the square ball week: blueBack
Whether Massimo Cellino brings the attention on himself, or people just love to give attention to Massimo Cellino, is a perennial question, and we’ll contribute to the debate by making this column not about Massimo Cellino.
But the contrast of the last seven days compared to the fourteen that went before demonstrates how easy it is for Leeds United to find relative normality and peace. Hire a head coach, and just have one of them at a time, and suddenly all the frothing about the future of the incumbent and the identity of his replacement goes away.
There’s been little heard from United since The Garry was appointed, apart from that Monk is working on bringing in Pep Clotet to help him, and presumably on pre-season plans, too. More talks have been held with Bailey Peacock-Farrell, too, and now he’s signed a new contract that he was unwilling to when the club was setting him arbitrary deadlines to make his mind up before Cellino had made his mind up about his next watermelon.
There have even been a few transfer rumours here and there, too, while Chris Wood and Jordan Botaka have been knocking them in on international duty. It’s begun to feel like the normal build up to a summer of tournament football at a normal club. Of course, if you’re reading this later in the day, you might be looking at Leeds United again through the prism of Massimo Cellino’s anticipated appearance at Lucy Ward’s decisive tribunal hearing, but for now, at least, we can enjoy the new Leeds United away kit in relevant tranquility.
We’re not supposed to be enjoying yet, like, and all we have to go on is a leaked photo of Lewis Cook wearing it in a Thorp Arch changing room, but we don’t need United to withhold its treats these days. Any pleasure, whether it’s a nineteen year old keeper with a contract, or a tone-matched away kit in Leeds United blue, should be ours to relish.
Proper Leeds United away kits are yellow, which piles on the pressure when a manufacturer goes with blue. If we take as a starting point Don Revie’s Coco Chanel style switch to a simple white kit, then a blue away kit actually predates yellow; blue with an owl. But then a red away kit predates yellow too. Fortunately everything was black and white in those days so red was as good as blue, as long as it clearly wasn’t white.
Maybe it was colour television that allowed yellow to emerge as Leeds’ contrasting kit, but it was the 1970s when the practice became established; with varying styles of trim and the occasional emergency orange shirt, Leeds were white at home and yellow away from 1972 to 1992. Looking through the designs, you can sense the Umbro designers’ desire to bring more blue; a deep blue V collar with piping, then blue shorts to contrast the shirt; the classic Burton away kit of 1986-88, blue above the nipple, below the waist, down the sleeves, but still yellow across the stomach and back.
They retreated after that, issuing the all-yellowest of all-yellow away kits, first as a third kit for when the Burton clashed too bluely, then as an away kit in its own right; a gorgeous thing, with v-neck and cuffs a deeper contrasting gold to the pale yellow of the shirt, the shorts carrying a triangular flash of white and a dab of blue, the Burton logo looking splendid in bold capital black.
It was followed by the gold perfection that took us to the Division Two and One titles, all yellow with the right measures of blue and white on the collar and cuffs, only slightly tarnished by the fact that Lazio wore it too, plus a pale blue version at home; Parma were swanking around in identical shorts (and white versions). That’s always disconcerting; if you love the 86/87 triangular kits as much as I do, you don’t want to know about Celtic trotting out in a white and green version for one friendly match against Cobh Ramblers. It cheapens the feel; it’s best ignored.
We’d best also ignore, as we step into the nineties and into Europe and into the blue, Middlesbrough’s change and third shirts from 1992/93. They were horribly bland anyway; confusing combos of pale blue with dark blue and white, white with black and red. That template only worked once, and it worked for Leeds United, in boldest blue, with stand-out yellow pixel stains flecked with white.
The blue away kit made by Admiral for Leeds United for the 1992/93 season was the boldest kit Leeds had since the switch to all white, or the introduction of the pop-art smiley badge. Leeds United were champions, and in one of the last summers of smiley culture, could have brought a version of that badge back and risked the Daily Express disapproval for endorsing raves; instead they went with pixel art, riding a summer wave when, in one month, Sega released Ecco the Dolphin, Nintendo released Super Mario Kart, and Domark released the first Championship Manager.
The home shirt Admiral produced for Leeds that season remains a classic; plain white, with a blue crossover collar and stitched ribbons on the short sleeves’ cuffs featuring Admiral logos alternating with the Leeds rose badge, Admiral’s name taking sponsor duties in deep matching felt. The plain white held a shimmer, though, silver-flecked patterns of crests etching through the fabric, futuristic circuits that were repeated in the away version.
Not much else made its way from the traditional home kit to the digitally forged away. A button down collar was one change; removing the border from the badge so that the rose petals sat on the shirt itself another. The waterfalls of pixels were the talking point, but the biggest deal was behind them: it was blue. Like no other Leeds United away kit since the contrasting change of the mid-sixties, this kit was blue: the shirt, the shorts, the socks.
And not just any blue. This blue was ocean deep, gained a glimmer from the fabric pattern, and looked incredible under floodlights. It was first properly seen away to Stuttgart, and if that game had a disappointing result (a 3-0 defeat), the way Leeds looked in their first European game thirteen years marked the transformation from Second Division also-rans to elite European contenders as complete.
It never looked quite that good again. Then again, Leeds hardly ever wore it again. One reason why a blue change kit is such a rarity for Leeds is that it doesn’t actually solve the problem that a change kit is meant to solve: kit clashes. It was fine for the first match after travelling back from Germany, a trip to The Dell to draw 1-1 with Southampton; their red and white striped shirts and black shorts meant Leeds couldn’t use their white kit, but all blue was fine. At Ipswich later in the month, though, the home team’s uniform of blue shirts with white sleeves and white shorts meant neither all white or all blue would do, and a yellow inversion of the brave, bold blue was required.
It was a pale imitation in all respects. The vomit nickname aimed at the pixel stains that flowed down the blue shirts has a lot to do with the shade of yellow used on the washed out third kit; while all nerve was lost when it came to the shorts, that instead of repeating the pixel patterns from the shirts that the blue shorts had, gave it all up for plain yellow with blue and white hip trim. Sometimes those shorts would even pair up with the blue shirt to get around a clash. The original vision, blue, technological, dark, was lost.
That kit was grandfather to the kit that was leaked this week. Mark Viduka cheated relegation in a blue Nike kit at Arsenal; Luciano Becchio swore volleys through the Middlesbrough net in Macron blue, with collar but no pixels. Now we have Lewis Cook in brave Kappa blueness, with an audacious twist of logos up the shorts’ sides.
One obvious question is, will he wear it? Not for the cynical youngster-for-sale reasons, but because the glory and the failure of United’s blue notes is that they’re smothered by the lack of an opportunity to play them. We probably can’t wear blue at Birmingham, Blackburn, Brighton, Burton, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Ipswich, Newcastle, QPR, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday or Wigan; we don’t always need a change kit at Aston Villa, Bristol City, Norwich, Nottingham Forest, Rotherham or Wolves.
Blue will come into its own at Barnsley, Brentford (except the shorts), Derby (except the shorts), Fulham (except the shorts), Preston (except the shorts). Depending on the whims of the match officials, that is. If the whims of the fixture list give us these away games at night, though, those four games will be worth it.
It’s twenty-four years since Admiral unveiled the bluest Leeds United kit there’s been, and it’s not been forgotten. It’s all part of being a football club; playing our part, looking the part.