Our annual review of every Premier League home and away kit traditionally arrives a good week before the season begins. Sadly this is the year of supply chain chaos, manufacturing misery and polyester purgatory.
Clubs have been coyer than ever to let the dog (eager consumers) see the rabbit (questionable football shirts). As Carole King so nearly once sang “kits too late, baby”.
With the season is under way, we can no longer wait for tardy Chelsea (away) and Leicester City (away) and will have to slot them in at an appropriate place when they arrive. If this causes you to put your foot through your mobile, tablet or Amstrad e-mailer in anger, send Chelsea and Leicester the bill.
Three overall trends to note this season.
This is the year of the collar. Chelsea, Arsenal, City and United all limit their home shirt funny business to that area.
Increasingly unhinged decisions are being made on away shirts. It is like kit designers have recently completed a module on their graphic design course and are keen to show off their new skills. Generally safer fare with home shirts, sometimes to a fault.
A mild nautical theme is emerging, like that thankfully brief period last year when the most popular genre of music was ‘sea shanty’.
Here is this year’s manufacturing chart, with Castore highest climbers:
Now steady yourself for at least a dozen inappropriate uses of the adjective “iconic” and let us begin with the worst football kit of the new season:
38. Bournemouth (away)
We all had a humbling childhood experience when first allowed into town unaccompanied and able to spend money however we liked. Mine was attempting to buy Roy Chubby Brown’s sweary remake of Smokie’s Living Next Door To Alice. It had a rude word in the title, you see. Irresistible. My mum, predictably, was not having that. I had to take it back to Our Price and fill out a return form. The exasperated cashier, who must have been a teenager himself, told me to be more careful in future. A valuable lesson was learned that day: don’t give any of your money to Roy Chubby Brown.
Anyway, good luck to any kids trying to get this past their parents when they arrive home from the AFC Bournemouth AFC Megastore. “What on earth is that? Is that a marijuana leaf?! I will not have this house sullied by drug paraphernalia!” Of course like any good teenager Bournemouth and Umbro are playing dumb. It’s the palm trees on the seafront! Don’t know if you’ve been to Bournemouth recently, but I would be astonished if your lasting impression of it was its palm trees. Absolutely laughable.
37. Fulham (away)
Oh good, Fulham are back. Like a drawing of a migraine. Horrible.
36. Southampton (away)
Come on now. An attempt to reach Paisley Park, Minneapolis which lands instead at the Sea Life Centre, Hunstanton. The Bitcoin symbol sneaking onto the sponsor’s logo adds insult to injury. I can’t entirely hate it, because it is something different, and how about a big hand for those tasty socks? But there is a clue about its quality when you realise you can’t physically look at it for longer than five seconds.
35. Liverpool (away)
Nothing says peak football performance like a pattern you’d see on day 27 of a month-long ayahuasca retreat. No life-changing insight to be found here, although it will set you back a similar amount of cash. Supposedly something to do with the city’s proud musical tradition, which is why your first thought when seeing it was “wow, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes!” Loses its nerve with plain white shorts and similar socks (according to the Premier League handbook, they have yet to be sighted in any promotional material). Unless those socks actually move like a hologram I am out.
34. Everton (away)
Genuinely read that sponsor as “state” when seeing this for the first time as in “state of it”. This is not a bad combination of colours, but even in these times of giddy innovation and heretofore unthinkable shots being played, let us not be afraid to call out an enormous patterning mistake. The back is plain pink too, an automatic sin bin offence.
33. Manchester United (home)
The childish collar here is odd. Nothing looks as dated as the fashion of 10 years ago, but this looks at least 30 years old, which should put it into the ‘so bad it’s good’ zone. Evidently this is not the case. Instead we have a whiff of TGI Fridays (sugary cocktails, deep fried everything and regret). We’re just missing a collection of novelty badges. Altogether too busy, and the emblem is on a shield for some reason. No wonder Ronaldo wants to leave.
32. West Ham United (away)
Like the sleeve detailing, which could be from the background of the sweeties level on Megadrive platformer James Pond 2: Robocod. Hate the dead end of an all-black football kit. Designer clearly misjudged the timings of their day and ran out of time to do anything fancy with the socks.
31. Leeds United (away)
Pulse yellow and deep blue allegedly feature here, the latter in colour form rather than the clever computer which beat Garry Kasparov at chess. Plenty has been thrown at this, perhaps literally. No faulting the effort but the end product is too Grateful Dead / Global Hypercolour and a bit of a mess.
