James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Why those stripes are more than just a fashion statement

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Try and picture the scene.

The All Blacks emerge from the tunnel at Eden Park tomorrow wearing fluorescent pink vests rather than the most iconic shirt in sport.

No, that’s right, you can’t. Opponents Wales would laugh, the crowd would be aghast and, as the inevitably outcry ensued, New Zealand Rugby’s head of marketing would be forced to apply for asylum in Papa New Guinea.

Some Sheffield United supporters probably felt like running Bramall Lane’s board of directors out of town when they approved the club’s new strip last season. The predominately white top, described as a “modern interpretation” of the team’s first recognised kit on the club’s official website, provoked a decidedly mixed reaction at the time. The change was well-intentioned and, to some degree, made sense given that United had just celebrated their 125th anniversary. But, euphorically announcing “The stripes are back” when next term’s number was unveiled earlier this week, was a tacit admission that a mistake had been made.

Symbols are important. They convey meaning and represent ideas.

And so, in a footballing sense, jerseys are too.

QUIZ: Can you name all 10 of these Sheffield United players from the 90s?

Tony Currie, Alan Woodward, Jimmy Hagan are just three of the legends to pull on those famous red and white stripes since United’s foundation in 1889. The crop of players Chris Wilder inherited last month might not be held in quite the same esteem. By also wearing them, however, the likes of Billy Sharp, Chris Basham and Che Adams should feel doubly honoured to follow in their footsteps. Feel a greater sense of identity, belonging and, consequently, pride.

Some things, even for the most irresistible of reasons, should not be messed with.

And, for those teams who want to be regarded as sporting institutions rather than throw-away franchises, their colours are one.

Sheffield United will revert back to red and white stripes next season. Picture: Marie Caley

Sheffield United will revert back to red and white stripes next season. Picture: Marie Caley

Speaking of the current crop, I hope the saga that was George Long’s contract does not colour folk’s opinion of the young goalkeeper. Yes, the fact he waited to sign on the dotted line was, at the time, concerning. Yes, the uncertainty surrounding his future was far from ideal. Either for the player himself or for Wilder. But, with United revising the terms he was initially offered under the manager’s predecessor Nigel Adkins, a delay was inevitable.

Wilder is right to try and seize back control of the wage bill. Equally, Long, a thoroughly likeable and down-to-earth lad, is entitled to study those subsequently tabled. That said, it is good that the waiting will no longer go on.

Last season's strip provoked a mixed reaction among supporters 
�2016 Sport Image all rights reserved

Last season's strip provoked a mixed reaction among supporters �2016 Sport Image all rights reserved

Sheffield United goalkeeper George Long 
�2016 Sport Image all rights reserved

Sheffield United goalkeeper George Long �2016 Sport Image all rights reserved