The Premier League, as it tends to, is returning for another season. Along with all of the goals, soap opera storylines and unmissable live clashes between Huddersfield and Southampton, we also have new home and away kits for every team taking part in the competition.
There was a time when a club would hang onto a kit for a couple of years, occasionally more.
That tradition has fallen by the wayside like teams running out of the tunnel ahead of kick-off instead of filing out politely in the world’s least-useful jackets to share the sort of non-commital handshakes that would immediately disqualify you from Dragon’s Den funding.
The slate of entirely new outfits is great news for annual kit ranking articles but, as is becoming increasingly clear, bad news for the quality of designs on show. A new kit every year inevitably means tinkering for the sake of it, an increasingly frantic cycle through arbitrary flourishes which give the appearance of renewal but often look more like novelty.
Nevertheless, rank them we must, rank them we will, rank them we have.
For those playing along at home, here’s the audit of which companies are getting involved this season:
(NB: Manchester United have rudely refused to formally launch their away kit thus far. We think it’s pink, but we’re waiting for definitive confirmation and will slot it in at the correct spot when it’s finalised)
Let’s begin with some grim tosh:
39. Watford away
A series of poor ideas. Putrid green smeared over Adidas’s so-so Condivo 18 template, the one with interlocking lined squares as seen on Belgium and Sweden’s away shirts in the recent World Cup of football. We’ll be seeing that template again later, like poorly-cooked poultry. In this incarnation it’s the visual equivalent of nails down a chalkboard.
38. Leicester away
Sometimes something so abhorrent happens in kit design that no-one is ever allowed to revisit it. An exclusion zone is set up around a combination of colours, like a polyester Chernobyl. The last time we saw grey and orange together the year was 1994, and they were masquerading as “tangerine and graphite”:
No thanks. Leicester have flounted the rules and come up with this slab of pavement, one of the worst versions so far of the aforementioned Condivo pattern. Cursed.
37. Spurs away
A tedious combination of colours, sleeves like a headache, shorts resembling a disastrous a washing machine load which has mixed up the analogue with the digital. The current Nike Vapor template, with its erratic patterns, has had some successes. It’s ugly here. See also, as the final insult, this year’s Barcelona training top:
36. Everton away
You can keep trying, Premier League, with your all-black away kits, but you are never going to place higher than 36th in this countdown. That shade of magenta is Not The One. Hard to see how anyone could fall in love with this shirt. That is to say: a waste of time.
35. Wolves away
There was a time when sponsors’ logos had to conform to certain size restrictions. Either those regulations have been significantly relaxed or there are is a counterfeit ruler epidemic sweeping the Black Country. W88, the best of all the online gambling companies to sponsor Premier League shirts this season (with a name that begins in a “W” and features a number between 81 and 89) has at least paid someone to come up with a passably pleasant visual identity. Meaningless patterning isn’t fooling anyone – this is not an exciting football kit.
34. Cardiff home
Oof. I made an involuntary pained noise the first time I laid eyes upon this, dominated by a prosaic sponsor which gives the impression of a shirt hacked by a hostile and non-GDPR compliant overseas tourist organisation. Cardiff will spend their season dressed more like a League One crisis club than triumphant top-flight nose-bloodiers. At least it’s blue this time.
33. Cardiff away
…this isn’t much better. Give yourself a pat on the back if you spotted the dreaded Condivo patterning before reading the word “Condivo” earlier in this sentence. Very well done to anyone who got that at home.
32. Burnley home
LaBwahahaha! What in the crazy mixed-up world of of Mandarin and poker chips is that? The answer, as with any question posed in this article, is “an online gambling company”. A descending zig-zag honeycomb sublimation effect is leading the half-hearted rescue mission. Atrocious sponsor makes a forgettable kit borderline upsetting.
31. Spurs home
Before summer, the football kit creation hivemind spun its roulette wheel - in association with Super XXL Casino Win Urgently Bet 319.com – and landed on the word “gradients”. They are the emerging design trend in this year’s collections of shirts, most prominently on Man Utd’s (Adidas) fade to black and this Spurs effort which blends into its shorts but comes off far too crudely for the first season in a new stadium. There was an opportunity to do something special to mark the occasion, instead Spurs are left with a shirt which looks so of its time that it has already dated.
