in Asia. ·
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