United drop grey strip after black day

Manchester United's grey football kit yesterday became a collector's item as the "strip they couldn't see" was consigned to the dustbin after less than a season.

The outfit, which adorned the likes of Cantona and Giggs on United's appearances away from their home ground of Old Trafford, was blamed for a string of disappointing results and will be replaced by an all-white version.

United are on the verge of winning the Premiership title - the biggest prize in football - despite having lost four and drawn one of the five games in which the unlucky, two-tone design had been worn.

The last straw came on Saturday at Southampton when, after going in three goals down at half-time, the United manager, Alex Ferguson, ordered a switch to the team's blue and white third kit. The changed worked, but only partially as United lost 3-1.

"The players couldn't pick each other out," Ferguson said. "They said it was difficult to see their team-mates at distance when they lifted their heads. It was nothing to do with superstition. This club went 26 years without winning the league and we didn't think about changing the red shirts. It's nothing to do with that at all."

Thousands of parents, who bought the Umbro-manufactured grey shirts - priced pounds 29.99 and pounds 39.99 - for their children, will now have to finance the change to white, although Umbro has attempted to soften the blow by reducing the price by pounds 10.

However, England's biggest and wealthiest club - the kit deal with Umbro is worth pounds 80m over six years - were already committed to bringing out a new version of their traditional red shirt for next season and will change the blue and white third kit at the turn of the year.

Tony Kershaw, the secretary of the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs, said: "You can only sum it up as a rip-off. Changing all three kits in the course of one season is totally unfair to the fans of all age groups, not just children. United fans will want to have all three kits and they are just being taken for a ride."