The people’s guernseys

What the hell happened to guernseys?

When did we stray into this nether world of ‘clash’? Why, oh why, do we have to imperil our optic nerves with these explosions of offensive colours and corporate images? The curmudgeon within me is riled up people. We seriously need to start formalising the resistance to the clash as freeform. Whirls, swirls and ‘splashes of colour’ do not a guernsey make. I suspect this all started when the marketing Svengalis and corporate branders got their size 13s in the door. Talk became dedicated to discussing what the team image was. What does our team stand for?  ‘Let’s create a list of key words that represent our teams ethos.’

Now sure, that in of itself, is fine. Coaches have, in one way or another, been working that angle since Adam played full-back. It  has clearly made for pithy membership slogans and websites that ‘popped.’ There is nothing inherently wrong with the professional approach to marketing a sporting side. I am not here to rage against the dying of the light. The problem lies in the scope of the project. Using the corporate branding concepts of refreshing the ‘look’ of the company (ie- your footy club) has lead us towards some disappointing results. North Melbourne now have a kangaroo leaping towards us. No need, in this dynamic world for the classic profile of the Kanga bounding along. The logo appears to converse withthe dialogue of corporate identity- ‘We are facing forward as an organisation. Our logo represents this concept, in dynamic and bold fashion.’

The Brisbane Lions have followed suit. Taking a dignified, heraldic lion and turning him into a slick, mane cascading, head stuck in the air Lion King substitute.

Not to be outdone, Richmond gave the MGM Tigger a reset as a prowling beastie, moving forward, stalking its prey. Brands need to be refreshed or they run the risk of becoming stale you know- How long until the Essendon football club redesign their logo to be less ‘violent’ and create a PC-Friendly version that the kiddies can not be unduly influenced by?

Actually I don’t think we’ve reached that level of crazy…. yet.

The lesson learnt  during Melbourne’s 150th season celebrations prove that. The removal of the Demon from the MFC branding for the season, resulted in the type of backlash that would suggest that if the Bombers went that route and renamed themselves with a  less warmonger-esque moniker that they would be shot down. (See what I did there?)

Take the plight of the Washington Bullets as a warning though. Their original Bullets moniker was considered too violent and the franchise changed it to the Wizards. The team  have now spent enough time as the Wizards, that a generation has grown ‘rooting’ for the Wiz. American sporting teams, in fact,  have a long and vaguely proud history of changing identities in these brand updates. Washington went from the classic red, white and blue Bullets uniforms, to teal and gold. How very Nineties. They not only changed their name but their whole colour scheme. Fans were upset sure but the concept of kicking off a screaming match about how their side has always worn a black and white striped guernsey and it shall ever be thus just didn’t happen. The choice was made and the fans just had to learn to live with it. The pride we take in the guernsey of our team is a pride denied elsewhere in the sporting world.

Australian Rules football fans have something worth fighting for too. The distinct nature of the design aesthetics of our sport’s guernseys in unique. Right down the the fact that we call them ‘guernseys.’ Don’t let me catch you calling them jumpers, that’s so unsatisfying to say. Guernseys, AFL teams wear guernseys and lets us make sure they do forever-more.

The reason our guernseys are so great is the distinct nature of their design. Nowhere in the sporting world will you find the wonders of sashes, yokes, double-Vs, monograms and hoops in such abundance. They exist, certainly but not with such all-round consistency. You cannot  witness the seriously satisfying sight of a battle of the sashes anywhere else than this fine nation. Dreamtime at the G is a delight to me. One of the seven  wonders of the sporting kaleidoscope. As satisfying to the eye as the Merseyside derby, red against royal blue; or closer to home- The Wallabies against the All Blacks.

