Opinion

The 'spew kit' embraces our past and Matildas’ future

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When the leaked designs of the new Matildas’ 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup kit started popping up recently, it was hard to avoid taking a dramatic gasp: this was going to get the nation talking.

And judging by the reaction online to the release this morning – front page of all the major news websites in the country – it has achieved that and more.

For the record, by midday, Nike had sold out of the medium and large version: for men.

As one fan explained it: “Instant collectors’ item”. That it is.

It’s unlikely the small and extra-large sizes will see out the day.

For many years, the 'spew kit' had pride of place in the Australian Football Hall of Shame.

Then, as so often happens in culture, it became a piece of acceptable irony. Then it became a piece of appropriated fashion.

Finally, it started popping up on the terraces at every Australian game - indisputable evidence of its vogue.

With the early 1990s making a dramatic revival in street and athletic fashion, it was only a matter of time before this infamous kit came  shall we say  chundering back.

Granted, it’s not quite as garish as the 1991 polyester special; which had a bit more of a Pro Hart, throw-exploding-paint-at-the-canvas type look, contrasting memorably with Robbie Slater's buzzed sides.

But this design also splatters into the socks, giving it another unique dimension.

And that is, ultimately, the bigger point.

The Matildas are now a brand that is big enough to have a kit to call their own, not just a slimmer cut of the Socceroos’ latest version.

Equally, so powerful is their presence that they can actually help tell the history of football in this country.

Just imagine what will happen if they make the final of this World Cup, let alone win it.

Kits may seem a banal subject but they are a hugely important piece of the sport. 

They connect us all, immediately, to a time and place. They provide context and a narrative that goes way beyond the strips themselves.

It sounds ridiculous, but we, as football fans, are habits of rituals and symbols.

It’s why we defend them so much when they are altered – and why they immediately spark memories we can’t explain.

You see that Melbourne Knights kit of the mid-1990s and it just couldn’t be anyone else. The brilliant gold of the championship-winning Newcastle Jets. Perth Glory’s big sun screamed changing times. The dramatic flash of orange on Sydney FC’s first kit. The Coca-Cola ribbon means the heartbreak of 1997. The Socceroos' kits of the 2006 World Cup were also the Matildas' kits for the 2010 Women's Asian Cup.

The most-loved design I can recall was the 2014 World Cup kit, a homage to the 1974 edition.

When styled with green shorts and white socks, it was the home-run of kit design from a nation that can get it wrong. It remains the benchmark.

My personal favourite is the mid-1980s kits, a time when the Socceroos really began forging the iconography of what they are today.

Kosmina, Davidson, Crino, Farina, Arnold – those minimalist gold kits with the green stripes reflected their brilliant, no-nonsense style.

Now it is the women's turn to break away and start building a visual story for themselves. 

This was a wonderful way to start, by nodding to history and making it their own.

With the Matildas' best years still to come on the field, as their glorious moments become etched into the national mindset, so too will be the kits bearing their name – and our memories.