30. Tottenham Hotspur (home)
Nike has been hawking this luminescent shade of green/yellow/leaked highlighter pen for more than a decade now. Blame the annual kit rankings, but I have now been sufficiently marketed to to recognise it as “Volt”. Gretchen, stop trying to make Volt happen. You can put it around as many Tottenham collars (no), sleeves (no), socks (actually, yes) but no one wants to buy trainers in that colour, not even for running. Six years with Nike for Spurs now, zero memorable home kits.
29. Everton (home)
There are spate of diverting apps and websites which use artificial intelligence to generate pictures based on words you type in. Once you’ve got your first few puerile attempts out of the way (Alan Pardew on pedalo, John Terry waxwork melted down, Sir Bert Milichip working at Nandos, etc.) this looks like what might come up if you typed in “Everton home kit”. This club, desperately in need of a lift, needs more. Time to send Duncan Ferguson to Denmark to shout at the Hummel lads. Incidentally, here’s what “Everton home kit” actually gets you on the image generation website Craiyon:
Not terrible, but I don’t recall adding “J-League”.
28. Tottenham Hotspur (away)
Spurs have been ahead of the game with kits in the past, famously debuting non-skimpy shorts in the 1991 Cup Final. People laughed at Vinny Samways then, but look at him now. This is in that tradition because it does not look like a football kit, rather some exercise in putting a football club’s badge on another sport’s outfit. It’s a little bit cycling, a little bit volleyball, a little bit competitive Counter Strike. Perhaps this is the future? Alternatively: a vibrant new look for this city’s traffic wardens. New clothes, new tickets, and approximately 60 per cent more abuse from the public. Note Nike is still pushing that colour it owns a copyright for as hard as Antonio Conte pushes his players during pre-season shuttle runs.
27. Southampton (home)
If this is stirring 80s Southampton memories for you I regret to inform you that was the era of the big white stripe in the middle, with red either side. This is the inverse, so put away your inflatable life-size Danny Wallace and instead polish your shrine to Marian Pahars. His was the Friends Provident-sponsored club-made shirt we’re closest to here. And it’s just not quite right, is it? Too busy, too white, and part of an unwelcome trend - the return of centred emblems and badges At least, with the pattern on the white portions, someone’s found a use for their old set square.
26. Liverpool (home)
The design concept for this year’s Liverpool home kit appears to be… wait for it… Red. That’s it. That’s the kit. You might be thinking “where’s the innovation?” but it’s there if you look hard enough. Get a load of these interactive socks, using revolutionary Sidefinder™ technology to seamlessly help you put them on the correct way:
Mindblowing. Beyond that, unforgivably boring.
25. Leicester City (home)
Instinctively it feels like nothing good has ever happened to Leicester in years when they wear blue shorts rather than white. No, don’t look up any pictures from the season they won the league. Nevertheless they are back in all blue this year, and looking a bit too ‘Man Utd away’ from a distance. “Create iconic” is the tagline, which sounds like the work of W1A brand consultants Perfect Curve. The horse has bolted there, lads and lasses. It has been not only created but violently over-used. How do you create iconic, anyway? Seemingly the answer is ‘put a collar on it’. And what a collar! Two thick slabs of white, with the tired flop of an over-worn dress shirt. Redeemed, just.
24. Newcastle United (home)
Brave new era, same appalling sponsor logo. Enjoy your fun while you can, Gamblor. The ban on gambling companies on the front of football shirts is expected to come in next season. Kieran Trippier a terrible choice of model given his past misdemeanours. Neat collar, orderly stripes, but it feels like a decade since Newcastle have had a fun home kit. A change of sponsor would do wonders. What are Northern Rock up to? Oh. Just give the people what they want: Get on the phone now to Newcastle Brown Ale and their delicious blue star.
23. Leeds United (home)
You can’t actually buy Leeds’ home shirt until late August, at best. This one of many supply chain related hardships facing kit fans this summer. Still, there’s a tweet:
— Leeds United (@LUFC) July 13, 2022
Iconic… Leeds, that’ll do.
You may find this pristine, perfect. You may just find it “white”. Which side of that divide you fall on likely hinges on how much you support Leeds.
22. Nottingham Forest (home)
Got to tread carefully here as Nottingham Forest have ascended to the level of “everyone’s second favourite team”, by dint of being fun in the Cup last season and not being in the Premier League for a while. Their brilliant/massive promotion is brilliant/massive for this brilliant/massive team from a brilliant/massive city. It is all getting a bit close to the wretched “this means more” tone Liverpool have occasionally peddled in their marketing. So we definitely must not make any snarky jokes about the sleeve pattern, which is Trent Bridge. Actual bridge, not cricket ground. The thick red stripe at the bottom of the shorts is 9/10 Bryan Roy which is to be applauded. Bit dreary otherwise. Sponsor incoming. Boxt is the lucky winner, they make air conditioners. Hard lines for Labbatts. Basically, make every team put names of beers on their shirts.
