Book of the Week

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The Independent Online
Club Colours: An illustrated history of football clubs and their kits

by Bob Bickerton Hamlyn, pounds 25 hardback

A FREQUENT thought when watching football the past few years has been to pity the players for having to turn out in some of those ghastly strips. It must feel demeaning to come out looking like a paintball victim - and that must affect the way a team plays. Manchester United's grey-shirted derailment at The Dell a few years ago supports the idea.

In his quasi-anthropological coffee-table book The Football Tribe, Desmond Morris investigated the psychology of football strips. Red is the colour most likely to instil fire into players' hearts, apparently, though Morris was unable to explain why blue, which is supposed to have the opposite effect, is equally popular.

Club Colours sensibly avoids straying into such dodgy waters, restricting itself to mapping the evolution of every side's kit, from the red and blue stripes of 1880s Arsenal to the red, white and blue of 1990s York. We think we had it bad in the early '90s, with the likes of Brighton and Arsenal risking prosecutions for light pollution, but the early days were just as consciousness-altering.

Accordingly, the book features a welter of op-art creations to daze and confuse, such as Tranmere's gold and red halves with blue shorts, Watford's red, gold and green hoops, York City's chocolate and cream stripes (a nod to the support the club enjoyed in the local Rowntree's and Terry's factories), Luton's blue and pink halves with matching cap or Bolton's white shirts with big red spots.

It's a shame that the book, though exhaustive, is not a complete record of every kit worn by every club. That way it would have provided a service for fanatics, though it would have to have been twice the size or more cramped. As it is, the lay-out and illustrations in coloured pencil are attractive.

Evocative though they are of football's halcyon days, however, they do have the unfortunate effect of flattening out the distinctive features, making each strip too much like the rest - and, rendering in the process even those early-90s abominations aesthetically palatable.

What the book lacks is any serious discussion of the topic. How did sportsmen come to wear bright colours in the first place, for example? Presumably heraldry has something to do with it, but we should be told. Still, this is an entertaining riffle through football's wardrobe.