That is a truly wondrous sight. Gold vs black. Darkness and light. Sunshine and midnight. You and I both know the connotation of good and evil is rich there within that description but I just can’t do that. The AB’s have a respect from yours truly, not least of all because their jersey is clean-skin. The Maori word for it is ‘mana.’  The direct translation is not one word but many- Authority, prestige, pride and status. There is no need to clutter the symbol of New Zealand pride for the sake of revenue. I know a passionate Kiwi who is still slightly uncomfortable at the thought of pulling on the black jersey with the white fern, that pride is in his eyes has to be  earned by the starting XV.

The age of professionalism, the need for a commercial brand, unique and wholly owned by a club has subdued that ethos. We wear our team’s playing guernseys with pride and pay exorbitant fees to do so nowadays. My Wallabies jersey has an airline company’s logo front and centre. For goodness sake,  the Australian cricket team changed from gold to accommodate a bank’s sponsorship dollar. Far be it for me to moralise-  Sport stopped evoking  the corinthian spirit two centuries ago. It is now in the entertainment business, not  the moral high ground of muscular Christianity. The Elysian Fields of sport are as mythical a proposition as supposing that the AFL could disband and clubs organise their own barnstorming tours of the country. Progress is money coming in, the proverbial bums on seats.

It is what sees the two newest clubs in the AFL arrive with such outrageous design aesthetics.  Bums and eyeballs need to be got at immediately, the show is coming to town folks, roll on up. The Giants were exceptionally proud to announce that orange and charcoal had never been worn before in the league. That’s fine…but here’s what I thought. How does a ten year old account for charcoal in his rendering of the new club? And once the right shade of grey is confirmed, there is the business of getting that ‘G’ rendered correctly. There are just too many tricks to the design. The orange and charcoal are divided by  the stylised, sideways slanted ‘G.’ It is a mess of complex design aesthetic and it worries me- I fear for the future where children are frustrated by their inability to  illustrate their heroes.

As a proud Saints supporter, I vividly remember the dim dark days of 1980’s. My childhood was an endless losing season. Through it all though, my dad never missed a game on his reliable trannie. The dull murmur of the broadcast wafting on the breeze from a corner of the backyard my dad was working in. I have never been able to partake in this particular Chinese water torture but my dad still follows the game via radio. A close mate once described the radio commentary of your side’s match perfectly- The ball is always perilously close to your  opponents goal line, the danger ever present. Each second you listen feels like an hour and the closer to the business end to the game you get, the more nerve-jangling it becomes.

My dear ole’ dad is not from the same school I suppose. He just loves the process. A match the Saints play is deemed a success the moment they run out on the ground. Bursting through the banner is a victory as sweet as the four points.
Winter Saturday evenings from my childhood have a special glow in my memory. I would know the result of the days play from my interaction with dad. The rare times he sought me out were a magical day indeed. If he wandered towards me as the sun dipped with a smirk on his face I knew.

Somehow, against seemingly insurmountable odds the boys had won. It was such a rare occurrence that when we did sneak that win, I would commemorate it with an illustration. Out came the textas  and a masterpiece was created to hang proudly above the doorway in the kitchen.

Thinking back it enters my mind with religious significance. The illustrations reminiscent  of the stain-glassed windows of a church. A parade of Saints performing miracles. I can only recall one season with more than three pictures. The culprits responsible for our unlikely success were the usual crew- Richmond, Melbourne, Footscray and the Kangas were all fair game. It strangely fostered a rather pious understanding in my head, one that is strange given my lack of any real religious teaching, that the Saints must always beat the Demons. It was essential to the forces of heaven that hell and it devils were vanquished  by the forces of righteous from Moorabbin. The apocalypse never came, for we lost to the Melbourne regularly but I took a great pride in our smiting the Demons for the cause.

I simply want the kiddies of today to share the joy of drawing footballers- To illustrate Israel Folau’s match winning tackle to give the Giants an historic victory over Collingwood. I vividly recall the  Sainters beating North and after viewing the highlights on  the six o’clock news bulletin being inspired by footage of Jimmy Krakouer being taken down in the goal square by a desperate tackle. I now consider that  my finest work of the era. Yet,  I had only to account for stripes, not the twisting and turning of a flying slanted ‘G,’ desperately lunging at Daisy Thomas.

