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Are a club's colours a fair trade for success?

Are a football club's colours and identity a fair trade for success? In a league where investment is to be encouraged, is it more acceptable for a football club's new owner to change the primary colours? Daejeon's new owners, Hana Finance Group, bankrolled them to promotion in 2022 but the Purples, as Daejeon Citizen were known for over 20 years, no longer play in purple, but does that matter? 

These are some of the questions that Daejeon Hana Citizen fans might've been asking themselves heading into their first K League 1 season in eight years. Daejeon Citizen were bought out by Hana Finance Group at the tail-end of 2019 with the promise of investment and ambition in order to get the club back to the top flight of Korean football. Not just that, though, as the message has been about turning Daejeon into a "global football club" - being known on the continental stage and challenging for honours.

What went on sale (L) and the original design (R) in 2022
The company also promised to respect and honour the club's history and traditions which can be interpreted as different things, to most it will mean, among other things, the colour the team plays in. The first Hana-era Daejeon shirt that was used in the 2020 and 2021 seasons was half dark red - or "purple" if going off the direct translation of jajusaek in Korean - and half Hana green but with green shorts and socks. Fans didn't seem to mind the proportion of Hana green too much and it was only when the club released their new kit last season that were there signs of discontent. 

The initial design from Macron had a more pronounced dark red strip down the centre of the shirt but when it went on sale around a month later, it was replaced with faint purple pinstripes with no fade into the Hana green. 

Banners in protest of Daejeon's 2022 kit in Aptil last year (image via Instagram user @lpa0228

This prompted banners being displayed at Daejeon games which read "Daejeon is purple", "Keep the history and tradition!", "The club should repay [the fans'] trust". There were also banners that criticised new kit manufacturer Macron and the fan groups' banners were hung upside down as is often done as a sign of protest. A dark red goalkeeper kit went on sale as well and sold just as well as the outfield shirts. 

But a lot has happened since then. Daejeon have been promoted to the top flight and the fans seem to have moved on from the kit debacle. K League United posed the following questions on 9720.kr, a Daejeon fan discussion board: 'What do you think about the team's kit being mostly green for the last two seasons?', 'How important are the team's kit colours and branding?', and 'Are Daejeon losing their identity?' 

There were around 40 responses, which can be divided into a number of categories.

1. Daejeon aren't losing their identity

There was a recurring theme that the club is not losing its identity, some even seemed to think the mere suggestion was a bit absurd. 

"Last season there wasn't enough purple and this season the way they've included purple doesn't look good. But I don't think that without purple it means our team is losing its identity. The fans are making sure of this, same too with the club's front office."

"A club's identity doesn't just come from the colour of the shirt, the way I see it is that it comes from the fans... and, besides, the club isn't getting rid of purple, it's consistently being used and [shirt colour talk] is a bit of a fuss about nothing." 

"A certain percentage of people saying the club's identity is being maintained while a certain percentage saying it's being lost is a bit ridiculous. The match day poster that I am looking at right now has a lot of purple; it's used for emphasis and is proportionate, there's a lot there."

"I don't understand why you say that the club's history of more than 20 years has been shaken because the colour purple being used in the shirt is decreasing."

If we've been together for a long time with the [purple] history of[Daejeon] Citizen, will all our fans now have to turn their backs on the company and fight amongst themselves? The point to fight against companies is not the colour of the shirt or what colour they paint the stadium, I think it's how they run the club."

"I don't think not using purple doesn't mean that we don't inherit the history of Daejeon. I'm satisfied with green being the main colour."


2. We should be grateful to Hana Finance Group

After experiencing some dark days while playing in dark red, such as two relegations in the space of three seasons and finishing bottom of the second tier in the club's 20th anniversary year, there's a proportion of the fanbase that's just appreciative of what Hana has done to their club.

"It's because of [Hana] that we returned to K League 1 so I'm not thinking too much about the shirt colour."

"It's because of [Hana's] support that we were able to win promotion to K League 1. I would like to see more purple but that might be greed on my part considering that we did win promotion. And now that we've been promoted, there shouldn't be any more fighting between fans over colour of the kit, and hope that the name 'Special Football City' can be rediscovered with an influx of new fans."

