Some might even say that I’m a tad obsessed but it is my submission, m’lord, that it is all with good reason and it seems entirely appropriate that Proper Rugby Kit should make it into my sporadic series of nostalgic ramblings about aspects of the game that appear to have vanished...
When I began playing rugby in 1979 rugby kit had barely changed in 100 years, specifically:
- Heavy cotton rugby shirts, with collar and a couple of buttons down the front, in plain colours, hooped or, for the more avant-garde teams, quartered design. And long sleeves, always long sleeves, so that you could roll them up or (as became the fashion in the 1990s) hack them off with scissors.
- Sturdy cotton shorts in plain white, black or navy. With pockets, always with pockets, for storage of gumshield, sweets and cigarettes.Club colours and designs remained the same year on year and, despite the occasional embellishment here and there and the appearance of sponsors’ logos as money reared its ugly head, for many years little changed.
- Cotton/wool socks, plain, topped or, for team that likes to show off, hooped. Socks that didn’t stay up, no matter how many rolls of electrical tape were used.
And then it did.
Pinpointing when it happened is difficult. Some say the England World Cup team of 2003, others point to the All Blacks in 1999. What is clear though is that now we are left with:
- Skin tight, lycra based, round-necked t-shirts with no collars. Even when not featuring incomprehensibly lurid designs they are invariably festooned with a myriad of sponsor logos and emblems – on the front, on the sleeve, on the back, down the side, on the inside? And short sleeves, always short sleeves, so that anyone wanting long sleeves has to squeeze into an even tighter base layer worn underneath.What next? Aussie-rules style vest and budgie smugglers?
- Tight, shiny, genital-hugging shorts, colours to match the t-shirt, which frankly wouldn’t look out of place in a San Francisco nightclub. And no pockets.
- Lycra-infused socks that attach themselves to the calves like clingfilm and take an age to put on and take off.
Contrary to popular belief I am not an utter Luddite and do appreciate that the modern professional game needs to move on and that technological advancements in kit design are inevitable (despite unintended consequences like the impossibility of getting a decent bind in the scrum).
Sadly, however, such ‘advancements’ are not limited to the professional game and it has become all too commonplace for the slightly less toned athletes amongst us to have to squeeze into such lycra abominations. There is only so long one can hold one’s breath, after all.
No, rugby kit that fits and looks like proper rugby kit – is that too much to ask?