The problem is that we have introduced two new sides into the AFL family that,  for reasons better left to marketing and brand analysts to explain, have produced guernseys that don’t conform to type. What I see when I look at the Gold Coast guernsey is a Credit Union logo from the Eighties. When I look upon the GWS front piece, I see a mining conglomerate’s identity. They are certainly strong logos…They are just not indicative of a football club. The Suns are clearly a missed opportunity. How incredibly satisfying would a GCFC monogram have looked on a tomato red background? The monogram is a dying entity in footballing circles and that is a crime. There is nothing more satisfying to the eye than the Fitzroy double ‘Fs’ encircled by the ‘C.’  Even given the obvious temptation to despise them, I have to admit a deep admiration to the Bluebaggers. The double’C’s’ spiked through an ‘F ‘  is endlessly satisfying to witness. Where else in the world of sport do you get that kind of class? Who else can claim to have monogramed uniforms? Only baseball has anything approaching this level of gentlemen’s club attire.  It is surely no accident that the most ubiquitous baseball cap in the world belongs to the Yankees, a beautiful intertwined monogram of the ‘N’ and ‘Y’ ?

What the design aesthetic of the monogram adds to the guernsey is simplicity btw. I firmly believe that the only axiom of sporting uniform design has alway been- ‘Less is always more.’

Look at Port Adelaide and tell me, seriously, that you preferred what a mate of mine so brilliant described as the SBS logo? How is that messy Nineties fare better than the double ‘V’ they now rock?’

There is no contest.

The ‘new’ Power guernsey is perfect.  Tapping into to a golden era of design, before PowerPoint presentations described the-

‘Shards of black and white transitioning through the guernsey uniting the teal with  black.’

I am imaging this was the presentation, I assure you I have not seen documentation on the matter. I do understand that the Power attempted to distance themselves from the Magpies of Port upon entry to the national comp but am sure a huge part of all footy supporters dream of a world where the Power simply added teal stripes to the jail bars….

Fremantle joining the double ‘V’ party is proof of concept. Less is beautiful.

A part of me is sad to see the end of the  anchor, it was one of the real success stories of Nineties guernsey design. It was bold, interesting and didn’t break the rules of simplicity of design. Sure it got bastardised, put on jaunty and attacked with pinstripes but when the anchor hung straight and true it was a great addition to the distinct design of the sport.

The switch to the double ‘ V’ though, is not a demotion. The yoke family which the ‘V’ belongs too is ours. It is seen only in Aussie Rules and Rugby League….And sadly, the invasion of sponsors on the front of jerseys in the NRL has cut it off at the pass on jerseys. St.George, has of recent times popped a tiny red triangle at the bottom of  the sponsor to attempt to keep the ‘V’ but alas it fails. That the AFL has resisted the sponsor front and centre has always been to its strength. I truly wince when I see SANFL and WAFL clubs with a huge logo impeding the guernseys design. I understand there is no choice when revenue streams are so slender but to see the sash whoring itself with a sponsor’s name leaves me cold.

The sash is all ours. True there are couple of classic soccer sashes in the world- The Peruvian national team and River Plate of Argentina the most famed but as much as the sash may  come and go in the design of soccer strips it has always remained the epicentre of Australian Rules design. West Adelaide, West Perth, Glenelg, Perth and Claremont are part of the sash brotherhood. They must all battle against the sponsor’s creep. The sash is worth fighting for folks and I hope these sides keep fighting the good fight.

Which leads neatly, of course, to the Essendon disaster.

