Going grey .... Essendon's new alternate strip and (inset) the original alternate jumper with a wider red sash.

Going grey ... Essendon's new alternate strip and (inset) the original alternate jumper with a wider red sash.

ESSENDON supporters had every right yesterday morning to wake up happy. Not only has their club thrust itself back into the premiership race for the first time in a decade but rarely since then have the Bombers looked so Bomber-like.

James Hird has returned to Windy Hill with Mark "Bomber" Thompson firmly by his side. Tim Watson's son Jobe is playing like the 2012 Brownlow medallist and were the vote to be taken today, he would also be the All-Australian captain. The Essendon brand is back in town.

Essendon may have been forced into this, but for the club to link the word "heritage" with this bland travesty is an insult to its proud tradition. 

What a time to pick up The Age and see Michael Hurley wearing a grey Bombers guernsey. Perhaps this current blissful state was as good a time as any to reveal the shameful move to change the club's colours for Saturday night's clash against St Kilda.

2012 Adelaide clash jumper. Click for more photos

2012 AFL clash jumpers

2012 Adelaide clash jumper. Photo: footyjumpers.com

For the first time in 140 years the Bombers will play not in red-and-black but grey. Grey! Forget all the baloney about heritage and John Coleman and ancient Latin mottos. Essendon may have been forced into this, but for the club to link the word "heritage" with this bland travesty is an insult to its proud tradition.

Not only should Essendon fans be horrified at the manner in which the AFL is diluting their tradition, history and therefore the power and standing of their football club, but football fans Australia-wide should be alarmed at the general erosion of the brands and symbols of all of their clubs.

The competition's governing body has never worked harder or invested more into selling elite Australian football into New South Wales and Queensland. Surely there is some risk associated with transforming the symbols of the most powerful clubs in the country into something rapidly approaching generic.

Some weeks ago Adrian Anderson suggested to Collingwood it revert to wearing black-and-white striped socks. The game's presentation is Anderson's responsibility as it should be, but Collingwood says its players have never worn black-and-white hoops on their legs. Collingwood prevailed. Presentation is one thing; club and therefore brand association something so much more.

Hawthorn wore that dreadful predominantly white jumper against Carlton on Friday night because of the AFL dictum that one side must always be dark and the other light. Its argument has been reinforced by the most recent $1.125 billion broadcast deal which the league says makes it more important than ever that the game looks as it should. But eroding clubs' brands cannot be good for business — and since when did brown and gold clash with navy blue? Particularly when one side wears black shorts and the other white.

Carlton has admitted it erred when it changed to that embarrassing pale blue clash strip. Club president Stephen Kernahan said on Friday night that the jumper was "dreadful" and that a new white and navy version was in the pipeline. But Carlton "are the navy blues".

Having already diluted the Essendon versus Richmond "clash of the sashes" — the AFL wrongly insisted it was too difficult to tell the clubs apart — the new grey jumper will be worn in the next Richmond "clash" in round 22 instead of the jumper the Bombers wanted to wear, which was a revisiting of the TAC-sponsored "seatbelt" jumper.

That guernsey at least was black with a red sash and for a good cause. But clubs are only allowed one of those each season and Essendon already has in place its cancer fundraising jumper with the yellow sleeve.

Two years ago the AFL allowed the seatbelt jumper for a one-off game on the condition the Bombers come up with an acceptable alternative jumper and Saturday night's grey version comes after two years of behind-the-scenes debate and politics.

The AFL has been railing for all that time against the wider sash the Bombers reluctantly moved to five years ago. Now Essendon has kept its part of the bargain and move to grey much to the horror, surely, of its fans. And yet the TAC jumper — a chance for the Bombers to make their mark for a good cause — has been given the thumbs down.