Last Sunday, Southampton FC eased past their South coast rivals, A.F.C. Bournemouth, with a 3-1 win at the Vitality Stadium.  As with all local derbies, the main focus of the opposing sets of fans would have been who was able to lay claim to the local bragging rights following the game and up until the next meeting between the two sides.

However, football kit aficionados (and no doubt Southampton’s own fans) will have noticed that the away side were wearing a brand new shirt for the occasion.

In advance of the fixture, Southampton confirmed that it had been asked to “look at an alternative” kit by the English Premier League (“EPL”), on the basis that the EPL felt that The Saints’ current home and away shirts were too similar to Bournemouth’s home shirt.  As a result, Southampton hurriedly worked with Under Armour (the club’s kit supplier) to produce a brand new, all-white, third choice shirt for the occasion.

For those readers who are not au fait with the team colours of the two sides, in accordance with their respective traditions, whilst Bournemouth’s home shirt for the 2016/2017 football season consists of black and red stripes, Southampton’s home shirt consists of red and white stripes (with it’s away shirt consisting of black and grey).  As a result of the sartorial choices of the respective clubs this season, there was an obvious potential for a clash of colours between the two sides.

As noted above, Southampton reported that the EPL asked them to look at an alternative kit for the fixture.  This may have been due to concerns surrounding whether TV viewers would be able to differentiate between the two sides. However, aside from any viewer-related concerns, the EPL was also no doubt mindful of the requirement that opposing teams wear kits that ensure that they are distinguishable from one another, a requirement that (for obvious reasons) is widely applied across team sports.

With regards to association football, this particular requirement is delineated at Law 4 of The International Football Association Board’s Laws of the Game. Under the sub-heading “Colours”, Law 4 confirms that the “two teams must wear colours that distinguish them from each other and the match officials”.

Given that the home team is traditionally allowed to wear its home shirt, it would have been well within the powers of the match officials to have asked Southampton, as the away side, to change their kit, should they have felt The Saints’ home or away shirts would not have allowed the Southampton players to be distinguishable from either Bournemouth’s players or the match officials themselves.  In asking The Saints to do so in advance of the fixture, the EPL may have wished to avoid a last minute wardrobe change being required by the away side.

In order to ensure consistency with the aforementioned Law 4, the regulatory framework regarding advertising on teams’ shirts also ensures that any advertising displayed on kits does not lead to problems with identifying opposing sides.

As Sports Shorts noted last month, advertising on teams’ kits are governed by the FA Regulations Relating to Advertising on the Clothing of Players, Club Officials and Match Officials (“Regulations”). Section A(7) of the Regulations states that:

No colour or design may be used in advertising that might create problems of identification for Match Officials and/or opponents. The colour and design of the clothing of opponents, goalkeepers and match officials must be taken into account”.

All of this will no doubt have been considered by Southampton and included in the club’s urgent request to Under Armour.

It should be noted that Southampton are not the first, and will certainly not be the last, team to face this particular problem. Indeed, during the 2015/2016 season, Stoke City F.C. had to don a similar last-minute change of strip for their own trip to Bournemouth, which (coincidentally) also ended in a 3-1 victory for the visitors.

Should the next side which is forced into a last minute change of strip also triumph at the Vitality Stadium, football fans of a particularly superstitious disposition may wish that their own team adopt a similar last minute change of strip, in the hope of boosting victory.

And readers of a certain age will no doubt remember another infamous occasion involving Southampton, which involved a change of kit for reasons also relating to ease of identification. However, rather than being imposed on the team prior to the match, this time the decision to change kit was made, at half-time, by the team itself. Back in 1996, with his Manchester United side trailing 3-0 to Southampton, Sir Alex Ferguson ordered his players to change out of their much maligned grey away strip to an alternative strip consisting of blue and white stripes.

Post-match, Sir Alex confirmed that “The players don’t like the grey strip. They find it difficult to pick each other out. We had to change the strip”. And, despite Manchester United subsequently being fined £10,000 for the half-time change of strip, when reminiscing on the events, Sir Alex said that it was the “best £10,000 I ever spent”.

Such an occurrence is, of course, extremely rare. As the actions of Southampton showed this week, any future change of kits is likely to happen in advance of the game, which at least saves any football team’s kit man or woman a particularly stressful half time.