"In professional football, I think the capital from a big company is very important. Hana didn't start a new team, they promised to inherit Daejeon Citizen's fans and history. From Hana's perspective, they needed the infrastructure of a team and its fans so I understand and approve of the injection of Hana green. But I hope there's a win-win situation where they keep using purple as was promised."

"Like the kit is this season, do you not think the level of purple we have is something we should be grateful for? I've been supporting the club for a number of years and I don't know why this is important. I didn't like the poor Citizen era. But, of course, it's disappointing that the presence of purple is decreasing but it would be best if we can communicate with the club in our own way for them to keep the purple. I think we need to find a way for both Hana green and purple to coexist."

3. It's sad to see the purple disappearing

"Purple is part of Daejeon's history and quite clearly Hana said they would keep the club's history and traditions and so to see the colour of Citizen disappearing is very sad. Citizen's identity disappearing is something that's very sad."

"Personally, I'm very fond of the purple so, to be honest, it's a real shame. 'Purple Arena', 'Purple Crew', the 'Purple Light Warriors', 'Purple Blood', 'Purple Wave', 'Purple Fighting Spirit', over 20 years of Daejeon history, I think there are many fans who are attached to purple because it has been with the fans throughout - myself included. But, Hana green of the parent company that made the purple team have hope again - this is precious. Before [the club] only had painful memories before so I'm very thankful."

"I feel that the gradual reduction of purple in the kits and whatnot would have been somewhat predicted, as the new owners were coming. In places where football has been around for longer, such a thing would be considered sacrilege as the team's colours are the same as the club's identity, history, etc. But for a club that has only existed for 20-odd years like Daejeon, the meaning that a team's colours may hold would be quite different from those of Derby County, for example.

"But, I feel as if the purple has taken a complete back seat to the green colour of the sponsors, with it being limited to being only an accent for the green. Such a thing would be most comparable to what the owners of Cardiff City did to the club, with the main colour being changed from blue to red and whatnot.

"The extreme scaling-back of purple feels like a denial of the club's heritage and history in times both thick and thin. Of course, I will say that the arrival of Hana Bank to the club saved the club from the brink of liquidation. But they promised that the identity of the 'old' club would not be lost in the face of the 'new' club. It feels as if they have broken that very promise."

3. It doesn't matter

"Whether [the shirt] is purple or green, it doesn't matter. Enjoying the games with family and friends, that's what matters. What are the fundamental reasons people watch football? Let's focus on the essence of what that is."

"I'm not paying too much attention to how much purple there is. But because there are people who think that there should be purple, I think there needs to be at least a little bit - because both need to coexist. In conclusion, I'd say that if there is the same amount of purple as what we saw last year, that's okay with me."

"At first I was of the opinion that [the kit] should be purple. But if they keep it at the same sort of level as now then I'll be grateful."

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 4. Keeping the colour was never promised

"At the time of the takeover, carrying on the club's tradition is what was promised - nothing was said about how much purple will be used. I think carrying on the club's tradition would be the existence of purple, the club's trophy history like the FA Cup and league title (2014 K League 2), relegation, promotion, the second relegation, and keeping staff in employment."

"Hana Financial Group said it would inherit the history of [Daejeon] Citizen, but it never said it would inherit purple. Purple is only one of many things that Hana Citizen has inherited, and purple is already used in our merchandising and uniform and wherever you look on social media... the current situation is exhausting, with the proportion and weight of purple continuously debated."

Others said that they just want the arguing to stop and that, given how much Hana was going to invest, a change of colour was always going to happen. The majority of fans on 9720.kr were of the opinion that the colour doesn't matter too much at all. 

Ultimately, though, when a club has experienced difficult periods and isn't winning trophies, all the fans have to cling to is its identity, history, and traditions, and one thing that can be symbolic for all those things is the colours the team plays in. But with a new era well and truly underway at Daejeon World Cup Stadium, the citizens of Daejeon and the club's fans have a lot more to be cheerful for.

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