Saturday, March 24, 2012

I was a teenage kit designer...

Yes, I admit it. Rather than doing the decent thing of going out and hanging around with girls during my younger years, I found peace and contentment by designing football kits. It probably accounts for something, but my wife’s probably the best person to say it.

Felt-tip creations: Arsenal,Liverpool (away),
generic and Leeds United.
I didn’t do it all the time, of course. When I was very young, up to the age of 11, for instance, I liked nothing more than to play football with my school friends and watch football on TV. When football kits started to get flashy however (I’m sorry – the word ‘sexy’ just doesn’t work for me on that level), I then found my imagination was well and truly engaged. I wanted to see if my own creativity matched those of the kit manufacturers, and the best way to do that was with some paper, felt tip pens and a glass of orange Quosh to sustain me.

Actually, it wasn’t always felt tip pens. Though they added strong, bold colours to the page, that same boldness could be inconsistent if you overlapped an area you’d already covered. That’s why pencils were sometimes my medium of choice, although it was slightly harder to scrub the colour onto the page.

In water-colour: Ipswich
(home and away)
I even tried using water colour paints in my early-20’s, mainly because it would allow me to quickly apply the colour to the page while retaining some pathetic semblance of artistic integrity. The results weren’t bad, but it was never going to be easy creating a design with any high level of detail. When decent home computers arrived around the same time, I tried designing kits on them, but though the output was neat, it lacked any kind of soul.

Before you even designed a kit, you had to draw an outline template which would go on to be coloured in. Though some of my peers would have gone for the simple shirt-shorts-socks approach (latterly showed in its finest possible light by John Devlin), I always favoured an action shot of a real player. The trouble was you had to find exactly the right pose to show off all the important details the kit you wanted to draw. Having found one, however, you could then trace it onto one page after another to provide you with a consistent template for future drawings.

Computer-designed generic kits
That was rather tedious, though. Who wanted to waste time drawing templates when the real joy was to be had colouring in the kits?  The answer could be found in the form of a piece of technology that was growing massively in popularity back in the mid-80’s. It was called a ‘photocopier,’ yet even that had its drawbacks - the main one being the expense of getting your copies made. If your local newsagent seemed to be charging too much at 5p a copy, you could always try the local library but either way you felt a bit embarrassed not to be duplicating passages from something altogether more academic in subject matter.

Once you were armed with a large stack of outline templates, however, you were all set for a heavy session of kit designing heaven. The big question was always “Which team’s kit shall I design?” and for me that was answered by focusing on the top teams of the day, both at club level and on the international scene. All well and good, but that virtually blank sheet of paper could either inspire you with potential or strike you rigid with the absence of detail staring back at you. What you needed was a device to help you get started, and for me, that was always the branding used by specific manufacturers.

More felt-tip kits:
Derby and Man United
By simply drawing three Adidas stripes down the sleeves of a shirt or scribbling in an Umbro-esque collar, you could diminish the blankness of the page and instigate the seed of an idea at the same time. You could even take the strip of one team known for wearing, say, Adidas and create another similar one styled by a different manufacturer. Such cheap thrills gave exponential rewards to the young designer, let alone those gained from designing an all-white Brazilian away strip or a retro-style Liverpool kit (for instance).

Sensing that the enormous number of teams I could potentially design kits for was somehow not enough, I even managed to extend the range by creating a whole new realm for my imagination to embrace. In the pre-internet days of the late 1980’s I proposed to a friend of mine that we create a play-by-mail football game, the like of which were very popular back then (as the back pages of World Soccer will verify).

My idea was to create a championship competition whereby entrants could ‘manage’ one of many teams around the world with the intention of winning a World Cup of sorts. In my game, however, those teams would be entirely fictional and would represent well-known cities from around the globe. To make the game more real, my friend and I set about the task of designing kits for all of them and this is where the fun began.

My world championship:
Auckland and Tokyo kits
What colour should Auckland wear? Would striped shirts suit Bogota? What would the well-dressed fan of Stockholm be seen proudly wearing? The colours, the styles and the teams were wrapped up in a billion possibilities, all of which seemed to purge the drabness of my juvenile life from the brain of my 16-year-old self.

And what now, as a man just turned 40? Do I still design football kits? Do I yearn to explore every avenue of my creativity?  Truth be known, the need to retire to a world of imagination is nowhere near as strong for me as it was. Nowadays, when I use my computer to illustrate a football kit, it’s to bring an existing design to the attention of an unknowing world. This is the thinking behind Kitbliss, a pet project of mine I created some time ago to occasionally showcase kits chosen virtually at random. It’s very much a work in progress and will one day, I hope, be an online catalogue showing thousands of diverse designs covering many decades of football history.

Generic felt-tip kit designs
Thankfully, though I have lost my instinct to draw imaginary kits, others are showing theirs to be much stronger. There are many websites catering for fantasy kit design enthusiasts such as Football Shirt Culture and Design Football and a quick browse of the examples uploaded never fails to be an uplifting and rewarding experience. If, like me, you appreciate good design in the real football world, your starting place should always be John Devlin’s excellent True Colours website before visiting the multitude of others dedicated to the subject.

Here on The Football Attic, we aim to bring you lots of our favourite kit designs from down the years, and we look forward to hearing about your own design efforts, either via a comment on this post or by emailing us at admin [at] thefootballattic [dot] com.