Around 5pm on Sunday the commercial department of Manchester United must have danced a jig of joy. They probably rushed right over to the Old Trafford Megastore and removed the summer-sale Phil Jones duvets, the half-price Marouane Fellaini lampshades – a rare piece of Red Devils’ self-deprecation, this, for the big Belgian’s more static displays had earned him the nickname “The Lampshade” – and the knockdown Chris Smalling snowglobes. No need to try to flog any more of that gubbins for this was the prime, optimum moment to roll out the new stock.
Paul Pogba had scored a goal in the World Cup final. Paul Pogba had played well in the tournament. Paul Pogba had banished the memory of all those tepid, how-much-did-he-cost? displays for Jose Mourinho. There might never be a better time to persuade the punters to splash out for the most expensive United kit there has ever been, smashing the £100 barrier for a top alone.
The day after Pogba was splashed over the back pages in the blue of champions France, there he was in the red of his club, a special design for a special season which comes at a special price, all in, of £183. That’s what it will cost to look like Pogba – shirt, shorts, and socks (the man’s outrageous hairstyles not included).
The shirt alone, grown-ups’ version, costs £110. Your son or daughter will sneer at you stretching the “athletic fit” around the midriff area and demand a junior one at £45. The club say it’s special because of the train-track detail. In the 140th year of Man U’s existence, this is a homage to the railwaymen of Newton Heath, which was the club’s original name. But World Cup good feeling or not – and England’s Jesse Lingard was also recruited for modelling duties – the prices have caused the club’s relationship with the supporters to hit the buffers. Many yesterday were appalled by how much they were being asked to pay for the privilege of wearing the team’s official colours.
In this football-daft household I have not yet been asked for a Man U strip or any other exploiting the success of the World Cup, but I don’t expect to get through the whole summer unscathed. To those parents who have been assailed, my condolences. Fifty years ago in the wake of United’s first European Cup I nagged my mother for a red shirt. My life was truly going to end if I didn’t get one.
The top came from Thornton’s, Edinburgh’s premier sports outfitters. Red with a round white collar, there was nothing to confirm it was a Manchester United shirt. It was multi-purpose and equally would have made young fans of Aberdeen, Stirling Albion, Nottingham Forest and Swindon Town perfectly happy. Life was simpler back then, and fairer, and cheaper.
Now a boy or girl would be laughed out of the playground or the public park if they tried to pass off such a shirt as a Man U product. Clubs have grabbed hold of all merchandise, branded it as theirs and theirs alone and ramped up prices.
In Scotland the national team’s away kit was given a spring overhaul. The Tartan Army liked the retro yellow design but not the price – £103 for the full adult rig-up, £60 for only the shirt. Now this seems like something of a bargain.
We probably thought we’d stopped being surprised by football’s excesses. Maybe the first £100,000 player prompted a degree of shock and awe but after that the first £1 million player was more or less inevitable. But the first £100 strip? That takes the breath away.
Until Manchester United established the new record the average cost of an English Premier League top was £94.08. Maybe some clubs were reluctant to go to three figures, but I don’t imagine Man U had any such quibbles. After all, when you like to boast you’re the biggest club in the world, when you always declare an interest any time there’s a hint one of the top stars might be available for a record-breaking transfer (Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale), you’re not unfamiliar with snob appeal.
For this club it’s probably a status thing to charge the highest price for a piece of mass-produced synthetic fabric. Let’s hope the baffle-with-science claims about the shirt’s breathe-ability are a comfort to its wearer when he is queueing for a pie in a Manchester thunderstorm. But I’m not sure the old rail workers of Newton Heath would approve.