It’s a rare thing to see an organisation go from universal praise to condemnation in one pair of shorts.
In case you missed it, fans of the Socceroos and Matildas were left somewhat angry about the new Socceroos kit.
Instead of a gold top, green shorts and white socks the new iteration includes a gold top, gold shorts, and green socks. Enough, apparently, to have fans crying sacrilege on social media.
It was a stark contrast to the reaction to the kit which was unveiled before the World Cup in 2014. With a collar which mirrored that of the famous 1974 shirt and white socks, everybody immediately fell in love with it.
On the inside collar were the words of 1974 captain Peter Wilson surmising the punch-above-our-weight mentality of the side throughout generations: “We Socceroos Can Do The Impossible”
There was no such inscription on the new kit.
The Socceroos who qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, the side behind that wonderful moment in Kaiserslautern, and the side which took out its first Asian Cup (both female and male) – they all wore green shorts.
Ironically, Socceroos sides of the past have featured yellow shorts, but not for the past 20 years or so.
The reason for the change is thought to be FIFA regulations, but the main headline is not the change but the reaction to it.
Fans usually aren’t a fan of too much change, but the near-vitriol speaks volumes about the value fans increasingly place on their side’s history and image. While discussion of Socceroos history remains patchy at best, there has been a mini-renaissance in the A-League era of people seeking out football stories, stories from our past, in order to better connect with ‘our team’.
To know one’s history is to know one’s self, after all. People are starting to learn the legend of Charlie Yankos’ strike against Argentina on the night we won 4-1, about the tale of Johnny Warren
and what he did for football in Australia, and even the early pioneers such as Joe Marston are starting to have their tales told.
The fact that the national side has moved away from a kit which fully embraced one of the pioneering sides of not just Australian football, but Australian sport, is what people are really annoyed by.
Of course if the Socceroos enjoy success with yellow shorts then they will be quickly accepted, but the initial pushback is all about the cultural cringe. The change to yellow shorts tapped the same unease which was felt by the Socceroos naming Caltex as a major naming sponsor as well.
The need for the FFA to raise cash is well-documented, but the messing with the name of the Socceroos was a step too far in the minds of fans. It is true that the Socceroos have had Qantas as a naming rights sponsor in the past – but it’s a different kettle of fish altogether.
Qantas is read as a uniquely Australian company (well, 51% is according to the Qantas Sales Act), but Caltex doesn’t hold the same image. Both Caltex and Qantas contribute pretty heavily to global emissions as well, so it’s mainly about image and identity – which as the FFA are finding out are tricky things to play with.The need for the Socceroos to be a commercial vehicle for raising cash the game so desperately needs well and truly sits uncomfortably with fans who are interacting with the side on a whole other level.
In a way, fans mythologise their sports teams through their history. They remember the good times, the bad times, and it all adds to the ‘narrative’ of a sports side. By building that story, the fans build an emotional connection with the side – whether they’re aware of it or not.
Bringing commercialism into this image, this history, muddies the waters. Changing the uniform muddies the waters.
Add to the fact that fans are now pre-disposed toward scepticism by any move made by the FFA thanks to an annus horribilis, and perhaps the reaction was to be expected. It does, however, tell a broadly positive story at its heart.
As a team which represents Australia; as a brand which typifies the underdog spirit we like to think we have; as a collective which has more visibility after world cup appearances, a reaction to this type of change simply signifies one thing:
People give a damn.
They give a damn if you name the national side after a petroleum company, and they give a damn if you change the colour of the shorts.
It shows emotional investment.
Words by James McGrath
Views expressed are that of the author.