Put simply, this a tale of good intentions gone astray. The horse got a camel makeover by a marketing committee. The tragedy (for it surely is) of the Bombers 50 shades of grey monstrosity, is that we can all see where they were coming from. The Bomres (sorry had to) made the well intentioned proclamation that they would never wear anything other than a black guernsey with a red sash and intended to stick to that cause to the death. Sure they clashed horribly with St.Kilda. Sure that look atrocious  in red shorts and a ‘fat’ sash. But the options were limited by the belligerence inherent in that initial statement of intent.

Here’s the thing though….. It has always been a case of a simple colour reversal.

Yes, yes- I know. The AFL has now made it clear that clubs must have a predominately light coloured clash guernsey but that mandate might have been appeased, or probably never even muttered, if the Dons had rocked a red guernsey with a black sash against the Saints.

It just wouldn’t have clashed.

More importantly it would have looked magnificent. Coburg have been using the red with navy sash clash guernsey ever since it’s Richmond alliance began. It looks so natural and obvious that I feel for the Bombers for not at least trying it out.

As it stands the grey just has to go…. No really it does. I know that  they chose grey because the addition of white just makes them look like St.Kilda…But sometimes that’s no all together a bad thing. Especially if it means retaining your dignity.

I am unashamedly biased but I happen to think that the classic red, white and black guernsey with black back is a classic combination. Three colour jumpers are always at an advantage. There is much more scope for contrast. There is no denying this concept when you realise that every successful clash guernsey introduces that third colour.

All the Dons need to do to is embrace white. Introduce the magical and hardly ever witnessed double sash. A white guernsey with a red and black sash is so gorgeous in my mind’s eye, I am actually smiling at the thought.

What clubs need to keep in mind during this new era of clash guernseys is the simple truth- This clash guernsey is only for the match.

Essendon wear the white with double sash for perhaps three games a season- The Saints, Richmond and perhaps Carlton. It s not a commitment to the enviable decline of the mighty red and black, just a day where peering out of the bottom of pack Jobe can see Monfries double sash on white and the goal is scored.

The erosion of tradition is not all its hyped to be. You are more likely to lose the sense of the history of a club through the newer concept of sponsored names. If the Saints played the- Kia Carnival Essendon Bombers, to be referred to as thus every time the commentators utter their name….. Well that’s clearly offending my sensibilities more than the guernsey not looking traditional.

The answer to guernsey clashes is really just a matter of  simplicity and common sense. We are all up in arms about clash guernseys because the results have been a spate of overly busy designs. I have begun to suspect that the AFL should simply design these clash guernseys in-house and make sides wear them. Radical and controversial I know but it is just not as hard as clubs insist it is. Simplicity and tradition is all you need.  Off the top of my head I can solve some clash issues-

– Collingwood could wear a white guernsey with thin black pinstripes. How can you be offended by that? It’s a white guernsey with black stripes.

– North Melbourne  need to have the opposite, royal blue guernsey with white pinstripes.

– Geelong  simply need to stop being cute. Navy jumper with two white hoops right through the centre. Think the Doggies brilliant return to the Scraggers guernsey this season.

-Adelaide need to ditch the satanic crow and go in the same direction-.White guernsey red, navy and gold hoops dead centre.)

– Richmond- Double ‘V’ or colour reversal.

– Melbourne are so close…Just commit to red yoke with navy ‘V’  highlight on a white guernsey and stop adding red racing stripes under the arms.

The wheel doesn’t need re-inventing every time there’s a clash. The solutions to the clashes are not dramatic explosions of colour. The feeling associated with the alteration of the guernseys are keenly felt by fans….. And they should be. I am all for the protection of the sash, the yoke, the ‘V’ and the monogram. I am just as against the whims of fashion that see the Suns and Giants  attempting to brand their jumpers with a corporate logo rather than those stripes and sashes of yore. We already have the solutions to the clash issue. Just not the intent. Let’s make a future where ten year olds can still draw their side’s victory and our eyeballs are not burnt by unnecessary over-workshopped guernsey design.


