Jack the Lad: Green is the colour

2nd October 2018

Loyal Swans fan and website columnist Jack the Lad struggles to find an answer when it comes to Erwin Mulder's kit.

"Why is the Swans' goalkeeper wearing green?" asked my daughter midway through the second half of last Saturday's win over QPR.

A last-minute substitute for my usual Liberty Stadium companion, she isn't a huge football fan, I think it’s fair to say.

As such, she’s prone to suddenly asking completely random questions mid-match.

I think she only wanted to come in the hope of a visit to McDonald’s on the way home, but I haven't given up hope of converting her from gymnastics to football, so along she came – random questions and all.

Although she will generally leave the room when there's football on the TV at home, even she has noticed the fashion for multi-coloured, day-glo goalkeeping shirts over recent seasons.

So, she wanted to know why Erwin Mulder was in a comparatively sedate shade of green, especially as his opposite number in the QPR goal was wearing a luminous lemon kit, which was making my eyes squint in the late September sunshine.

I hate it when she asks me a footballing question I'm not able to answer, so instead of giving her the actual answer (which I didn’t know), I thought I'd give her an interesting fact instead.

"When I started watching football in the 1970s, pretty much all club goalkeepers used to wear green shirts," I told her.

My answer was perfectly true. Goalkeepers generally wore green jerseys because it was less likely to clash with the outfield players' shirts due to the rarity of teams playing in green kit.

Non-green goalkeepers’ shirts were a rarity in domestic club football, although there were some high-profile exceptions.

Paul Cooper, who played in goal for this Saturday's visitors Ipswich Town during the 1970s, would regularly turn out in a red jersey, including for the 1978 FA Cup final, which the Suffolk club won against the odds.

His shirt would normally have clashed with opponents Arsenal's home kit, but they played in their change strip of yellow shirts and blue shorts.

Again, I don’t know why Cooper liked to sometimes turn out in red. However, he was known as an excellent penalty stopper and later scientific studies showed that keepers wearing red were more likely to save penalties.

Manchester United's Alex Stepney also broke the green goalkeeper tradition when he wore a blue shirt against Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup final. However, this was less successful as the Red Devils suffered a shock defeat to the Second Division Saints.

In the early 1970s, England goalkeeper Peter Shilton wore an all-white kit for Leicester City, apparently to make him look bigger and more imposing, but the kit was reportedly ditched because it made him too conspicuous to opposition strikers during night games when the floodlights reflected off it.

Legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin took the opposite approach. For many years he was famous for playing in an all black kit, especially in international matches where different coloured goalkeeping shirts – yellow in particular – were more prevalent.

In later years, British players like Neville Southall also went for the all black look when the Premier League decided referees would wear green.

This meant keepers had to look for different colours to wear to avoid clashing with the officials, or each other, thanks to the increase in goalkeepers going up for corners.

Southall said: “I wore a black shirt but not to stand out. I thought a striker would have to look twice to make sure I was there.”

Others wanted to make sure a striker had no problem seeing them. Enter one Jorge Campos, of Mexico, who used to wear the brightest, most garish kits imaginable. Apparently he designed them himself, presumably in the dark.

Many followed suit, including the aforementioned Southall, who ditched the black for a far more conspicuous look for Wales. For a while, I can remember him turning out for internationals in a combination of pink, green, yellow, blue and purple splodges, triangles and stripes – all in one shirt!

So, some people seem to think it's better to dress your goalkeeper like a harlequin to try to make him look big or distract the opposition, while others reckon they should project their inner ninja so strikers can’t see them!

To be honest, I don't care whether Erwin turns out head to toe in lime green and puce polka dots, khaki camouflage or sparkly pink gold lame for this week's matches, as long as he keeps Wigan and Ipswich out, as he did QPR.

Then I can tell my daughter: "He plays in green 'cos it helps keep his sheets clean!" That'll confuse her! Ask a silly question...

C’mon you Swans!