England v Scotland: Pink To Make The Boys Wink

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by Peter Callaghan

England 3 Scotland 0. We know our place. But regarding matters sartorial…

Almost a year to the day, the Scottish Football Association unveiled their latest international football strips a month after the men’s team was comprehensively horsed out of the EURO 2016 qualifying campaign: tartan blue for home, pink top and black shorts for away. Cue the all too familiar cries of “gay”, “poofy” and “girly”. The latter coming from ex-Dundee United striker and former Scottish internationalist Kevin Gallacher.

I’m not a fan of either strip, to be honest, which is surprising given that I have seldom missed a home game at Hampden in over 15 years, yet unsurprising in that I have never owned a football or sporting top in my life. The reasons being: I don’t need a branded strip to prove how Scottish, Celtic or Falkirk I am; I feel uncomfortable with the pack mentality of us versus them; and there’s something sad about a grown man in his forties or fifties decked out in his team’s regalia complete with matching lighter, ashtray and baffies.

However, if I had to pick between the two strips, I would favour the away jersey which is simple in design and bold in colour over the home one which to my untrained eye is a bit busy and verging on twee. Though, given the extortionate asking price, I can think of better ways of parting with three quid short of a ton. Which is how much it will cost you to buy the complete strip at the exclusive retailer JD Sports. The adult top, shorts and socks are currently retailing at £55, £30 and £12 respectively. Whereas the junior equivalents come in at a whopping £42, £22 and £12 (£76 in total). Which begs the question: for a f***ing football strip?

Before I debunk the notion that blue like “snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails” is for boys and pink like “sugar and spice and all things nice” is for girls, a little bit of history regarding the so-called “girly” colour and its long association with our national team which dates way back to the nineteenth century.

Archibald Primrose, the fifth Earl of Rosebery, was a Liberal peer who was reputed to have had three ambitions in life: to win the Derby, to marry an heiress and to become Prime Minister. Unlike Meat Loaf, who sung “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”, Oor Archie netted a hat trick. The Derby he won not once, not twice but thrice. His wife was none other than Hannah de Rothschild, who after her father’s death in 1874 became the richest woman in Britain. And he succeeded the Grand Old Man of politics, William Gladstone, to become Prime Minister for all of fifteen months.

All very interesting. But what’s this got to do with Scotland’s pink strip? I hear you cry. Bear with me (and he’s growling). The Earl of Rosebery was, as I have said, a keen horse racing fan and his colours were “primrose yellow and rose pink”. He was also one of the Scottish FA’s earliest patrons and in 1882 donated a trophy called the Rosebery Charity Cup, which was played for by teams in the East of Scotland Football Association. A competition which lasted over 60 years and raised thousands of pounds for charities in the Edinburgh area. After he became Honorary President of the national team, the traditional dark blue home strip was replaced, several times, with the primrose yellow and rose pink of his racing colours. Hence the pink away strip.

Moving onto the gender-specific clothing of blue is for boys and pink is for girls, it was not always thus. According to Jo B Paoletti, historian and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys, around the turn of the last century gender neutral clothing was the norm and children of both sexes predominantly wore “bleached white dresses” up to the age of six.

When pink and blue, as well as other pastel colours, entered the popular market, it took a couple of decades before retailers and manufacturers started to target them towards girls and boys respectively. In fact, according to an article in the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department dated 1918, the opposite was the case: “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

It wasn’t until the 1940s, however, that the blue-pink divide which dominates popular thinking today was universally adopted by the fashion industry. No doubt on the commercial grounds that if a couple gave birth to a baby daughter not long after a baby son (or vice versa) then rather than re-use the old clothes for their youngest child they bow to the seductive power of advertising to fork out for a completely new set of baby products.

Thankfully, modern campaigns such as Pink Stinks which “confronts the damaging messages that bombard girls through toys, clothes and media” and Let Toys Be Toys which challenges “toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys” are fighting to restore gender neutrality.

Going back to the Scottish Football Association’s strips and the familiar cries of “gay”, “poofy” and “girly”, which they have unsurprisingly provoked, it is worth remembering that not all fans of the beautiful game have responded in such a caveman-like manner. In fact, many have adopted a more humorous “behave man”-like approach on Twitter.

For example, Scotch Provocateur posted: “Pink is THE most unflattering colour for the Scottish complexion. Not gay. Just shite.” Lady Carol of Muck said: “like the tartan one but the pink is bad mind you they play like big girls blouses so i suppose it fits.” And who’s going to argue with Andrea aka @mrsgeldof who wrote: “Stop greetin boys, I like the @sfa pink strip. Tell him it’s ‘girlie’.” Him being a picture of Josh Mansour, a strapping winger who currently plies his trade for the Penrith Panthers in the Australian National Rugby League, who is sporting his team’s colours of, yes, pink.

Pink to make the boys wink? Pink to make the boys kick up a stink!

Peter Callaghan

Peter Callaghan

Writer at reviewsphere
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Dramatic Studies graduate, actor, writer and drama workshop leader. As well as a performance poet and corporate roleplayer.
Peter Callaghan

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