Cricket In Colour – Part 2
The story of the first coloured clothing in county cricket...
You never forget your first.
And so it is that county cricket fans of a particular vintage will always remember the 1993 season with great fondness.
Prior to that year, club shops (or tents/trestle tables depending on the venue) had very little on offer in terms of garments upon which your county’s name could be worn with pride.
A sun hat here, the occasional t-shirt there…a rosette if your team reached a Cup Final.
That all changed when the Test & County Cricket Board (TCCB) finally jumped on the coloured clothing bandwagon – already sported in Australian domestic cricket for a decade by then – to mark the relaunch of the one-day league competition.
There had been talk of such attire being showcased for the 1992 season but those plans were rebuffed.
Once the counties got wind of how many 1992 Cricket World Cup shirts were sold by English distributor and manufacturer Hogger Sports (in the region of 100,000), the potential pound signs that fluttered past their eyes proved irresistible.
Coloured clothing – of some form – was not an entirely new concept in English cricket as various shades and hues were donned as far back as the 1750s until the end of the 19th Century.
By the time of the early 1990s, however, there was a conservatism that had the sport in a firm headlock.
Indeed, according to TCCB marketing manager Terry Blake, had negotiations taken a different turn ahead of the 1993 relaunch of the one-day league, coloured clothing might even have been delayed still further:
“The Sunday League had lost its sponsor (Refuge, after the 1991 season) so in the planning for the new tournament I distinctly remember a debate about coloured clothing,” says Blake. “In those days quite a lot of things were beginning to open up. So, for instance, the England team was also able to have a sponsor for the first time. It was around then we got Tetley Bitter on board (first appearing on the Test shirts in 1992). Stump logos were agreed; pitch logos began to come in more often and other things of that sort.
“I remember two things distinctly: one was going to Persil and asking them if they wanted to sponsor the Sunday League and they could have the choice of keeping it white and appealing to the traditional fan base – here’s the sponsor that kept cricket in white clothing in England. But they didn’t agree to it so we inevitably went towards coloured clothing.”
A sponsorship deal was eventually brokered with AXA Equity & Law in August 1992 – at £2.5m over three years with matches now consisting of 50- rather than 40-overs-per-side - and a lavish catwalk event was held at The Oval that autumn to showcase the new kits
“One of the selling points for AXA was that it was going to be in coloured clothing – so there would be something new and innovative for them to latch on to,” explains Blake. “We had a lot of insurance companies involved around that time (Britannic, Refuge, AXA - who took over Equity & Law - and Cornhill). Anything to stand out from the crowd was a positive, so AXA were right behind the [coloured clothing] initiative.”
On the back of their Cricket World Cup exploits, Hogger Sports was assigned to do the manufacturing.
Having been part of their previous success, former Essex and Nottinghamshire fast bowler Ian Pont was once more a key member of the Hogger team:
“Basically, the 1992 World Cup gave us all the confidence to take it forward,” says Pont. “There was little if any history of replica sales of shirts. So the TCCB were pretty happy to insist that the Sunday League be played in colour and, of course, we were the only company with a track record. It was very odd, having been a player four years previously, going back to Lord's in a corporate capacity and having to deal with county chairmen and bosses!”
For the all-important design that would make or break the success and legacy of the shirts, the TCCB got Tobasgo Creative on board - who had also been involved with the 1992 CWC.
Tobasgo’s Gail and Alan Martin opted for a small number of patterns that would ease both the design process and the eventual manufacturing required from Hogger Sports.
Gail Martin explains: “It was decided to keep the number of different designs to four purely for simplicity - and that these would provide enough colour ways to differentiate each team. Coloured clothing came with the introduction of day/night games and the white ball - it was important that the pads were also coloured so that the ball was easily seen.”
Pont adds: “The four options of design meant we could control the fabric patterns and production. As we were supplying ALL the kit to the players as well, it was a very large investment and we didn't want 18 different designs. Far easier to produce different colour ways.”
Unsurprisingly, some of the more established elements of the media and county memberships were appalled by what they saw as the defilement of the county game.
With 18 different approaches to promoting the shirts, it was a lot harder for Hogger to reap the type of rewards they had for the World Cup, when just the interest of the two finalists alone was enough to make the investment worthwhile.
“We decided at the end of 1994, that it might not be as financially fruitful to stay involved with the coloured clothing in the UK,” Pont continues. “Some of the counties were slow to take up the opportunity whilst others, like Lancashire in particular, really embraced it. We paid the TCCB a cut of the shirt sale price in return for the right to the UK market. In 1995, they realised they could charge for the rights, due to its marketability, and that’s when we decided not to bid for the kit - as it wouldn’t make economic sense. Pony decided to go for it presumably as they could then leverage other clothing into retail outlets, but paid far more than we wanted to.”
Despite the lukewarm attitude in some quarters at the time, many fans look back with reverence at their team’s first venture into coloured clothing. Indeed, several counties have worked the original AXA League shirt into their marketing over the last few years.
Having also been involved in designing the 1992 and 1999 Cricket World Cup shirts – not to mention the branding for T20 cricket in 2003 among numerous other cricket assets – Tobasgo can lay claim to one of the most accomplished sports branding portfolios over the last 30 years.
“I think sometimes we underestimate what we actually achieved - too busy enjoying it I suspect,” says Gail Martin, modestly.
Hogger Sports had a much shorter involvement in cricket – ending with the 1994-95 England World Series Cup outfit – but their dynamism in the promotion of coloured clothing at its outset in the UK should never be underestimated.
Pont reflects: “I am proud of the fact that we spotted this opportunity and began a wholesale development of coloured clothing into domestic cricket. There was HUGE opposition to coloured clothing from the counties in 1993, but the sheer numbers of shirt sales from the 1992 World Cup proved that fans would want to wear their team shirts. It’s an odd thing as an ex-professional cricketer to be involved in something as historic as coloured clothing but, thanks to Bill Miller (Crampton/Hogger MD) and his vision, we managed to make a difference. And I really think the game is much better for it.”