If you could pick one label to manufacture Sunderland’s replica shirts and training gear for next season and beyond, who would it be?
Macron? Le Coq Sportif? Or maybe Kappa or Lotto for that classic ‘mid-1990s Serie A’ vibe?
The subject of kit manufacturers has been a hot topic among Sunderland fans for what feels like an eternity, and not always for positive reasons, with countless tales of shoddy quality and long-running supply chain issues hanging around the neck of the club like a millstone.
However, with former MLS marketing executive and lifelong Lads fan David Bruce now on board, it feels as though we’re on the cusp of moving from the ‘D-list’ into a higher bracket altogether.
On Monday, my Roker Report colleague Andrew Smithson wrote a piece in which the prospect of Hummel linking up with Sunderland after a three-decade absence was considered, with the Danish firm rumoured to be coming on board from the 2024/2025 season onwards, and thereby bringing an end to the deal into which we’ve been locked for too long.
Suffice it to say, the idea of upgrading from an arrangement that sees our current shirts- based on a bargain basement Nike template- knocked up in a Spennymoor factory unit to potentially signing a fully-fledged contract with an elite brand seems to have gone down well with our fans.
For supporters who remember John Kay ‘rowing’ himself off the pitch with the Hummel chevrons on his sleeves or the Lads walking out at Wembley in 1992 with the ‘Vaux’ crest proudly emblazoned on their chests, the prospect of bringing a retro feel to modern Sunderland shirts is understandably exciting.
I must confess at this stage that I’ve never been fully aboard the ‘Hummel hype train’, as it were.
By the time Sunderland got under my skin in the mid-1990’s we’d moved into the Avec era, which was soon followed by an iconic partnership with Asics upon our move to the Stadium of Light in 1997, a collaboration that yielded what I still consider to be the greatest Sunderland strips of my lifetime.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why the return of an old favourite would be greeted with enthusiasm, and if and when this new manufacturing deal is announced, it needs to represent the cornerstone of an entirely new merchandising strategy at Sunderland AFC.
First and foremost, it would fit neatly under the umbrella of standards being raised right throughout the club, as well as moving away from the small time and frankly embarrassing operating practices we’ve used for what feels like an eternity.
As glaringly obvious as it sounds, Sunderland kits should always be available to buy in sports shops throughout the city as well as across the wider region.
At the moment, it’s often a case of pot luck as to whether you can get your hands on the item you’re looking for, either from the club shop or the online store.
Therefore, ensuring that Lads fans far and wide can get themselves into the mood ahead of a new season or cover off birthday or Christmas presents with a shiny replica home or away shirt is an absolutely basic requirement.
When I was a kid, a trip to Sunderland in the school holidays was a chance to visit not only the Crowtree Leisure Centre for ice skating or swimming, but to go to one of the retail outlets in the city and maybe add the latest home or away shirt to my collection, assuming my mam or dad was in a generous mood, that is!
In those days, the club were proactive with their merchandising, the clothing itself was of a high standard and as a result, fans were more than willing to part ways with their money in order to buy it. It’s wilfully basic stuff if we’re honest, but it’s something that, since the League One days, has been overlooked at best and borderline neglected at worst.
If a Sunderland AFC/Hummel partnership is confirmed for the immediate future, it’ll be a small step towards accomplishing something you hear people demanding regularly, that is for us to ‘start thinking like a big club once again’.
Simply put, there are no further excuses for corner cutting when it comes to retail, ticketing, customer service and the like. We’re a Championship team with aspirations to reach an even higher level in the years to come, and there’s no time to waste as we try to ensure continual progress.
There are a lot of off-field issues that need to be addressed and much hard work to be done, but if and when the new partnership is sealed, it can certainly be a major milestone in the journey towards bringing all areas of the club up to the standard that we’d like them to be at.