30. Burnley away
All black – minus three points. Monotone emblem identity erasure – minus two points. Fussy little collar – minus one point. Silly sponsor – minus six points. Bottom of shirt which screams “eSports enthusiast” – plus 10 points. Really? Yes, it would seem so. I don’t make the rules. (I do make the rules.) Final score: minus two points.
29. Liverpool away
And the winner! Of this year’s! Coveted! Kit most likely to be criticised with the words “looks like a training top” award IS…. Yes, it’s this one. I’m of the opinion that unusual footballing colours should be encouraged and it will make a welcome change to see a team wearing purple instead of, say, white. But that colour combination of lurid / lurid is tough to look at and Liverpool’s altogether more pleasant grey third kit should relegate this one to only occasional use:
28. Newcastle United home
Standard issue barcode business from Puma with inevitable addition of ugly logo of oblique online gambling company that neither you nor any of your friends have ever heard of, let alone used, which somehow made a net profit of £463m last year.
27. West Ham home
We’ve had two years now to live with the new West Ham emblem and it still looks like the one shonky element which gives away the inauthenticity of an otherwise flawless knock-off you found in a naughty corner of the internet. The shirt design seems to be taking cues from that big, dumb badge now. Brash horizontal pinstripes, fussy Umbro sleeve trim and the obligatory reminder that life is meaningless without gambling. Never a positive when the socks are the best element.
26. Brighton away
Odd how, despite more than 30 years of goalkeepers wearing colours other than green, it’s hard not to parse this as something which should only be worn by the fella between the sticks. The overall effect is undeniably weird, the leafy sublimation pattern adding to the unease. It’s also a Nike Challenge II teamwear template, available without a Brighton or credit card logo for significantly less money.
25. Liverpool home
New Balance dial it down a notch with what appears to be the darkest shade of red Liverpool have had for some time. Deeper, more meaningful, more earnest. Less fun. Pretty tedious work, collar or no.
24. Chelsea away
A friend of mine tells a story of her teenage years in the late-90s which she had bought a bright new coat. It was a bold move, a big statement during the era of muted, murky combat trousers. Nevertheless, she decided to give the coat its debut on a night out in her hometown, not a place known for outré fashion statements. Within seconds of leaving the train station a stranger looked at her, aghast, and said “Bit f*cking yellow?” See also: this Chelsea away kit.
23. Manchester City home
Our Nike Vapor template frenemy returns with its thrilling festival of jagged sleeve lines. Navy socks not a terrible idea. No discerning features otherwise. A let-down.
22. Fulham home
After a Premier League spell which bled out rather meekly in the end, Fulham went on the optimum four-season Championship minibreak – long enough to be excited about returning, not so long that it begins to feel desperate. They emerge into the top tier looking exactly as they did when they went on their last drastic upswing. The black midriff strap returns for the first time since 1999 with only the sponsor changing to reflect the different era. The internet service provider makes way for… oh, it’s an online gambling company. Honestly, I am as bored of typing it as you are of reading it. Interesting* to note that this design isn’t some ancient Thameside kit tradition, the first time Fulham wore anything like this was in 1997-98 under Micky Adams. Proof that no nostalgia is a potent as 20-year-old nostalgia. Which is why we’re looking forward to the return of Micky Adams just as soon as Slavisa Jokanovic does the decent thing and steps aside. Oh, sorry – the kit? It’s an agreeable throwback but ultimately pretty basic.
* Your mileage may vary.
21. Arsenal home
All talk of a brave new era at Arsenal was ruined, RUINED, by the abomination of that striped detailing on the sleeves of this new home shirt which, when viewed from a distance, appears to be (gasp!) pink. Excuse me, I’ve just been physically sick everywhere. I exaggerate, of course. I directed my vomit appropriately, like a gentleman. Despite the outrage this is decent enough, with a sponsor so well established that it’s easy to pass it off as part of the furniture. Sleeve-whites staging a takeover of the disputed shoulder region not a total success. Looking forward to next year’s shirt, no-doubt billed as the “return to ICONIC red shoulders”.
