ESSENDON will play in colours other than red and black for the first time in the club’s 140-year history this weekend, having bowed to the AFL’s demand for a clash guernsey after six years of stubborn resistance.
The Bombers will wear a primarily grey strip against St Kilda on Saturday night having been told by the AFL that their current clash kit – a black guernsey with a widened red sash – was no longer allowable, with both red and black classed as dark colours.
Essendon, the final club to succumb to the league’s demands, was faced with fines of $5000 for each player if it did not develop a more distinctive alternate strip this season. It decided on its “heritage guernsey” after consulting several past players and finding a way to preserve the red sash.
The Bombers faced fierce member backlash when conceding to the wider sash in 2007, and argued with the league that the club’s constitution prevented any change to its guernsey design or colours.
However, the constitution also declares the club must abide by the rules set by the game’s governing body, with any change to the constitution requiring the support of 75 per cent of members.
The heritage guernsey, to be worn in away games against Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and Port Adelaide, features a standard red sash with a black border, the club’s traditional motto dating back to the 1870s, its first post-war logo and the names of every premiership player etched on the front.
It will be dedicated to a different hero of the club every two years, with the version debuting against the Saints to carry the name and signature of champion full-forward John Coleman on the breast of the jumper.
The club will refer to the jumper as its heritage guernsey, rather than a clash strip, and wear it only when directed to by the AFL, as often as four times a year or as few as one.
Essendon president David Evans said the club had involved four premiership captains – Ken Fraser, Terry Daniher, Mark Thompson and James Hird – in the design process, as well as key coterie group members and former chairmen. Coleman’s daughter, Jenny, will help launch the guernsey tomorrow, with two of his grandchildren.
“Given we’ve been led down this path and have had to do it, we’ve tried to be as consultative as we possibly could,” Evans said. “But at the same time we had to make a decision on behalf of the whole football club and you can’t run these things by consensus.
“The fact the AFL has said our current strip doesn’t comply meant we had to do something about it, and this is something that has been discussed for the last two years.
“The debate about the clash jumper was held years ago. It’s been held and lost. It’s been embraced by every other club but Essendon.
“I don’t see it as a backdown at all. I think we’re taking the situation as it currently stands and trying to turn it into a positive. What we think we’ve done is we’ve played to our past, our heritage and tradition but come up with something we think is quite innovative.
“You can’t keep avoiding it forever. We understand this topic has polarised the club and we also celebrate the fact our fans are so passionate, but you’ve got to deal with these things and it’s a very different competition than it was five or six years ago.”
Chief executive Ian Robson said the new strip was a “contemporary solution”. ”We would rather expend our energies on winning premierships, and the other thing to remember is that the constitution was struck when it was a suburban 12-team competition,” he said.
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