By 90Min
November 16, 2018

Manchester United legend Gary Neville has revealed the real reason behind the club's infamous kit change at half time during a 3-1 Premier League loss to Southampton in 1996, explaining that the decision - made by Sir Alex Ferguson - was in part down to a scientific theory from a vision specialist.

It was one of the more bizarre days in Premier League history. United, in the midst of a famous title race with Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United and on a great run of form, had travelled to a relegation-threatened Saints at the Dell looking to maintain their title challenge.

FA Carling Premiership: Southampton v Manchester United

Wearing grey shirts with white shorts and socks though (the full kit was all grey), United had found themselves 3-0 down at half time. It wasn't the first time they'd suffered either - they'd already been beaten by Aston Villa, Arsenal and Liverpool on the road that season wearing the same colours, while they'd failed to win against Nottingham Forest while wearing it too.

They did manage to pull a goal back in the second half, but by that time, they'd famously changed to another away kit - one with blue and white stripes - to see out the match. It was from Ferguson's orders, as he had stormed into the dressing room at the break screaming "get that kit off, you're getting changed!"

Neville played that day. And speaking this week on the Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? podcast, he was quizzed about what exactly happened, and why. His answer was an insight into the sheer detail Sir Alex Ferguson went into to make United successful.

Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

He said: "The boss (brought it up). He hated that kit, but there's a bit of science behind this.

"People to this day always joke that 'it was because we were losing, because of this, because of that', but Sir Alex had employed a professor from Liverpool University around sight - a vision specialist called Gail Stevenson.

"She would come in twice a week. And you know how people talk about being 'match fit' or he's 'not got his sharpness back' - he and she never believed that it was anything to do with physical capabilities. Physically, you always worked hard to come back from injury, you tried your best and were physically fit anyway. 

GLYN KIRK/GettyImages

"Sharpness was the alertness, and your vision. It was about how quickly you could pick up your teammates. So when the ball arrives into you and you're playing well, you know where your next pass is before you've started. That's not a physical failing - it's an awareness thing. 

"She brought in a lot of eye exercises, and alertness exercises - about eye muscles. She said you stop using your eye muscles when you're injured, in a football sense. You wouldn't be looking around you all the time, you wouldn't always have that 'picture' when you receive the ball.

"She actually said to Sir Alex - this was the detail that he would go into - 'imagine you've got this crowd behind you - there are colours that you can see quicker than others, that stand out more than others'. It's obvious. The reason people wear bright yellow on a motorway is so people can see them. People don't wear grey on a motorway!

"She'd said to him 'this is not right. the players will not pick it up, in a crowded atmosphere, the shirt, as quickly as the other ones'. This is something that had been going on for months. He'd rejected this kit a couple of months before - he was not having it at all. 

"The vision specialist then started to work with our kit manufacturers on how our kits stand out the most. There was a bit more science behind it than 'the gaffer didn't like the kit and that's the reason why we were losing'."

The kit was taken off sale just days later after Ferguson blamed it for the defeat, while a £10,000 fine from the FA that came with the decision was described by Ferguson as "the best £10,000 I ever spent". 

Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

United, who saw their lead at the top cut to three points following the loss, did however seal the league title win away at Middlesbrough on the final day of the campaign...wearing the alternative blue and white stripes, of course. 

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