The change - previously outlawed by rules which dictated a club must wear their home colours in home games, save for one a season to accommodate one-off kits or shirts linked to charities - has been implemented in the EFL as a step towards improving the matchday experience for colourblind supporters, who may have difficulty distinguishing teams from each other or the referee – or even the grass.
The red of United’s home shirt is known to be a problem colour for those who suffer with colour-blindness, which affects as many as one in 12 men and around one in 200 women.
The example of United’s away game at Anfield in October 2020, when United wore their green third shirt against Liverpool’s red, is frequently cited as an example of the difficulties colourblind people face. The two different colours would have been indistinguishable to some supporters, with a number of players and journalists also suffering from the issue.
In a bid to help, a rule change voted through recently now means that United can wear their alternative shirts at Bramall Lane if there is deemed to be a clash that would impact colourblind people. It’s expected that the onus will remain on the away side to change their kits but if that doesn’t prove sufficient, United could play at Bramall Lane in their away or third shirt from next season onwards.
The fans have their say
The Star spoke to two colourblind Blades fans, to see how the issue affects them and if the new rule change will help. Ben Fielding is a season-ticket holder in the south stand with his two young sons, Max and Henry, and says the kit issue affects him both on television and from the terraces.
“Take the recent two legs against Nottingham Forest,” Fielding said, referring to the Blades’ play-off semi-final at the end of last season.
“At Bramall Lane, that was simple. We were in red and white, they were in yellow and orange. Easy to separate, strong colours and different patterns.
“Away, Forest were in red shirts and we were in all black. When players were apart it was all quite clear but at corners and free kicks, when many players were massed together, I struggled to work out who was who.
“When we play Wednesday and both are in their home shirts, with similar width of stripes, then it’s a similar situation to Forest away. If Manchester City play Spurs, both in their home shirts, I struggle. If Man United play Everton in their home shirts, I struggle too.
“The rule change could be a positive, but there is a wide spectrum of differences in colour-blindness. For me it will be. If there was a clash of patterns, and one club, say, remained in stripes and the other went to a block colour, that would be really useful.
“On their own, I can identify individual colours and shades but in close proximity, I struggle to separate colours. The way my eyes and brain work, there has to be a contrast in patterns as much as colours.”
"A huge step forward”
He will be far from alone. Extrapolating the one in 12 figure, and taking into account United’s average home attendances last season, over 2,000 colourblind fans will be in attendance at each game at Bramall Lane and many more will watch – as best they can – from afar.
It will also affect players, who will struggle to differentiate between their teammates and opposition on the pitch where it really matters, as well as commentators and journalists. Guidance handed down on the matter by UEFA recommend having the same pattern on the front and back of shirts – which United generally haven’t done while their kits have been made by Adidas but are expected to return to under the Errea brand.
The move has been hailed by Colour Blind Awareness, a non-profit organisation which mentioned Sheffield Wednesday’s play-off clash with Sunderland as another problematic example for colourblind people with red and white stripes facing the Owls’ blue and white.
CBA’s chief executive Kathryn Albany-Ward described the decision as “a huge step forward” and hopes other leagues follow suit. Serie A has already banned green kits, to avoid clashes with the grass, and Albany-Ward said: “We know that statistically at least one player in every male squad is colour blind and these regulation changes will make some ties easier for these players too, thereby improving overall performance of the teams.”
Still some debate
But not all colourblind Unitedites agree with the rule change. Keith Taylor – whose middle name is Edward, named after a certain legendary former Blades striker – believes that the home side should wear their traditional colours.
“Stating it’s going to benefit people who are colourblind is a sweeping statement, as impacts of colour-blindness are different for everyone,” he said.
“Most teams also have third kit. So between that and the away strip, that should be sufficiently different to the home kit not to need a change for the home team.
“I have very occasionally watched football where I have struggled to distinguish between the teams, but that’s when the shorts and socks were also very similar.
“I think the ruling is unnecessary but I would be interested to hear from someone who is excited by the change and sees real benefit to them.”