THE PATRONISING cricket establish- ment continues to smirk into its whiskers over the World Cup players in Australia being decked out in coloured clothing. But there is nothing new under the suns and moons of the summer game. Hambledon in Hampshire is the accepted birthplace of cricket and there, around 240 years ago, its first organised, regular team, captained by Mr Billy Beldham on Broadhalfpenny Down, was required to wear 'coats of sky- blue, with collars in black velvet; knee- breeches and stockings of white, and leather shoes with gilt buckles engraved with CC for Cricketing Club'. So there.
In Australia this month, England in their powder-blue are, in fact, bobbing an histor- ical curtsy to history and Mr Billy. While Pakistan and South Africa, in their two shades of Sherwood-green, nod best towards common sense — for as Katherine' Whitehorn once said, cannot for the life of me see why umpires, the only two people on a cricket field who are not going to get grass stains on their knees, are the only two people allowed to wear dark trousers'.
All round, in the folklore and romance of sporting colours, the self-styled guardians of tradition are mod reactionaries if only they knew it and cared to study a bit of his- tory. For instance, in soccer, the perception might be that England's two most celebrat- ed clubs round the world, the 'Red Devils' of Manchester United and the 'Robin Red- breasts' of Arsenal, have played in their familiar outfits since time immemorial. Nonsense. From their foundation, Manch- ester United played in, first, 'Springbok' green-and-gold, then all-white, and not until the second half of the 1934 season, after playing a few games in cherry-hoops, did they settle on plain red shirts with white shorts. Only a year earlier, on a whim of their manager, Herbert Chapman, did Arsenal run out to play in their distinctive red breasts and white sleeves — against Liverpool at Highbury on 4 March, 1933.
To be sure, what about the famous Reds of Anfield, and Blues of Goodison Park? The first time Liverpool played their neigh- bours of Everton, in 1894, the former were in shirts of royal blue and white quarters, the latter in 'ruby' tops and black shorts. Sacrilegious now, but true. Likewise with the Scotland soccer team. How many Scots can imagine them playing in anything but blue? Well, till 1900 the Scottish side was adorned in garish primrose-and-pink hoops — in feudal genuflection to the racing colours of the Scottish FA president, Lord Archibald Philip Primrose Rosebery.
International rugby teams have been more historically Consistent in dress. The first international between England and Scotland at Raeburn Place in 1871 had the home side in 'blue guernseys' and a breast badge, as still today, of a thistle in a laurel- leaf cluster; and England in all-white with a red rose at the left breast.
The British Isles rugby touring side, the Lions, have such an obvious colour scheme that you would not, would you, expect that they had changed it since the first tour in 1888? They play in red shirts (for Wales), white shorts (for England), Scottish blue stockings with (for Ireland) green turnovers. A sacred tradition? Baloney. That outfit was first paraded by Karl Mullen's side which toured New Zealand as far away in the mists of history as 1950. For the first half of their life, the Lions had played in safe white. When the 1930 Lions assembled at Southampton to sail for New Zealand, the captain, F. D. Prentice, enquired if the kit had been stored in the hold. It hadn't. He and the chairman of selectors ran out into the town — and the first gents' outfitter who could supply 30 shirts of the same colour did the deal. They were blue, as it happens. And he threw in for free 30 blazer badges of a rampant lion. Thus were the British 'Lions' born.