A Little Black Dress

Conference South – Farnborough FC v Dover Athletic FC
Wednesday, 21st March 2012, 7.45pm
The Rushmoor Community Stadium
Distance 25 miles, Attendance 402
All my football firsts can be traced back to the 1970s. The first match I attended (Wycombe Wanderers), my first kit (West Ham), first Watford match (Boxing Day v Northampton Town), first trip to The Empire Stadium (Forest v Southampton), first World Cup (Argentina*). My affection for them all is limitless. Closing my eyes I can still feel and see every single one; crumbling terraces, cotton jersey, wooden benches, van der Kerkhofs, and ticker tape. So much is so clear, yet try as I might, I cannot remember a single player kissing their badge. Not one. Not in any of the hundred-odd incredible games I have seen, did anyone grab a fist of heavy knitted cotton and plant one on the club crest.
Keeping nostalgia and emotion out of it, the simple truth is that football kits in the 1970s were far, far, better; and you didn’t need to kiss them to illustrate your love of them. Well you wouldn’t would you. When you’re banging them in like Keith Mercer, all chest puffed out in celebration, you were too busy oozing pride to want to place a smacker on a dirty shirt. Mud aside their design was perfection. Karl Lagerfeld recently decreed, “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.”. Whilst the outfit might not apply (we won’t even go there), the principle of uncomplicated classic design is ideal. Back in the 70s, club kits had simplistic beautiful coloured plain cotton panels with a crest on the front. Now they have cool mesh panels in snug-fitting, bespoke, scientific, wicking fabrics which shed accidental creases. Add to this some patterns, beading, and life-enhancing adverts, and the result is generally, a wholly forgettable mess.

Having taken my chip shot for posting, and settled down on the 18 yard line at the Rushmoor Community Stadium, my eyes were immediately drawn by the kit on display. This shouldn’t have been the case, but tragically it’s true.

Entering the ground I thought my words would be filled with tales of devoted fans trying to hold their club together despite debt, unfinished stands, and crumbling brickwork. There was a lovely welcome from the girl at the car park entrance (£3 for parking AND a programme… are you paying attention Watford?) and the turnstile operator continued the convivial atmosphere. In the bar, reading the “What’s On” board which advertised Northern Soul night on Saturday, my mood was lifted further as the sound of Feargal Sharkey crooning through the opening words of Teenage Kicks filled the air. Even having heard lids would be removed from bottles at the snack bar I was still upbeat (well there was a bacon roll and chips with my name on it). I’d seen Farnborough win away to Woking in the play-offs last summer and was quite eager to see them at home. Standing pitchside one senior fan explained that lifeless scoreboard “must’ve got some water in it”, before adding that the new owner has “his head screwed on” and has brought the club some stability, but that the team was struggling. A few minutes into the game it was hard to disagree. George Purcell swept over a beautifully precise free kick and Ian Simpemba rose above the defence to deftly head home. The keeper didn’t have a chance.

As the match wore on Dover continued to dominate. Whilst you never felt Farnborough were out of the game, somehow The Whites seemed more coherent, more determined, and more accurate. Every time they went forward you sensed the score would increase. Purcell, Donovan Simmonds, and Billy Bricknell all impressed. By the time Dover did double their lead, with a stunning team effort, John O’Hara had kindly handed round some team sheets, which was handy for a neutral like me. The ball was won by a combative midfield and fed to Simmonds on the left of the box. Using his speed he found space for a pinpoint cross to the onrushing Bricknell whose powerful header was unstoppable. Soon after Bricknell unselfishly fed Simmonds but the shot went wide. With the sound of Vera Lynn breaking out from the away support The Yellows chased the game. Chances came their way, and on occasion Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz was tested, but only once was he forced into a brilliant match-winning save. That was right on half time.
During the break, in the absence of Sky Sports, the big observations revolved around Bricknell’s fine work rate, Purcell’s hesitancy in the challenge, and Russell Brand’s uncanny resemblance to Free’s Paul Rodgers. Leaving the bar I wandered round the big ground, taking in the subtleties of another struggling club. There was a time when such a situation would seem unusual, but now we’ve become almost immune to it. Now it’s almost de rigueur. Off the top of my head; Rangers, Port Vale, Pompey, Darlington, and Kettering are all facing some unsightly truths, but most clubs are running at a loss and the time before a huge casualty cannot be long in coming.

Back to the restart and Boro put in a spirited first fifteen minutes, sadly without making any impact on the score. Dover, when the ref wasn’t blowing his whistle, also failed to add to their tally. This pattern continued for the entire half; tough tackling, mishits, half chances, free kicks, and balls going over stands. As the final whistle went it was a strangely odd sensation. Usually I’m won over by one team but not this time. Instead I had warmed to them both (to a point).
Farnborough had strived and lost. I didn’t feel sorry for them, it just wasn’t their night. All our teams have these moments; games when efforts go unrewarded, but we know they’ll pass. We know they’ll win again. Dover on the other hand are benefitting from some shrewd management from Nicky Forster, some players who are comfortable on the ball, and a big set of flag-bearing supporters prepared to drive over a hundred miles for their team on a Tuesday night. Of course, one could ask why Les Blancs aren’t doing better in the league, or where it all went wrong for Boro. But the questions that worry me more concern both teams**; who designs your kit? And who told your players that orange/purple boots went with it? Both these fine young clubs have great team colours and thus unlimited possibilities for quality kit design, but both seem to have opted for modern multicolour over style (which interestingly I didn’t see anyone kiss).


Now I have some, as yet, unproven theories about this badge-kissing whim, and it has precious little to do with loyalty and more about an appreciation for aesthetic design (and Lagerfeld’s little black dress). Really, once you get past the vain attempt to impress the supporters, it screams “Last year’s was hideous but, I BLOODY LOVE THIS KIT!” Of course, some might argue that players today pucker up through a love of heavily marketed, multi-coloured everything, but I’d suggest that’s only because they’re just too young to remember anything better.
Dear clubs, for all our benefits, before picking out the next year’s offering, forget the bottom line, drop the advertising, and just stick with team colours, and bear in mind: “Fashions fade, style is eternal.***”
(*the previous two missed me, **one more than the other, **fashion guru of the 1960s and 1970s, Yves Saint-Laurent)
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