But in the VFL, club jumpers remained pretty much the same, week in, week out, year in, year out. The away team wore white shorts, and that was thought to be enough of a distinction. Only when the Brisbane Bears came into the league in 1987, their new colours and jumper design clashing with that of Hawthorn, did an away jumper become a thing in the league. And it wasn’t until the mid-to-late ’90s, as commercially-minded clubs began trialling experimental pre-season jumpers, that clash and away uniforms edged towards ubiquity.
KEEPING THE EYEBALLS HAPPY
Even then, it wasn’t until the 2000s – as the AFL broadcast rights’ worth escalated exponentially – that pressure on clubs to wear clash jumpers ramped up.
“I only recall it was driven by TV broadcasters much more than AFL,” says former Essendon and Melbourne chief executive Peter Jackson.
“It was always implied, at least in part,” said ex-Adelaide and Carlton chief Steven Trigg, when asked if it was the broadcasters pushing the matter.
It is worth noting that players don’t tend to mention jumper clashes. Essendon great Dustin Fletcher, who played through the clash jumper evolution across 400 games, was unperturbed.
“I never had a problem with jumper clash. I honestly think players don’t really have a problem with it. More gets talked about by media and supporters,” Fletcher said.
Among the first clubs to take a dramatic turn was St Kilda, who having already tinkered with their jumper design in the back half of the ’90s upped the ante dramatically in 2001, wearing a predominantly yellow jumper, initially as a one-off for a Pura milk sponsorship before adopting it as their regular clash uniform for games against fellow dark-coloured sides Essendon, Collingwood, Fremantle and Carlton.
“We probably saw it as a marketing opportunity as much as anything,” recalls Rod Butters, Saints president at the time.
“We didn’t have a rusted-on attachment, unlike some other clubs. We took the view this was progression and common sense. Outside of that, there were just so many other bigger issues to deal with.
“[Chief executive] Brian Waldron just waltzed into the boardroom one day and said ‘this is our clash jumper,’ we said ‘yeah good, fine.’
“When you’ve won one premiership in 140 years, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. That was our view, so no big deal.”
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE
More and more clubs implemented away and clash uniforms, but spot fires bobbed up. In 2007, the Brisbane Lions decided to wear their away jumper in a home game against Adelaide to avoid a clash, but called on the league at the time to ensure the Crows initiated a light-coloured away jumper for the future.
Later that season Geelong coach Mark Thompson lamented a jumper clash between his side and Collingwood, also calling for change. And yet as recently as the 2019 finals there was trouble again when the clubs met, with then Pies president Eddie McGuire alleging that the Cats reneged on a deal to always wear white shorts against Collingwood no matter who was notionally the home side.
Richmond had joined the party late in the 2000s, adding yellow side panels to their traditional jumper in a bid to avoid clashes against a handful of clubs. But when pitted against Port Adelaide in an elimination final in 2014, it was the higher-ranked Power asked to wear a clash uniform because according to the AFL, the Tigers’ jumper wasn’t sufficiently different to Port’s home one. A compromise was ultimately reached, with the Power wearing their prison bar jumper from the SANFL in a crushing Adelaide Oval win.
THE GRANDEST TEST
After that kerfuffle, the Tigers stepped it up a notch, changing to an almost all-yellow clash jumper, the inverse of their traditional one.
“We were comfortable with it. It wasn’t without precedent throughout the world in global sport,” Tigers chief executive Brendon Gale recalled during the week.
But a key tension point was reached three years later when the Tigers qualified for their first grand final in 35 years, but as the second-ranked side, below Adelaide, meaning Richmond were asked to wear their clash uniform.
“And we thought ’gee, is the Richmond traditional jumper and the Adelaide traditional jumper, are they that similar? What science do you use? What criteria do you use?” said Gale.
“We decided you’ve got to pick your fights, this is not one worth having. We just decided to embrace it, and we did. And I’m glad we did, because that jumper is part of history and in terms of merchandise sales after the event – clearly it was a lot to do with breaking the premiership drought – it sold very well.
“And the justification for the AFL and the grand final is it’s the biggest event of the year, it’s the biggest TV event, not just domestically but huge interest globally, and we want to do everything that we can to make it as easy as we can for viewers to differentiate between the teams.”
If that Richmond jumper carries with it a halo, the opposite can also tend to occur. Just ask Trigg, reflecting on his time at the Blues.
“With the best of intentions we put the team out in a grey outfit as the away or clash strip,” Trigg said.
“It wasn’t received well, but I honestly believe that if we were winning games in that strip, it would have been a beauty. But because we were battling at the time, I think by association the grey one got shot down very quickly.”
RULES FOR SOME?
Even now there is confusion as to what does and does not constitute a clash. When Essendon hosted Carlton last weekend, the Blues, as the away team, still wore their predominantly navy home jumper, with white shorts deemed to be enough of a difference between them and the Dons for the AFL. But when Fremantle play away against the Bombers, they wear their largely white away jumper over their purple home jumper. Collingwood have barely deviated from black and white stripes in a home and away game, these days willing only to allow a predominantly white back for their clash uniform.
“I don’t really know whether it’s consistently applied or not. I don’t really care. I’ve got more important things to worry about,” said Gale.
“We know when we wear it, prior to each year, the games are designated as clash jumper games. I guess what’s unclear is the basis on which they make that assessment. Is there an empirical basis or is there just a secret herbs and spices? I don’t see a clash when Richmond plays Adelaide, but the AFL does, and that’s the part that’s probably less understood. At the end of the day, we just get on with it.”
Trigg, no longer working in the league, agreed that it was sometimes hard to figure out the league’s policy.
“In the old days as it were, black shorts and white shorts was the distinction. These days it doesn’t seem to be enough. And I think it’s probably fair. As much distinction as you can get, I don’t think anybody argues with that. Sometimes you can raise your eyebrows as to what gets through and what doesn’t,” he said.
Port Adelaide premiership captain Warren Tredrea, these days a newsreader with Nine and radio broadcaster with FiveAA, said the AFL had missed a commercial opportunity to help bolster the club’s coffers by not allowing Port to wear the prison bars jumper.
Moreover he was irked by what he perceived as favouritism towards bigger clubs like Collingwood, for whom Tredrea’s father Gary played.
“I still think both teams should have a home and away that are totally different,” Tredrea said.
“They need to make rules across the board. The AFL need to take some control of the situation.
“I think there are absolutely double standards.
“You’ve only got to go back to Anzac Day. Two wonderful guernseys created in isolation, but they almost look the same!
“Gill McLachlan said he was the CEO for the fans when he first came in, and this is a situation where they just won’t rule.”
The AFL declined to comment for this story.
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