On May 27 I reported that the Highlanders were considering a jersey color change to what was believed to be green.
Today, the Highlanders confirmed that this was indeed the case and the team would wear the jersey to mark the team's last game at Carisbrook this Friday night against the Western Force.
It was something that almost every person from the south of New Zealand thought was simply a joke, that it would never happen. However it is beginning to sink in across the region that the Highlanders will indeed take the field in green next week.
The reasoning behind the idea simply defies logic. Highlanders General Manager Roger Clark today said:
"We believe the time is right for change. We have a new coach, new players, new expectation, new and renewed fans, and next year, we will have a new home stadium."
We have chosen colours that we believe represent the physical characteristics of the whole franchise region. The colours will make a clear statement about the geography of our region and will stand out in the Super Rugby international competition. A year ago the Highlanders was not a strong franchise- the team wasn't performing and it was hard work for our fans. This year, there's a real sense of renewal tells us that people across our Provincial Union regions want us to have a franchise identity distinct from their provinces."
However, this view is not mirrored by the public. In fact, it has caused the biggest uproar in the south for many years.
The reason is simple. People of the south identify with the colors blue, gold and maroon.
While Clark says the team has a "new coach, new players, new expectation, new and renewed fans, and next year, a new stadium," it doesn't have new fans. Most don't buy into it. He also cites the want to break free of the provinces that they were formerly associated with, that they no longer want to have to conform to the traditions of these provinces.
That is all very good. But the facts are, the Highlanders have developed their own traditions and culture over the past 16 years, which can be summed up in the colors blue, gold and maroon.
He says that in recent years the side hasn't been a strong team and that a new jersey will put these years behind us. This is also true. However every loyal Highlanders fan will also be able to tell you of the days when the team was one of the top sides in the competition.
When Taine Randell led a team that included the likes of Jeff Wilson, Josh Kronfeld, Anton Oliver and Byron Kelleher among many others. All this wearing the sacred colours of blue, gold and maroon. Do we really want to leave this behind?
And that shows just why fans show their support. They don't necessarily support the players, or the coaches, but the team. That is key.
While the players, coaches, administrators and even stadium may change over time, the team remains the same. Long after the personnel of the current team are gone, the team will still remain and the fans will still be there to support whoever may be wearing the Highlanders jersey.
It can be best summed up by what Buck Shelford once said about the All Blacks jersey.
Shelford said that each individual "is a caretaker of the jersey and it's their responsibility to look after it for the next person." In essence, no one owns the jersey, and the next generation of Highlanders should be given the same chance to wear the same jersey that was worn by the players who developed the Highlanders culture in the late 1990's.
All of the things that this tradition and culture of the Highlanders means can be expressed by fans and players alike through wearing the team colors. By shifting away from these colors, the team would be moving away from everything the fans have come to proudly associate with their team.
Over the past few days, I have spoken to hundreds of Dunedin citizens about the idea. Although not all Highlanders followers, the feeling seems to be mutual, keep the Highlanders in blue, gold and maroon.
Of all these people, only one thought the change was a good idea. This sums up exactly how the region feels about the change and shows that the administration staff are indeed out of touch with the fans.
In today's media release, Roger Clark finishes by saying: "If 2012 is anything like 2011 it's going to be a great year to be a Highlanders fan. I can't wait to watch them."
But one must ask themselves. How many fans will the Highlanders still have next season? No doubt the region will still want them to do well, but how many true fans will the team still possess? The move has outraged so many fans, the effects may be irreversible.
To top it off, it has been decided that the Highlanders will unveil this new strip in their last game on Carisbrook. To quote one disgruntled fan I interviewed today, "this is simply insulting."
The Highlanders have played some truly memorable games on Carisbrook and Friday night should be a night to remember all the good times, rather than leave them all behind. Wearing the uniforms the side wore in 1999 when the team made the Final would be a much better send off for the ground that was come to be known as the 'House Of Pain'.
On a personal note, I have always maintained that I will support my beloved Highlanders to the death. No matter how far they fell or how badly they played, I would remain loyal to my team. But I simply can't support a team that is willing to turn away from it's traditions and to some extent, find it insulting that the administration won't recognize the fans that remained true to the team in their darkest hour.
Is this a new beginning for the Highlanders as Roger Clark says? Maybe. But if it is, it is also the end of the Highlanders as we have come to know them.
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