20. Brighton home
About 20 years ago football shirts began to billow. Their hyper-inflation began in earnest around 1995, and by World Cup 1998 we had reached peak billowy shirt. By the end of his career, David Beckham would be wearing entire kits made with the same amount of material used for just one sleeve of his 98 gear. Perhaps frustration with such lax tailoring was to blame for his catastrophic revenge kick on Diego Simeone? Brighton appear to be bringing back the billow. On the players this looks less dress-like, but I’m on board with the inexplicably red Nike tick. Less so the stripeless back or the lack of unity between the sponsor logo and colours around it, however much it reminds me of the cover of Autobahn:
19. Crystal Palace home
South London is not the home of subtlety this season. A riotous combination of colours and patterns. Back in Gradientland, with the stripes doing something unexpected, as they might if forming the backdrop to an 80s quiz show. Ultimately, as is so often the case with borderline Palace kits, it’s a bit too blue.
18. Bournemouth away
A pleasing sense of spontaneity and a lack of nonsense in this ultra-shiny Umbro combo, like an emergency change strip thrown together from last season’s away shirt and the opposition’s spare shorts. And, you know what? It works. It sort of, almost, 6/10 works.
17. Huddersfield home
After last year’s relegation-avoiding hi-jinks in silly stripes Huddersfield return to basics and Umbro, after five years with Puma. There’s also a return for the happy little chappy over the left breast, not seen since the early seventies. The Terrier makes its Premier League debut, albeit in slightly different form from its first coming, which looked more like a homemade badge sewn by an eager Scout:
Huddersfield are at pains to point out that however much this looks like a new club crest, it is not a new club crest. From their official website:
Although the new Terrier will appear on Town’s shirts this season, it has NOT replaced the current Huddersfield Town crest; that is still the official crest of Huddersfield Town and will continue to be used in all other areas.
This, fact fans, makes Huddersfield one of two clubs who don’t wear their actual club emblem on their shirts. Can you name the other? (scroll back to number 25). A clear and unfussy overall look. As ever, shame the sponsor logo is a total drag.
16. Arsenal away
I know what you’re thinking – that mountainous design is quite similar to Slovenia’s. No? Just me? Fairly tasteful exercise in apologetic PSG colours but will fall into the sad category of “boring on TV” Redeemed by some extraordinary shorts.
15. Leicester home
Strong, confident, healthy-looking, lustrous, stays light and bouncy all day… Sorry, got a bit shampoo advert there. Little to find fault with. The three slightly different shades of blue in shirt, shorts and socks are irrefutably more our fault than theirs and, I am certain, not representative of real life.
14. Manchester United home
I always liked the consistency of Man Utd’s kit combinations. Red shirts, white shorts, black socks at home, but staying true to red shirts wherever possible away and swapping in black shorts as necessary. There was a “we mean business” message about that approach and, as ever with United, an appropriate nod to their inherent evil powers. Year three of increasingly broken Jose, and Adidas has made the brave decision to make those black shorts United’s home default. You can see the thinking, the oddly sudden fade to black at the bottom of the shirt may have seemed off if not continued below. Strange, certainly. Sure to upset plenty of people. But, hey, it’s only for a year. Tasty socks.
13. Fulham away
Now that’s what I call acceptable use of the Condivo template. Loud like an estate agent’s suit. An estate agent you take an immediate dislike to but must placate if you’re to snare the dream of a £450k one-bed do-er-upper in zone 6. A football kit to do reluctant business with.
12. Manchester City away
There’s something endearing about the idea of Manchester City, the wannabe earth-straddling megabrand, the ultimate billionaire’s “project”, the team which aspires to be glory-hunted by insecure children, throwing back to a moment of triumph which came against Gillingham. This shirt, with its nods to the alarming Kappa one in which City secured promotion from Division Two in 1999, is several degrees more tasteful than the original which remains illegal to wear without a permit:
Odd to describe a kit with that luminosity running through it as muted, but that’s what a calming dose of black will bring you. A qualified success.
11. Huddersfield away
The tricky second season second kit. Very straight bat played and nearly the best Bournemouth home kit of the season. Familiar, but appropriate for the age. Sponsor horror-show marginally improved by black piping.