21. Arsenal (home)
New kit season is the most exciting time of the year for Arsenal. No nostalgic avenue will remain unexplored. When results go awry this winter look out for the midnight ‘drop’ of the Gabriel Jesus x John Jensen range of waterproof trousers. This time it’s the return of zig-zags which caused uproar in 1994. Thank goodness they’re here though, as an element of fun in what is otherwise a boxy, staid design. As with United there’s a service industry vibe to the collar. This time it’s a fast food chain. Do you want troph-fries with that? Doesn’t work. Move on.
20. Aston Villa (away)
Simple. Plain. Dull. Too shiny. Thin claret shoulder stripes are marginally tasty, like an experimental new flavour of upmarket crisps. Appears to pair well with claret tracksuit trousers and looks of mild concern after you fall down a concrete staircase:
19. Brighton and Hove Albion (away)
Little ventured, absolutely acceptable away kit gained. Small diagonal details on the shirt like a pitch mower with ideas about his station. Overall look is slightly jobsworth, you can imagine someone in this telling you you’re actually supposed to join a queue from the other direction but passive-aggressively allowing you to go first anyway. This time.
18. West Ham United (home)
A laudable attempt to do something different but ultimately the shoulders just look like they have been through the washing machine 200 times, or are abandoned scratchards. A million bonus points for offering it for purchase, for grown-up no less, without the gambling company logo, like so:
Seeing it this way you get a sense Umbro has been holding onto this, the wackiest West Ham kit since the Dagenham Motors era, until Mark Noble retired. Not a chance he’d sign off such frippery. Look out for a back to basics approach for next season, ideally with Umbro deposed by Asics for maximum #rhyming #synergy #backtobasicswithasics #rhymeiconic.
17. Fulham (home)
In which Fulham remember that a bit of colour isn’t a crime after several years of little deviance from black and white. Got to be careful with too much red, though, as many attending Craven Cottage will also be wearing red trousers, as well as unironically describing women as “fillies”. Absolutely fine out of ten. The kit, not chauvinism.
16. Manchester United (away)
Yet more collar silliness but there is something more playful here than the crocodile error on the home kit. It is on kit launch day when you really miss Juan Mata. He might not have been up to much as a footballer any more, but boy oh boy could he draw on years of experience to pose in a new football kit while looking nonplussed. He’d have put this into the top 10. Quick, get Tom Huddlestone!
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers (home)
Something uncomplicated, dependable and from the past. Castore does the classic new company insecure thing of plastering its logo everywhere it can, but this is smart, as your uncle who is struggling to adjust to the pace of change in modern life might say. Nice black line on the back with the still-amusing Castore motto on it, which is also somewhere on the same uncle’s LinkedIn page:
14. Aston Villa (home)
More solid work from Castore which replaces Kappa at Villa. It is a Liverpool-based company, which you imagine gives Steven Gerrard a valuable extra 1 per cent peace of mind while marking time in Birmingham as he waits for his ascension to the Anfield throne. White tops to the socks are a particularly pleasant touch in a sharp kit overall, but instinct and experience suggests the shiny diagonal stripes will be very snaggable on wooden tables. And since when do sponsors get their taglines included too? A bit rum.
13. Newcastle United (away)
Note that these are NOT the colours of the Saudi Arabian flag, an act of trolling that has been relegated to third kit status. Tough to foul up this agreeable palette, although the sleeve lines aren’t really earning their place. Good clean fun.
12. Chelsea (home)
The Boehly era at Chelsea brings with it the honour of being allowed to sell things to fans again. It was a hairy few months there, without programmes, pennants and training shorts to pump out via the megastore, but they bravely struggled through. Even their shirt sponsor weathered the storm to hold on, and its reward is a logo the size of a pizza on an enjoyable Chelsea shirt. Tasteful mirroring of the accent blue in the shorts. The whaley bone china print on the collar seems to have spawned from the away kit, or the leaked pictures we’ve seen of it in any case. Stay tuned!
