During this summer’s World Cup  I became a laughing stock in several discussions with other football fans. Nothing new I hear you add. But this time it was because I found myself agreeing with Jimmy Hill. You may remember he made a point after the Rumanians all dyed their hair blonde that this was a positive thing. It was not only strengthening team spirit he said, by uniting the squad together in something, but it would even quicken up their passing ability as they sighted the blonde hair of a colleague out of the corner of the eye. It was that split second that could make all the difference. (I can’t remember if Rumania won or lost the game now). A similar debate took place a couple of seasons ago after a match at the Dell when Manchester United’s eleventh(?) kit - the grey one - so blended in with the Hampshire crowd that the United players felt they were looking for a chameleon in a haystack. Following the break they ran out in a different strip altogether. They still lost the match and lots of fun was had at their expense. Besides, in the old days George Best had no problem finding Bobby Charlton and they were in black and white!
However, if by wearing certain colours speeds up your senses, even by a miniscule, surely that can only be a good thing for the player on the ball. I’ve been involved in arranging and playing in weekly football matches during summer months in Kennington Park for over twenty years. The local youth (and older ones up to forty) have, on occasions, turned up in droves to participate, and it has never been our policy to turn people away unless it’s well late into the game. For a number of years it was a bit of a disorganised shambles with two dozen players in an assortment of whites, coloureds and boilwashes. And I’m talking about shirts here - some of my best friends are boilwashes! It’s just that it can be very confusing trying to work out who is on your side and who is on the opposing team. Get two players similarly attired and you lose precious moments thinking before passing and even then sometimes get it wrong.
On one occasion, a cold September evening about a decade ago in a ridiculous twenty-a-side match, some bright spark called out for ‘skins’. This basically means that one side has to remove their shirts to save confusion. No problem on a baking hot day. But it happened to be my side that went semi-naked, and I think it might have been then that I thought it necessary to purchase some coloured bibs for future use. Since then we’ve been playing reds v yellows each week which makes things so much easier. And even then the naked eye seems to pick out yellow much more quickly than red when the nights begin to draw in.
I’ve noticed too over the years that the most popular colour for away shirts (in midweek matches in particular), and that goes for teams in the top flight as well as the Isthmian League, is either all white or all yellow. There must be a reason for this, and surely it is because under floodlights they are surely the most easily seen.
I was most surprised to find that the above theory is not as modern or as loony as we might first think. Whilst doing some research recently I came across this article from the pen of the popular sportswriter L.V. Manning from A september 1937 edition of the Daily Sketch.
“It has become a habit to think of the great Herbert Chapman as inventor of most football novelties, but although he was one of the first to realise jazz stockings might help players to find each other with passes without looking around to establish identification, their are other claimants.
But since the first pair brightened the twilight of a dark November afternoon, stockings became jazzier and jazzier until this season the Football League had to step in and insist on all clubs registering both colour and design.
And Bolton Wanderers, I note, have achieved exclusiveness by the simple process of turning back the clock and reverting to the old fashioned plain white top with a self colour leg. Probably wearied of seeing colour blind players pass to the wrong stockings.
It was a lot of ‘bunk’ anyway. Some players
would still get the pass to the wrong man if
(1) he went up and asked for it, (2) wrote a
postcard, (3) fired a pistol, or (4) rang a
peal of church bells.”
Judging from action photographs of
thirties players I assume that what is
referred to above as ‘jazz stockings’ are
the hooped variety that appear to have
become most popular after the Arsenal
took to wearing them.
This article is from October 1998 and originally appeared in the Champion Hill Street Blues fanzine under the pseudonym Graveley Roberts