Strip mining: coal heritage meets modern-day football shirts

This article appeared in the Christmas and New Year double programme for Raith Rovers’ games versus Queen of the South (26 December) and Dunfermline Athletic (2 January). The Queen of the South game was postponed, and the Dunfermline game finished 0-0. Still no goals from open play.

Oil, gas and coal may be bad for the environment, but they are also closely linked with the identities of football clubs across the world. Ukrainian side Shakhtar, who periodically pop up in European competitions, take their name from a local coal miners’ union. In Japan, FC Tokyo and Cerezo Osaka started out as the works teams of gas and diesel companies respectively. Closer to home, Auchinleck Talbot for many years used spoil from nearby coal mines to build up their terracing, and to this day still have a ‘Coal Road’ end in their stadium. With Fife being a major mining area, numerous Rovers players and managers – including Jim Baxter – have worked down the mines or in coal-related jobs.

As our energy and manufacturing systems change and old industries are shut down, more and more clubs have looked to celebrate their industrial heritage. At a time of year when many of us might be hoping to find some club clothing wrapped up for us under the Christmas tree, today I want to look at how different clubs have enshrined the activities on which they were built into their club kits.

Borussia Dortmund play in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, formerly one of Europe’s main coal and steel producing regions. To mark their 110th anniversary in 2019, they released an away kit on the theme of ‘coal and steel’, with alternating black and dark grey bands to represent the goods that the Ruhr was famed for. An entirely black version of the kit was worn for one single game and released in ultra-low numbers to fans in a special box bearing the words ‘Kohle & Stahl’ – German for ‘coal and steel’. The shirt sold out in hours, and now goes for upwards of £500 online.

Steel texture on Borussia Dortmund 2019-20 away jersey (not the ultra-rare one!)

Middlesbrough is another location famed for steel – and also for turning oil and gas into products through petrochemicals refining. Their 2018 home jersey paid homage to this legacy by printing lyrics to a song titled Infant Hercules inside the collar. The words describe the landscape, sounds and smells of industry, and how these have given rise to Middlesbrough’s distinctive local identity and character. At the other end of the scale, Italian Serie A side Venezia this year teamed up with a local environmental charity to launch a light blue away shirt reflecting the colours of Venice’s lagoon. A share of the profits will go to supporting projects to protect the lagoon.

In Scotland, nobody has really tried to incorporate industrial heritage into their shirt design – although this can be hard as many clubs have to work with what the manufacturers offer. I’d love to see Aberdeen do something themed on North Sea oil as the rigs start to shut down. Looking to the future, whilst Wick Academy are already backed by the Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm, how about getting a wind turbine pattern onto someone’s strip? And what about the Rovers? Well, we could honour Kirkcaldy’s collieries – or we could pay tribute to Kirkcaldy’s other great industry. Lino-patterned strips, anyone?

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