Fans becoming fashion victims

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The Independent Online
Alan Shearer will have appreciated one quality of the new England football strip, modelled by him yesterday at its launch: its ability to deal with sweaty, sticky conditions. The striker was put under pressure as he was forced to turn defender and justify why the new home kit was put on the market so soon after Christmas, a time when many of the old strips were given as presents.

"I do have sympathy for the fans, but there's nothing I can do about it," the England captain said. "It's about trend and fashion and that's part of life. Things move on and the kit has moved on."

The movement, in fact, has not been radical. There are minor modifications to the sleeves and collar, longer shorts and the shirt has been given a new coating to draw sweat away from the skin and keep the players dry in high humidity or temperature.

"I think it's very nice and smart and I look forward to wearing it if I'm selected. It feels nice and light," Shearer said.

A more pertinent target man cornered at the launch was Simon Marsh, marketing manager of the kit's manufacturers, Umbro. "I think we are in a situation where we can't win," he said. "There isn't a good time to bring out a kit.

"We kept the two-year life cycle of the kit and there was very little of the old kit left on the market. I think we are in an industry that is involved in fashion and fashion changes."

When asked about criticism of the strip's launch date, Marsh added: "We will take that on board for future changes and that is why we have included the wear-by date on all future strips."

The strip has been endorsed by the Football Association, whose commercial director, Phillip Carling, said: "Everyone here at the FA, including Glenn Hoddle, is very pleased with the new kit. We are confident the fans will like it. As far as the future is concerned we've promised to consult the supporters on our plans and that promise will be kept."

The new kit will go on sale tomorrow and will be used for the first time in England's World Cup qualifying match against Italy at Wembley on 12 February.

The strip costs pounds 39.99 for an adult shirt and pounds 29.99 for a junior shirt. Shorts cost pounds 21.99 for adults and pounds 15.99 for children, with socks pounds 6.99 for adults and pounds 5.99 for children. These are the same prices as the last England kit to go on sale.

David Mellor, the former Tory minister who hosts Radio 5 Live's Six-O- Six football phone-in programme, has been a vociferous critic of the launch, labelling it a "cynical rip-off" by Umbro and the Football Association.