I recently came across this picture taken at The Silverlake Stadium, or as I like to call it by it’s pre-sponsorship name, Ten Acres. I can’t remember the game it was taken at, but it must be at least a few years ago as Eastleigh are playing in white shirts, something they haven’t done for the past few years.
This has got me thinking about clubs changing their colours, particularly given the controversy over Cardiff City’s change from blue to red, a change which led to some fans declaring that City were no longer the same club, all links with the past severed by the change in palette.
Even changing patterns can prove a problematic affair as can be seen at Southampton where the club appear to have sidelined the traditional red and white stripes much to the displeasure of a significant chunk of their fanbase.
Yet somehow Eastleigh’s chameleon act has passed by without anyone really being very fussed, more surprising perhaps as they have changed club colours not just once, but twice in recent years.
So how have they got away with it? Firstly Eastleigh are a comparatively young club. Though they were formed in 1946, this was as Swaythling Athletic, they only became Eastleigh in 1980. Tradition takes time to bed in, and in fact many now well established clubs began with very different colours to the ones they are associated with today- just look at Liverpool’s first strip in use between 1892 and 1896
33 odd years though is time for a tradition of sorts to be established, but Eastleigh’s relatively recent ascent – they were playing in the Wessex League until 2003 – means that many followers of the team are relatively recent arrivals and as such are less likely to be overly concerned with continuity with the past.
But why were the older faces in the crowd less worried? I think this has to do with the difference between following a big team and a small team. At a non-league club it is quite easy to feel a part of the club, to be involved and to belong – there are no shortage of opportunities to help out and even turning up regularly will ensure you’re on nodding terms with most of the players and officials before long.
In a big club though there is a distance between many fans, who may not even visit the ground from one year to the next, and the club – a distance which arguably is growing – therefore symbols – things like the team colours and the badge become more important as a way of belonging, and therefore changing these becomes much more fraught with difficulty.