Stars and stripes - getting it wrong with football kits
How to make a game unwatchable for the colour blind...
I'm a Newcastle fan so this weekend was a big date in the diary. Newcastle had drawn local rivals Sunderland in the FA Cup third round for a Saturday lunchtime kick off on ITV. Both sides have distinctive kits: Newcastle in black and white stripes and Sunderland in red and white stripes.
Unfortunately, some bright spark didn’t pause to consider how difficult it would be to tell the teams apart, particularly for anyone who is colour blind.
The game was nigh on unwatchable.
Get your kit off
It is, of course, important to remember that it is not just spectators who are affected by poor choice of kit colour. All the sports stars who we enjoy watching are just as liable to be colour blind as well.1 In this men’s game, with 1 in 12 affected, there is a high likelihood that 1 or 2 of the stars on the pitch are colour blind.
At one stage there was a cluster of players from both sides near the centre of the pitch and it was all quite congested when Lewis Miley, Newcastle's 17 year old midfielder, made a short pass straight to a Sunderland player. It was odd. To be fair, it was a match characterised by a lot of loose passes but it just reminded me that we know colour blindness has an impact on sportspeople. At the very highest levels, the margins are tiny and if you can’t distinguish certain colours then that split second decision, almost instinctive, can go awry.
It all seems so utterly avoidable. Newcastle have no less than three kits: a home kit in black and white stripes; an away kit in green; and a third kit in blue and yellow. (The third kit is described as “striking Carbon, Gibraltar Sea, Blazing Yellow, and White colourway”... ) There would be an obvious reason to avoid the green kit given the whole red-green colour blind thing but, in reality, I suspect a block of colour would have been better in this case. Even green. The blue and yellow would have been perfect.
Getting it right
Let's wrap up on a positive note. Whoever made the kit choices for the Arsenal vs Liverpool game, again in the FA Cup third round and shown on the BBC on the Sunday showed considerably better judgement. Neither side played in their home colours. Arsenal were in all white and Liverpool were all purple. Apparently. As a protanopic I can't really see purple and it has always looked like a kind of dark blue, though often a rather mucky one. Still, that doesn't matter as the contrast between the two teams was a joy. In this case, not really being able to see purple didn’t make one toss of difference - the contrast was all that was needed to make it a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. See, not that hard is it?
In the Newcastle game, I don't think the problem was confined to those who are colour blind either. I had several comments on social media that people who believed themselves to have normal colour vision were also struggling. ITV should be fuming. I did manage to fire off an email to The Guardian live blog of the match.
There has been a lot of work put into this in the past - largely thanks to the heroic efforts of people like Kathryn Albany-Ward. As ever, there are more details at the Colour Blind Awareness website - specifically on their Guidance Documents for Football page.
In fact, we need to explore whether people who are colourblind in elite sport are under-represented because they are disadvantaged. That’s a topic for another day.