Aston Villa finally unveiled their new kits this weekend and, if you were taking a quick glance or not looking too closely, Under Armour’s second offer for the club’s traditional home kit looks pretty standard. For the 16th year running, Villa will wear a claret shirt with blue sleeves, set over white shorts, at home this campaign — nothing unexpected there — and the away kit marks a return to black, a colour Villa have donned enough times that it looks fairly natural. The home kit features that standard touch to make it a bit more unique (embossed lions this year), while the road kit looks pretty sharp. The betting sponsor aside, no fuss, right?
If someone were to ask you to describe Villa’s kit, you’d certainly talk about that claret shirt, the blue sleeves, and the white shorts, and for good reason. Since the club debuted the look in 1890, the seasons where it isn’t the featured kit have (the mid-to-late ’80s aside) been few and far between.
If we’re talking modern Villa, though, I’d offer one more bit: blue socks.
That’s why I was a little disappointed to see Saturday’s kit reveal feature claret, not blue, socks. Over the previous 14 kits, Villa had worn blue socks 12 times; just the 2010/11 kit, which featured claret socks, and the 2011/12 one, which featured throwback black socks, differed from the pattern. An extended stretch of blue socks saw the club through an extended stretch of success from the mid ’70s through to the mid ’80s, while the club didn’t shy away from them in the ’90s.
As the guys at historicalkits.co.uk show (that site’s a great resource), over time, there really hasn’t been a true traditional sock colour. For various eras, it’s been claret, others white, and through to the ’50s, black was long the preferred choice. So in one sense, no choice of sock colour truly has the tradition of Villa behind it.
Yet claret, and at this point white, simply can’t feel right to me — probably because I associate the choices with other clubs, like West Ham United, more than Villa. It is, in many ways, particularly annoying that Villa saw their look copied by enough clubs back in the day, especially given how infrequently you see the combination of claret and blue together outside the football world.
But when it comes to that Villa/West Ham comparison, as well as the Villa/Burnley one, socks have been one of the few easy identifiers over the last few decades — if it’s solid, or primarily, blue socks, it’s Villa. If it’s white or claret, it isn’t.
Perhaps it wouldn’t bother me as much if I didn’t feel blue socks (especially the hooped efforts Macron put forth in their four years as kit manufacturer — can we please bring those back?) simply looked the part better than the claret ones. And either way, as the season goes on, the memories I’ll associate with the kit will have more to do with on-pitch performance than anything else. It’s a perfectly fine design, even if I fear the claret colour might be a little overbearing. But there’s no two ways about it: the claret socks will be different than what we’re used to.
And hey, looking at last year’s tables, there’s probably a few things this club could learn from West Ham or Burnley anyway.