  1. Where else in the world of sport do you get that kind of class indeed TG? It breaks my heart to see the un-Australian designs these ‘clash’ strips come up with. And what’s it all about? There’s other ways to avoid the ‘clash’. For instance making one colour predominate where it clashes – Collingwood v St Kilda – the home side wears the black shorts (St Kilda) and has the white numbers on the black back – the front is red & white separated by a black vertical stripe – the Pies have the black numbers on a white back and the black verticals on the front are narrower than the white verticals. Black shorts for the home team – white for the visitors) When the Maggies are the home side they wear the white numbers on the black field and have the black verticals slightly wider than the white ones. And so on. Too easy? It is for those at AFL House who’ve stolen Our Great Game.

    As for the Freo & Port double Vs, I’m not so sure they need to be split. What’s wrong with a solid V, or even a yoke? I too loved the anchor – even those old purple, green, red & white gurnsey’s had a bit of something about them.

    With a couple of daughters in London I get over there a fair bit. One of the things about soccer that I find confusing is the jumpers. Apart from Newcastle United, I never know who’s playing without having to ask someone at the pub.

    Then there’s the international marketing aspect. When in LA recently I was was pleasantly surprized to find that many people knew about Aussie Rules. Sadly the team they identified with was Collingwood – how are the Collingwoods going? – which makes one think that the black & white verticals Eddie has constantly insisted are the colours in which Collingwood plays is paying dividends. If we’re going to get this game off the ground overseas we have to be consistent. And we have to have something different visually.

    Like I quoted at the beginning – where else in the world of sport do you get that kind of class TG?

  2. They call Newcastle United the ” Bar Codes” Wrapster.

    We have another black and white vertical striped COMMERCIAL PRODUCT that that name would suit in the Antipodes. Now who could that be?

  3. In the NHL. The “Original Six” teams — the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers all wear jerseys with simple designs and iconic emblems that haven’t changed much over time; in fact the Montreal Canadiens have worn the red C with the embedded H (for “Les Habitants”) on the red sweater with the single horizontal blue stripe since 1917.
    Detroit’s home sweater — the winged wheel on a red or white background — hasn’t changed since 1934, Toronto’s white leaf on royal blue at home and reverse on the road dates to 1937.
    Boston’s black B with golden spokes (because Boston is informally the “Hub”) dates to 1955, like Chicago’s Indian head.
    Many of the teams created in the boom of the 60s and 70s have kept simple designs, too — Philadelphia and St. Louis come to mind.
    However, home and away uniforms are a fact of life here in the States, unlike in Australia. Personally, the simpler the design the better. Most footy guernseys (and hockey sweaters) are instantly recognizable, which is every marketer’s dream.

  4. The closest I’ve come to it Phanto is the zebra crossing. How close was I?

  5. Great article and I share the same pain and frustration at the clash guernsey and the modern day jobs. As my bro says, “if a 5 year old kid can’t draw his team’s footy jumper (sorry) with his derwents, then it aint a real footy jumper”.

    As a Pies man, I love King Ed’s stance on the black and white stripes and happy to alternate between the black back/white number and vice versa – but ALWAYS keep the black and white stripes! Stuff the modern corporate “brand” reason, it’s just plain and simple that we are black and white stripes. And I want everyone to know that when they see b&w stripes that its US. All these white away jumpers, they all look the same, they change them every year or two and the punter just doesn’t get the feeling of identity ahnd belonging.

    As for the Bummers clash strip – the term Parking Inspector comes to mind – dreadful!

  6. Spot on Tom, couldn’t agree more with your article. A few more thoughts- get rid of cartoon animals on guernseys, they look ridiculous, can’t think of any other sporting comps around the world that have stupid cartoon animal guernseys. White clash/away guernseys don’t look great if white isn’t featured on the teams main guernsey in any form. And bring back the Fitzroy “FFC” monogram on the Brisbane guernsey. Pretty easy to turn the first F into a B.

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