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The fashion victims of football

What should a boy wear for the Cup Final? Not Hugo Boss, for sure.
THIS afternoon when Arsenal and Newcastle go for a walkabout on the Wembley pitch before the big match, they'll be wearing Hugo Boss suits, both sides united in their passion for one designer label.

Although most supporters couldn't give a flying football about the designer name on their team's inside jacket pockets, the dressing of football stars has become big business for fashion companies. To have a football player endorse your clothes is worth more in advertising revenue than all the chisel-jawed models in Milan.

Giorgio Armani scored a hat-trick when he had the bright idea of employing Liverpool goalie David James to show off his magnificent thighs wearing nothing more than a pair of briefs. However, the designer was given a yellow card when he dressed the entire team for the FA Cup final in 1996.

What singles out the match in the memories of the most die-hard fans were the official team suits that Liverpool wore before the match. "David James looked superb in his, obviously because he was modelling for Armani anyway," argues one Liverpool fan. "It depended who was wearing them." Another fan has still not got over the shock: "I held my face in my hands in shame. From the moment they stepped out in those suits, I knew we were going to lose."

Whichever side you're on, footballers' suits can be an emotive - and all too often comic - subject. The days when the team went down to their local Burtons to be fitted for a smart suit for the big day are over. Footballers have become the menswear equivalent of Hollywood movie stars at the Oscars, prey to big corporate designers who can supply suits free of charge. Hugo Boss can no doubt throw in a few dozen boxes of aftershave, and a pair of boxers as a sweetener for Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish. But a team that is worth as much as Arsenal can well afford to buy their own suits. And it's time they supported local talent.

One local designer is Katharine Hamnett. Her menswear is already popular with the football fraternity, but who better to design the Gunners kit than a designer who lives - and works - within spitting distance of the club? She could do a great line in Reservoir Dogs style slim-line two- pieces for the boys (although she would have to remember they don't like flat front trousers because they sit too tightly on their thighs).

Likewise, Charlie Allen, the Highbury-based tailor who was born only 100 yards from the ground and still lives 200 yards from it. "It's outrageous. Both sides wearing Hugo Boss! Why can't they pick an English designer?" he asks. Needless to say, he is an Arsenal supporter and will be closing his shop at 3pm this afternoon. "No wonder the Germans beat us at football. We're wearing their suits."

Despite the fact that the suits would have been required at short notice, Mr Allen is adamant that he could have supplied the team with their own bespoke suit at the reduced price of pounds 750 each - including shirt and tie. "It has to be a suit. They're wearing dark grey, but I'd put them in red and black shot mohair - Zegna fabric - very light and half-lined," says Allen. They would also wear a black shirt with a black tie shot with red stripes that you could see from a distance. The suit would be single- breasted, three buttoned and with flat-fronted trousers. "Instead, they've gone for a name," says Allen.

Small companies, however local, simply cannot compete. When Nigel Curtiss, the British menswear designer dressed Manchester United for the 1996 final, he made thirty suits for the team, the subs, and their manager, Alex Ferguson.

"It's a prestigious thing to do. The fact that you've suited up the most famous footballers in the world is worth a lot." However, Curtiss was not paid for the privilege. He split the costs with the Manchester menswear shop, Garcon, which got the business in the first place through regular customers Andy Cole, Paul Ince, and Ryan Giggs. Likewise, Newcastle may not have been loyal to a local designer, but Kenny Dalglish put in a call to the team's favourite suit shop, Cruise Flannels in the Toon's equivalent of Bond Street.

Nigel Cabourn, the Geordie designer who lives in a windmill in the centre of the city might have loved the chance to dress the boys, but the task went to Boss. Navy suits and cream shirts with cutaway collar were shipped over from Germany and although the team is not officially sponsored by the label, they are happy to be as helpful and generous as they can.

Locally, however, it is Cruise that will benefit from the increase in business. Designer menswear is worth in excess of pounds 446 million in the UK and Cruise will be getting their fair share.

Come the World Cup however, Germany can keep their Hugo Boss. England have gone for some of the best made suits in the world. They're British and they're by Paul Smith.