10. Everton home
Blimey, the top 10 already. This is not a vintage year. Not one person in the world is getting used to seeing that vile font on the sleeves of an Everton shirt. Methodically pick that off, as I would strongly encourage you to, and this is a winning slightly backward-looking affair, with its main pattern like your satellite signal during the worst thunderstorm of the summer. Umbro sleeve diamonds are A Bit Much. No mistakes made on socks or shorts.
9. Watford home
Bang! No mistaking this team for who they are: It’s Borussia Dortmund! Oh, sorry, slip of the typing fingers: Borussia Hertfordshire. ‘orns have gone with bold black stripes on their home shirt for the first time since 1923, a time before they had met the colour yellow and wore white instead. Or perhaps I’m putting too much faith in the veracity of old photographs? A touch too fan-made concept kit, but will be a diverting novelty for a season.
8. Southampton home
A few years ago Southampton launched their kit with a cartoon version of their players parading their new Under Armour wares. What better way to engage children than with an animated Fraser Forster? That aesthetic seems to have stuck around, with black pin stripe flanking the white, like the outline of a speech bubble in the Beano. Striking.
7. Newcastle United away
In the how to do backward-looking kits rulebook which I just made up, the key commandment is Thou Shalt Not Simply Recreate The Past, Merely Draw Inspiration From It. This Newcastle change strip, modelled on the fondly-remembered rugby-like shirt worn with distinction by the “I’d love it, love it” team of Ferdinand, Ginola and Howey passes with flying colours. The maroon and navy are a little bit duller than we remember them, aged like decent wine. Shades of arrogant but awful late-Wenger Arsenal, but that’s not enough to ruin a fun design.
6. Wolves home
Flying off the shelves by all accounts, Wolves claim to have already sold more of these before the season begins than they managed throughout the campaign with last year’s shirt. Their first ever Adidas kit, and a pleasing move back towards the correct shade of amber rather than occasional dalliances with orange. A welcome addition to the Premier League palette.
5. Southampton away
Yes Southampton, you know the way to my heart. Yellow bright like a genetically perfected ultra-yolk, blue like Thomas the Tank Engine after a new lick of paint. “Will finds a way” feels like a reasonably on-brand mission statement, as far as vacuous kit bunf goes, given Southampton are engaged in the eternal debate: can a team survive if it methodically disposes of its best players year after year? The Will in question is not employed by Under Armour. You’ll be waiting for at least a couple of weeks if you want to buy this owing to what Southampton call “ an issue beyond the club’s control”
4. Crystal Palace away
If you can look past the sponsor, which may prove difficult because it’s absolutely enormous, this is a winner. Like a RuPaul says to a competent drag queen – Sashay: you stay.
3. West Ham away
Ditching the usual sky blue and shacking up with a moodier shade, this hangs together very pleasantly indeed. Deep claret echoing a far better West Ham home shirt than this year’s and an unexpected garish yellow accent colour to hang the kit’s hat on. Do kits have hats? Not for the past hundred years, but you can bet someone at Umbro is reading these words and has coincidentally just come up with an idea which will REVOLUTIONISE kit manufacturing for the next 50. Hatless though it is, this is very tidy.
2. Bournemouth home
In which Bournemouth absolutely nail it. Gold is often such a mistake in football kits. Arrogant and fate-tempting. Here it’s wisely dimmed a touch and marries the crest and sponsor logo while adding something to the trim. Splendid stuff.
1. Chelsea home
Pensioner Red, as it has no-doubt been trademark, had a prominent role on plenty of Chelsea home shirts between 1981 and 1995. Picture shirts with Gulf Air, Commodore and Coors on the front and concentrate VERY HARD on trying to remember what the trim and collars looked like. There it is. It was shunted off for yellow in the Gullit-Vialli era then not heard from again until a brief appearance in 2010/11. It’s back here and in some style. This is a thing of refined and singular beauty, the only truly memorable shirt in a disappointing season. However disappointing a season it turns out to be on the pitch for Chelsea, they will always have this imaginary trophy. Our winner.
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