Would you buy a Man Utd blank shirt? English football could learn from US

Would you buy a Man Utd blank shirt? English football could learn from US

Among the countless and well-deserved tributes to all those who lost their lives in the Munich air disaster, there were images from the 2008 clash between Manchester United and Manchester City.

United wore a 1950s-styled jersey in honour of the Busby Babes to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. It was a one-off, but it really should have been the inspiration for a yearly tradition across the league. Could it still?

The game, four days after the anniversary, saw a pre-Abu Dhabi City run out 2-1 winners at Old Trafford against the soon-to-be Premier League and Champions League champions United.

It was a fixture of huge significance for obvious reasons, both on and off the pitch. City legend Frank Swift had also died in Munich and that fateful February 6 day affected the entire local community.

City played their part in the throwback tribute, removing Le Coq Sportif and Thomas Cook logos from their jersey, but it was United’s kit that really stood out.

An all-red shirt with a white trim with no badge and no logos, with numbers on the back direct from five decades before. To add to the throwback and tribute, there were no names, and squad numbers were abandoned in favour of the old-school 1-11 numbering.

Images of Cristiano Ronaldo wearing the kit that Duncan Edwards wore all those years before really struck home and made it a fitting tribute to the men who helped build the modern-day United.

And then…nothing.

United and City went back to their standardised kits, ones that now change on a yearly basis and have little to no meaning, lore or reverence amongst fans.

City did wear a special 125th anniversary kit for the 2019 Community Shield, with limited recognition of their Puma logo, and it is one that their fans undoubtedly would have liked to have seen more.

So, how about introducing a throwback tribute jersey game week?

American sports have already been doing it for years. For the 2009 NFL season, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Football League, the eight original members wore throwback uniforms on select ‘legacy weekends’.

The throwback tradition has continued elsewhere, although not to the extent of their basketball counterparts.

NBA teams have worn City Edition uniforms in recent seasons, which are intended to ‘represent the stories, history and heritage that make each franchise unique, honoring the inherent bond between court, community and culture’.

This season’s City Edition uniforms were showcased during the first-ever in-season tournament, which the Los Angeles Lakers won.

If the Premier League was to follow suit, Boxing Day seems like the most appropriate date, given it is already steeped in tradition, having been a calendar fixture since the first English league season in 1888.

With over 4,000 games having been played on the day since, there is no date more associated with football in Britain. 1963 Boxing Day and all that, too!

Obviously, there would be hurdles in the way, notably with sponsors and manufacturers.

It is one thing clubs selling retro jerseys online and in their club shops, and God knows Arsenal in particular do it by the near-dozen yearly, but another removing logos for a televised audience of millions of people.

Sponsors and manufacturers only care for the bottom line in truth, and rightly so, but agreements could be written into contracts, or slightly less money given to the clubs.

But it is one game of 38 across the league season, and even more when Europe and cup competitions are considered. It is a drop in the ocean.

The jerseys would unquestionably sell well, which would help offset losses for club and sponsors. The manufacturing partner would, of course, be the same.

Think of United in their 1950s jersey again, City in that 125th anniversary kit, Arsenal in a brandless version of their maroon throwback from the final season at Highbury, and countless more.

Clubs could even involve supporters in the decision process over which season to mirror and what kit to choose. Home and aways would have to be produced given colour clashes which, again, would increase the monetisation of the product.

But monetisation shouldn’t be the priority here, even if football is sadly becoming ever obsessed with it and little else. It’s probably wishful thinking to suggest any profits go to charitable organisations.

For fans and those truly connected to the clubs, it would certainly not be about the money.

It would be about a link between the past and the present; the Busby Babes and Kobbie Mainoo and Marcus Rashford, Bill Shankly’s 1960s vintage and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Conor Bradley. A way of honouring and paying homage to all those who paved the way for the players of today.

Football is too preoccupied with the present and forgets what came before; think of Sky’s shameless Premier League records whitewashing the greats of the pre-1992 era as the most obvious example.

A throwback tribute game week would be a very small step in the right direction, but something that would be welcomed by most fans.

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