Toronto FC's new home kit comes straight from the heart of longtime supporter
TORONTO — While no stranger to Toronto FC home openers, this season's kickoff at BMO Field will be extra special for Mark Hinkley.
Hinkley, a Day 1 TFC season ticket-holder, helped come up with the MLS team's new home kit.
It all started in 2017 when Toronto president Bill Manning was a guest on The Vocal Minority, a podcast Hinkley has long been involved with.
"Bill was super-candid, a lovely guest," said Hinkley. "It really was like 'You can ask me anything.' And cheekily I asked, 'Do you guys need a hand with any of the kits coming up?'"
Out of the blue, some 2 and a half years ago, Manning reached out to Kristin Knowles, a fellow Vocal Minority host and TFC aficionado, to ask whether Hinkley would indeed be interested in helping out with a new kit project.
Hinkley jumped out at the offer. And, in early 2021, the game was afoot.
The 46-year-old Hinkley was an inspired candidate for the job. Not only a graphic designer by trade, he is an avid jersey collector with more than 150 in his collection (which is documented on Instagram via @kitnerdmark).
As a kid, he used to read Shoot magazine, which had a jersey sales section. A relative going to England helped start his collection with a few bargain-priced shirts (Ipswich, Aberdeen and Manchester United away).
"I never let go of them," Hinkley said. "Those were when I was 12.
"It's just been kind of growing. As adulthood comes along, there's no one to tell you you can't spend your money on It. It's just been growing ever since."
So has his love for the beautiful game.
Hinkley, who lives in Burlington, Ont., used to attend Hamilton Steelers games back in the day and has Forge FC season tickets as well as TFC.
"It was just a game that kind of clicked with me, just watching everybody kind of move together," he explained. "The best way to put it is it's like planned improvisation. Because the game is forever flowing, forever moving. But when you see that last pass, that header into the corner (of the goal), it's magical.
"And once you see that once in person, you're hooked for life. It got me at a young age."
While the club describes the new kit as "predominately red and onyx while white and silver are used for contrast in details," most will see a striking combination of red, black and grey. The front of the jersey has grey and black hoops, framed by red, with the shoulders and sleeves red with dark trim.
The darker colour combination allows the star above the crest -- signifying TFC's 2017 MLS Cup triumph -- to pop.
The shorts are red and the socks onyx.
It's described as essentially an inverse design of the 2017 championship home kit.
Hinkley soon learned coming up with a new uniform is more than a simple design. It's about capturing a feeling.
At one point, he was asked what went through his mind when he closed his eyes and thought about the game-day experience at BMO Field.
For Hinkley, it's a buzz.
"And when I think of that buzz, I think the south end. That's where I sit," he explained. "That's where the buzz comes from. You can hear it outside the stadium, within the stadium. No matter how good the team is or how bad the team is, no matter whether it's raining or it's sunny, you can hear that buzz. It's a fingerprint."
Hinkley's soundtrack to BMO Field also comes with a drum beat, courtesy of the giant bass drum in the south end.
In trying to explain his vision, Hinkley went to YouTube and found a video of the drum in action. He got an audio waveform of the sound, took a picture of it, turned it into a graphic and submitted it, saying, "This is what I was thinking."
A visual of that sound wave is captured on the new kit on a ribbon that runs around the bottom and up the side of the jersey.
Another inspiration was the 2014 onyx TFC away kit, a fan favourite.
Toronto will also wear the so-called "community kit" that was launched last year with a third uniform likely to come. In Major League Soccer, the kits usually last two years before being replaced.
Hinkley works for the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, doing graphic design, media editing and producing live online events. He says being involved in the design process was a fascinating lesson in understanding a jersey's production cycle — especially with Adidas dealing with 29 MLS teams' kits.
"The two years (cycle) is to make sure they get made," said Hinkley, who saw the finalized version some 14 months after starting the process.
It was also a learning experience in what the club asked of him and what it did with the information it extracted.
The kit is TFC's 18th since its inception in 2007, according to the club. And for Hinkley, it is one more tangible — and memorable — connection to the team he follows.
"Even if it's a super indirect footnote-type, I'm now a part of the history of this club," he said proudly. "That part, I think, gets me more than wearing the shirt that I had a part in.
"Because in two years that shirt's going to be out of the cycle and they'll move on to something else. But my contribution to the club can never be taken away, as small as it was. That's the part that makes me grin. I'm grinning just thinking about it."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press