“The whole of California is in the highest state of excitement”, reported the New York Herald, “relative to the gold regions, recently discovered on the branches of the Sacramento river”. It was 1848, the Gold Rush had started and over 300,000 people were about to travel west, looking to get in on the action.
People have always liked gold you see and all it represents – wealth, prosperity, success. For those same reasons however, in a footballing context, it’s a risk. Gold equates to arrogance and a gold kit is a sign of expectation, an assumption that rewards of a similar hue await at season’s end. With the stakes so high, you’d think a nice red or blue may be a wiser choice, but how does history judge the hardy souls who persevered with the unconventional choice?
Arsenal (a), 2001/02
The good old days. The Thierry, Dennis and Patrick days. Arsenal won the double, doing so without losing an away game all season. These were happy times. When the shirt caught the floodlights in a certain way, it looked like it was made of the finest satin. As if Freddie and the boys were going to beat you playing sweet, sexy football before toasting a glass of port to their achievements in an exclusive gentlemen’s club immediately afterwards. Watch the highlights of Liverpool (a) to see what we mean.
Barcelona (a), 2001/02
Believe it or not, things weren’t always rosy at the Camp Nou. Carles Rexach was at the helm and could only guide Barca to fourth place in his sole season in charge. Midfield lynchpin Pep Guardiola had left the club after seventeen years for an Italian adventure and Rivaldo was enjoying a Catalonian swansong before heading to Milan. The team only won six times away in the league and their gold kit barely saw the light of day. It did get a run-out at Anfield though, a big 3-1 win against Liverpool, with a teenage Fabio Rochemback smashing in the winner before discovering cheap pints and chips with gravy on Teeside a few years later. Ah well, brighter days were coming.
Bayern Munich (a), 2004/05
To realise the audacity of Bayern’s gold away kit, you first need to understand the economic landscape of the Bundesliga at the dawn of the 2004/05 season. Reckless spending and particularly bad boardroom management meant that a host of teams, from FC Kaiserslautern to Schalke O4, were swiftly heading to the red zone. For all their problems, none compared to Borussia Dortmund, two years fresh from winning the league. After floating on the stock market and diving wallet-first into a heavily inflated transfer market with their newfound wealth, the club found themselves in all sorts of bother as share prices tanked. The situation grew so bad that they had to accept a €2 million loan from their Bavarian rivals just to cover players wages. Imagine the aversion felt by Bayern’s opponents then, when they turned up for away games wearing a kit the literal colour of money. In the end, the financial disparities told. Bayern won the league by 14 points, Roy Makaay notched 34 goals in all comps and Dortmund underwent a complete restructure, investing in the development of a youth system that would produce the likes of Marco Reus and Mario Götze. So everyone was a winner really.
Sweden Centenary, 2004
A one-off kit worn just the once – in a 1-0 friendly win over England – as the Swedes celebrated their centenary. Nothing of note really happened in the game other than Celtic’s Alan Thompson coming on as a sub to win his only cap. Of course a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic got the winner. You feel Zlatan was made to play in gold. Zlatan knows he was made to play in gold.
Juventus (a), 2008/09
Claudio Ranieri’s black and white army. In truth it was a fairly unremarkable season for the Old Lady but have ten men ever looked to collectively stylish before?
Leyton Orient (a), 2013/2014
Four years is a long, long time in football. Don’t believe it? Ask Leyton Orient. In 13/14 the O’s secured 3rd place, with the best goal difference in League One and were a penalty-kick away from promotion to the Championship. Then the wheels fell off. In July, long-time owner Barry Hearn sold his stake in the club to Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti and by December of the same year, three managers had been ushered out of Brisbane Road’s doors, including poor old Russell Slade, who’d been sent packing despite presiding over the previous campaign. Fast forward to 2017 and Orient were relegated from the football league after 100 years. A winding up order followed. Becchetti was accused of a fair few misdeeds for good measure, including a failed extradition to Albania as part of a fraud and money- laundering investigation. He was also alleged to be meddling with team selection, which appeared to come to a climax on Boxing Day 2015 when Becchetti kicked assistant manager Andy Hessenthaler at full-time of a 3-2 win over Portsmouth. “Well it is Boxing Day”, Hessenthaler later sighed.
Bedale AFC (h), 2018/2019
What’s that you hear? That’s right, it’s the sound of commercialisation entering step seven of the English football pyramid. When sausage producers Heck opened their new factory in North Yorkshire, non- league clubs around the area were licking their lips. A local company with money to spare, a small-scale sponsorship waiting to happen. Bedale AFC were the lucky winners but the investment came at a price. Abandon your green and yellow colour scheme, Heck said, for a kit that’ll really make you, and us, stand out. In 2017, this took the form of a home strip decorated in bacon. The 2018 instalment remained similarly on brand, a golden, bun exterior with sausage, mustard and ketchup running gloriously down the middle. The shirts were a massive hit and 25% of sales went to Prostate Cancer UK.