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Tearing A Strip: New Sunderland kit highlights continued frustrations

Sunderland have launched a bright new third kit, but has the news just compounded existing issues with retailing? 

Sunderland have revealed a third kit for the 2023-24 campaign, and the eye catching new look certainly seems in keeping with recent events at the club where a strong end to the transfer window and a commanding victory over Southampton have given supporters hope of there being a bright future ahead.

The strip features fluorescent ‘highlighter pen’ yellow shirts, shorts and socks with dark sleeves and matching branding. The main colour is one only previously used by Sunderland for their goalkeepers or as a trim, and instead of the round collar and sleeve arrangement seen with the other kits for the campaign the latest top incorporates a more traditional tee shirt design with a wrap over v neck.

Based on what looks like Nike’s Tiempo Premier II teamwear template it is all pretty simple, but the vivid tones, like the neon pink and purple change option, are presumably aimed at younger fans and offer a contrast to the retro style red and white choice.

Mason Burstow will want to make an impact in his new Sunderland shirt

The club has not always needed a third kit but ever since the change strip was revealed over the summer there had been fears that the colourway would be difficult to pick out against certain clubs during close passages of play.

The women’s team were the first to put the extra version to use when they played at Sheffield United on the same day of the launch and not only did the hosts’ predominantly red tops emphasise this point it brought to mind their infamous change kit of the 90s that was an odd mix of bright yellow and purple, which was made by Avec – the in house brand of Sunderland’s current kit provider and partner of Nike, the Just Sport Group.

During the coverage at Bramall Lane the FA’s commentator incorrectly described Sunderland’s kit as ‘lime green’, a common debate that is had with what many people refer to as ‘hi-viz’. Of bigger concern however is the continued relationship with Just Sport, who were due to revamp SAFC’s retail operations before a highly publicised rethink by the club; since then there has been no further news and little noticeable improvement in this area and the new release somewhat inevitably prompted suggestions that the difficulties already being experienced by supporters when trying to get hold of replicas will continue when the newest one is set to go on sale on the 18th of September.

Those worries would seem to be compounded by the fact that hours after the release across various social media platforms there was still no further information on the club’s website about ordering or prices. Similarly, despite now being well into the new campaign we are still to see any goalkeeper strips being made available for fans – a situation that was recently seen at England level with star stopper Mary Earps too and is very galling when youngsters in particular may wish to emulate local first choices Antony Patterson and Claudia Moan. Moan by the way wore the orange version of the keeper design already seen elsewhere during the season whilst in action in Sheffield.

Sunderland diehards are desperate to give the club their money but are often finding it hard to do so. Stock levels of kits and other merchandise (a new scarf used by the Lasses for several new player photoshoots is still to be made available for example) are a regular issue and whilst that may be down to external factors the online shop could certainly do with a bit of TLC – products are often badly presented or described whilst the interface and categorisations are confusing. I hate to be critical of the job being done as I don’t know the full situation, but it does come across as a lack of care in comparison to the excellent service you usually get face to face in the Stadium of Light club shop. It was very pleasing when the opening hours for the store were returned to normal and more improvements to the web alternative would certainly be welcome where possible.

Perhaps the retail division are being hindered by things outside of their control – I doubt they want to be turning folk away or discouraging sales so it is hoped that the recent encouraging appointment of David Bruce behind the scenes will point towards more attention being paid. Sprucing up that website would appear to be a relatively quick step and with it being common to find certain sizes of an item only being available online but not in the shop (or vice versa) a free of charge click and collect service could be worth investigating too.

I know of fans that live within easy walking distance of the SoL who resent paying for postage and packaging when there is a risk that what they are ordering may not fit anyway, and if they could pick a parcel up when they are next passing and exchange it quickly should it be required that would increase the chances of them making a purchase. Further to that, better stock distribution and more integrated operations between online and in person could reduce the disparity in the first place, although there might not be an easy solution to these aspects – in the past the retail department was hamstrung by certain contracts with third parties, whilst in recent years a warehouse in Pallion was (still is?) being used whereas a more suitable location closer to the ground could potentially be hard to source due to other ongoing developments around Sheepfolds.

Assuming this will come under his remit, Bruce will have other commercial matters that need his attention too. Amidst a plethora of new partnerships and sponsorship deals it seems surprising that Sunderland’s latest back of shorts sponsor, Midea (using their #HeatMiHome) has not had any sort of joint press release yet commenting on the arrangement and of course, the men’s main shirt sponsor Spreadex has not been the most welcome. Gambling companies are not often popular, and whilst the market dictates who the club gets into bed with and what the terms are a lot of people would prefer to see a different organisation being lined up, and for any agreements to be better communicated so that they know whose name is being carried on the hallowed kit.

Local firms and brands will always bring a sense of connection and that is why you’ll often see calls for a replica of the women’s strips to be marketed. Their chief sponsor is instead the University of Sunderland, but the logo is only seen on player issue kit – the women’s fit tops you can buy continue to display Spreadex. The uni got some very good exposure at least when the Lasses produced a fantastic win against the Blades when the third kit was debuted and the institution will hopefully see that continue following a good start to the season by Mel Reay’s team.

A stylish winner from Mary McAteer

On the pitch and across all levels of the club things are without doubt on the up. Reay’s squad is benefitting it appears from some very good recruitment and being given greater resources, and without doubt the main focus should always remain on the football like this. It may seem churlish therefore to be critical of the other elements of the club and how they are being run, but Sunderland run the risk of losing out financially unless some matters improve and the more fans are frustrated by the off field stuff, merchandising, ticketing etc., the more likely they are to be a negative influence or to simply walk away.

You can spot the fake tops that people are buying from abroad a mile off but they indicate how keen fans are to wear the colours right now. I bet those scheduling the release of the third kit were chuffed to bits that they were doing so on the back of a 5-0 win against Southampton, and the battling effort following Mary McAteer’s well hit winner over Sheffield United 24 hours later will definitely keep the general mood up.

There was even a notable fightback from the U21s on Sunday from 5-0 down as well – things appear to be moving in the right direction football wise and if Sunderland get everything else sewn up the club will be truly looking the part.


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