Review: Kitscene magazine (Issue 1)

Detail from TV Times article from March 1977

To paraphrase the words of William Shakespeare, I've not come here to bury Kitscene but to praise it. Alas, it may seem the opposite is true.

One thing I've been meaning to do more often on this website is review kit-related literature, and with new projects emerging regularly, I had no excuse not to. With that in mind, I purchased a digital copy of Kitscene, a new magazine aimed at people like myself with an interest in football kit design. Although I met the minimum criteria for the target audience, however, I began to doubt whether my suitability stretched any further.

The colourful front cover (featuring a close up of Peter Schmeichel's familiar Euro 92 goalkeeper shirt) certainly enticed me. Promising articles on subjects such as Reebok's return to the football market and Umbro's centenary, there was plenty to spark my interest.

Unfortunately, my interest quickly waned. The opening part of the magazine began with Reebok Reborn, a 13-page feature that was half-comprised of images and photography. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the written content felt like a combination of rehashed press release material combined with the immature ramblings of someone for whom grammar and punctuation are way down the list of priorities.

Feeling that I hadn't learned much about Reebok that I didn't already know, I remained optimistic for the next feature, Obsession & Emotion: The Attachment to 90s Football Shirts. Disappointingly, things didn't get much better. A further seven pages were dedicated to explaining in the briefest terms possible that the 1990s was a decade when football and the shirts of the era were exceptional. Be that as it may, the text was illustrated with a series of full-page images rendered in a minimal colour palette that added little intrinsic value. Fine, if you like that sort of thing, but it rather smacks of someone desperately using any means necessary to fill the 100-page quota.

Howay the Stripes focused on Newcastle United's new kit deal with Adidas, which is set to start next season. Here again, though, a few small articles were linked together to form an unsatisfying whole. Press release quotes were present once more, not to mention some poorly written and punctuated narrative throughout. The closing piece, Stripes on the Tyne, at least discussed The Magpies' shirts of the 1990s, but it could have been done with more opinion on which kits were good or bad.

Speaking as someone who has written and podcasted about football kit design for many years, I'd be the first to admit that describing the elements of a shirt can be somewhat dull and superficial. This is especially true if the audience can see pictures of the shirt themselves. Whether one should or could is the key question. When you've decided it's necessary to provide descriptions in the first issue of your new magazine, they really need to be quite punchy to engage the reader. In this instance, I can at least sympathise with the challenge.

Double page spread showing an article about the Kitlegit app from Kitscene, issue 1

Check Please: An article about Kitlegit

A feature on Kitlegit, an app designed to spot counterfeit football shirts online, had the potential to be interesting but felt a bit vague and, again, would have benefited from some sub-editing. Meanwhile, 100 Years of Umbro: A Football Legacy summarised the brand’s history but failed to uncover groundbreaking information that the article badly needed.

At this point, Kitscene was starting to feel like a magazine whose mission was to explain the history of football and football kits to people in their twenties. This view was reinforced when I turned the page (digitally) to discover Trophy Winning Umbro Kits of the 90s - yet another article for those who presumably believe football was invented by Sky TV.

Yet here, at last, was an article that had some merit. Ten guest writers provided their own nominations for a quality Umbro shirt of their choice, each one backed up with sufficient reasoning for its inclusion. This was more like what I was hoping for; pictures of shirts nicely presented with text that underlined the personal connection between the fan and the garment. True, the title of the piece referred to kits (not shirts), and one of the shirts was never worn in a trophy-winning scenario, but that's being unnecessarily pedantic.

Double page spread showing an article about Umbro kits from Kitscene, issue 1

Trophy Winning Umbro Kits of the 90s, from the first issue of Kitscene

A four-page article on sustainability in shirt production provided valuable context regarding the global demand for football clothing. Surprisingly, the crucial issue of one-year kit cycles was not addressed until the very end, where an article titled Bees Bucking The Trend discussed Brentford FC's recent decision to double the period in which their kits would be worn. Considering how few teams are adopting similar measures, I would have appreciated a more in-depth analysis of this topic.

Quite why Kitscene felt the need to provide a travel guide for those visiting Milan is beyond me, even if it was part of a larger feature about the city's two main football clubs. Frustratingly, the magazine also spent too much time outlining the history of AC Milan and Internazionale. It's something of a bugbear of mine, but in a publication about football kits, general information about teams can be left out without detracting from the core subject. There are plenty of books that cover club histories, so why include the same content? I hoped to read about some great shirts that were once worn by AC and Inter, but all I got were a dozen small photos.

Where this magazine was concerned, the best was saved until very nearly last. True Colours: Made In The 80s was an article written by John Devlin and predictably didn't disappoint. Full disclosure: I've been a good friend of John's for longer than I care to remember, so I may well be a little biased in my judgement of his piece for Kitscene. Nontheless, the fact remains that he not only offered an alternative to the 1990s obsession that hitherto prevailed, but did so in an informative and coherent manner that the magazine's writers would do well to emulate. Why his writing and illustrations were limited to only three pages is nothing short of scandalous.

The magazine concludes with Boots That Changed The Game, a feature on notable footwear in the sport and new developments in manufacturing techniques. However, like almost everything that preceded it, there's a lingering sense that the writing was satisfactory but not brilliant. With more in-depth research or additional interviews with people in the know, things could have been different.

Instead, Kitscene aims for 'good enough' but often fails to convince the reader. Some of the articles simplify topics Wikipedia-style, while others have the faint whiff of ChatGPT about them. I'm not implying that the creators used AI, but the unnecessary repetition of distinct words or phrases is certainly noticeable. I counted 46 uses of the word 'iconic,' and even if that's accidental, it shows a limited vocabulary at the very least.

But this is the problem with football kits and shirts. It's one thing to have a healthy interest in the subject matter, but another thing entirely to write or talk about it with clarity, variety and integrity. I'm sure I've not always achieved it myself down the years, and any thoughts of creating my own magazine were swiftly dismissed for fear of being able to maintain the standards required over a long duration. Despite the obvious effort put in by its makers, I only hope Kitscene can prevail in the light of any such similar worries.

Kitscene is available as a print edition for £10.95, or as a digital download for £4.95 from the Kitscene website.