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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final

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Wear your Sunderland shirts with pride! But is it true that the old ones are the best?

Since football reopened to fans following lockdown, we’ve never seen so many variations of home and away colours.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Images of the red and white army at Wembley will be ingrained into our psyches forever.

Whether they are from our own memories, TV and mobile phone footage, or the Getty picture archive shared by Roker Report on Saturday, there’s no doubt that the sea of red and white played a huge role in roaring Alex Neil’s men to victory.

Those very colours made quite a conversation piece over a pint on the Wembley concourse in the build up to that crucial play-off final win over Wycombe Wanderers.

You see from a distance, it’s all red and white (well, most of it). But on closer examination, it’s a remarkable jigsaw of replica shirts, flags, hats, scarves and banners.

The subject of replica shirts has interested me greatly in recent times, for since football reopened to fans following lockdown, we’ve never seen so many variations of home and away colours.

From the current kit and other very recent offerings to every other shirt going back to when we last had them produced by Nike 20 years ago, and in some cases, considerably older kits are now regularly being rolled out on a matchday.

Now, I love to see this. It shows that seasons gone by have not been forgotten, that favourite designs from yesteryear are considered cool again, and that old means ‘desirable’ rather than ‘discarded’.

Things have changed since the late 1990s when it seemed like the vast majority of supporters owned our then-current shirt, the classic Asics / Lambton’s number. At that time, you’d also see plenty of Avec jerseys from our final years at Roker Park, while you’d still see a scattering of the iconic Hummel / Vaux tops in the stands.

The one that got away?

What you didn’t have back then was a cross-section of kits spanning half a century. Okay, you could get a 1937 cup final shirt (probably by Toffs) in the 1990s, but that was about it.

Now reproductions from 1937 and 1973 are being sold alongside duplicates from the early 1980s, through to remakes of the popular 1992 cup final shirt, to new versions of those Asics kits which were so popular in the late 90s and early 2000s.

More impressively, I’ve seen some of our rarest and most sought-after away kits, including the yellow third strip of 1989-91, and the yellow and black one from a couple of years later, in immaculate condition – the original Hummel products!

That’s remarkable. Have they literally been sat in a draw for 30 years after being worn a handful of times when they were new? I’d be scared to wear them. My white Scorpion Lager shirt from 96/97 is not so rare, but it was a gift from my late mother and I’m almost too protective of it now to wear it.

The vast array of kits leads to another question, however? How good are the current products both in terms of design and quality?

These are only my personal opinions, but I believe that modern-day football shirts feel cheaper and more flimsy than they once did.

The material began to get thinner and lighter around the turn of the millennium when manufacturers started to talk about the technology used to enhance performance and breathability.

I understand our Nike ‘Dri fit’ kit from 2000-2002 was significant in its design at the time. Now shirts feel almost thin enough to rip, the sponsor logo has an almost paper-like quality, and the club badge is no longer embroidered.

On the Wembley concourses ahead of our play-off final, we discussed this and wondered how many of the current shirts would still be surviving in 30 years' time.

As for design, I really liked our 2020/21 home kit by Nike – more so than the current offering, even though I understand the concept and its connection to the ‘faded’ yellow and blue Avec away shirt of 1995/96.

But despite having a close look on more than one occasion in the club shop, I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy it. Perhaps it is all about performance and breathability, but football shirts just seem to lack the quality and robustness of years gone by.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

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