11. Brentford (away)
An outbreak of class here, tasteful mottled pattern, no-nonsense sleeve cuffs and a castle-y emblem rather than the home kit’s bee which “represents the fortress which our fans help us to build away from home.” No wins away between October and March for Brentford last season, so as fortresses go it’s about as sturdy as one assembled on a rainy day with your children using an old bed sheet and some sofa cushions. Classy promo pic looks like it was taken in an upscale stately home, but may just be a well-disguised newer branch of Wetherspoons:
10. Nottingham Forest (away)
Forest, you’ve charmed me. And all it took was an away kit in my favoured yellow and blue colour combination. The light-dark contrast makes more of the Trent Bridge sleeve pattern from the home. I wonder how they’ve described it? “Our official away shirt for the 22-23 season is made from polyester-pique, is yellow in colour and is complimented by a blue sublimated design taking inspiration from the ironworks pattern of the iconic Trent Bridge.” DING DING DING DING DING! In fairness it is a nice bridge.
9. Brentford (home)
Well knock me down with a precision-engineered performance polyester feather, Brentford are sticking with their kit for a second season. In doing so they become the first Premier League team since Arsenal (home) in 2013/14 to use a kit for two campaigns in a row. More sustainable, friendlier to fans, increases our familiarity with Paul Hollywood’s entry into gambling. What’s not to like? Let’s bump them up a few spots from last year’s 12th to recognise an excellent gesture which will hopefully catch on.
8. Manchester City (home)
The simple collar and large dollop of maroon are a Colin Bell tribute, not that his kits ever had anything so unexpected as maroon on the collar and sleeves. Also serves to put Jack Grealish back in something approximating claret and blue, which may revitalise him. Look out for an uninspiring first season for Erling Haaland and Man City’s 23/24 home kit being re-imagined in the club’s iconic yellow and black, with fans allowed to bring enormous vases of Pilsner to their reasonably-priced safe standing spots. Tidy.
7. Arsenal (away)
A brief pause from Arsenal’s retro fetishism to deliver something very 2022. The sort of colour scheme which seems to chime with social media sorts, black and bronze, like faux-premium duty free brandy. Initially it looks like a meaningless geometric pattern, but on closer inspection it spells out AFC, a tribute to their former hero with the name he was being called by the time he left: Ashley F------ Cole. Yes, it is all black. But shiny logos and letters go a long way.
6. Crystal Palace (away)
Palace seem to be nailing a recognisable aesthetic better than the rest of the league. Scrappy, rough round the edges, nice in parts, dreadful in others, welcome to south London! And yes, maybe it’s a bit scribbly. Maybe a toddler could do it. But could a toddler navigate a software update for Adobe Illustrator? No, exactly. Memorable, of its time and wonderfully cheeky.
5. Brighton and Hove Albion (home)
All the promise of a day on a boat with none of the grim, chilly, seasick reality. Partial stripes with a number canvas on the back infinitely preferable to going blank and otherwise hard to fault. Brighton just desperately need to pluck up the courage to ask their shirt and stadium sponsoring pals in America to do something nicer with its logo than plonking it on a stripe-ruining white box.
4. Manchester City (away)
Diagonals are rarely a mistake in my book (The Big Book of Arbitrary Rules About Football Shirts, Oxford University Press, coming for Michaelmas term 2024) - see Crystal Palace (home) last season. Plain black on the back, of course, so loses some credit. But if we have to sit through Manchester City dominating everything domestically without ever seeming to try very hard for another year, at least they’ll look nice.
3. Wolverhampton Wanderers (away)
Marvellous choice of colours. Patterning which lands safely into the camp cool, safely avoiding a premature arrival in the novelty arena. Galaxies of stars! The majesty of a clear night in the Black Country! A life of possibilities! Or a very annoying new look for your smartphone. Yes to all.
2. Crystal Palace (home)
A lesser kitmaker than the increasingly impressive Macron would declare the UNPRECEDENTED stripes here quite enough work for the day, but the attention to detail on the sleeve cuffs is the real cut above. The size of the white area is spot on, and the inversion of red and blue from the order they appear on the neck is a subtle treat. Two shades of blue on the stripes helps it all to “pop” like a season-ending knee injury. Thankfully unobtrusive sponsor logo replaces last season’s thankfully unobtrusive sponsor logo, and cars are an upgrade on gambling. Perhaps not for the environment. We’re splitting hairs. A riot!
1. Bournemouth (home)
Into rare territory here, this is ‘round of applause at the laptop screen’ stuff. Perhaps Umbro saw an early leak of Palace’s plans and decided to up the ante. Is this the golden era for Premier League stripes? This is another shirt you can buy in unsponsored form:
Sensational. And almost certainly the most memorable thing about the forthcoming Bournemouth season. They’ve done it, they’ve topped and tailed the kit rankings! Truly, we live in unprecedented times.