Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's in a name?

Would you still support your team if they ran out wearing hessian sack cloth rather than some rather stylish and fancy design of shirt created out of the latest man made breathable material?
Of course you would, it's still your team, you just probably wouldn't be buying replicas for the family.

It's only a football kit, some you like some you don't, it's the players wearing them and the badge on the shirt that counts. So why do so many fully grown men get so excited and sometimes extremely agitated about football kits, especially when most of us are far too old and a little too chubby around the mid drift to actually look good in one anyway?

Whilst the rest of the country are getting either emotional over the Paralympics or worried, nervous and fidgety over the last days of the transfer window, it's a different piece of news which this week caught my attention. In the words of someone a football shirt really wouldn't suit, Peter Griffin, this really grinds my gears. Yes, i deliberately referenced from across the pond.

England football kits could soon be adorned with one of the most American of all logos, no not the golden arches but the Nike swoosh.

Umbro, the kit suppliers to the national team, from Manchester were bought out by Nike four years ago. Nike however wanted to keep the name for their refreshing 'tailored in Britain' range.
Depressingly on Tuesday Nike announced they are selling the Umbro name, and the client list of course isn't part of the deal.

Nike always conjours up pictures of basketball to me, and with Converse in their locker as well, we have baseball, that other great worldwide sport. Be content in the knowledge that with the swoosh we're getting ourselves a part of everything that made the good old US of A great for our pound notes.

Just look at Charlton. We've had 'the Yanks in' for only a handful of months and they've already taken over the club shop and re branding it as a 'Nike store'. Don't be surprised if in a year or so you'll be able to buy the latest Jordan air's or whatever they are called as part of your match day experience. I don't believe heritage is high on Nike's agenda, either in SE7 or on the national stage.

Umbro first produced the kits for England in the fifties. Before that St Blaise, and for a couple of years a company called Hope Brothers had the contract. Shirts were a simple white and plain in design although blue and red would appear on the shorts and socks from time to time. The shirt was a sacred canvas though, remaining unadulterated whoever got their hands on it, right through to the early seventies. Enter Admiral.

Admiral won the contract in 1974. The Leicester based firm first came to the public attention with Leeds United and were the first manufacturer to adorn the England kit with their own logo alongside the three lions. They produced kits for their home town club, Leicester City and along with Spurs and the greatest of all Wales kits, the tramlines, made Admiral THE kit manufacturer of the seventies.
As you can see from the likes of Keegan and Francis above, they threw a splash of red and white onto the sleeves and collar, to me the greatest England shirt since Geoff Hurst scored his hat trick at Wembley.

Considering how well remembered the Admiral shirts are with a certain generation, it's amazing to think in the nine years they were the official supplier, they only really had the two designs.
Emlyn Hughes models here their second creation, a personal favourite which will always be associated with the World Cup in Spain back in 1982. Would this open the floodgates for the more creative of designers to plaster stars or polka dots on the national teams shirts? We were less than a decade away from the craziest ever period of football kit design, research what Beaver International did for Barnsley in the 89-90 season to see what i mean. Thankfully after the golden days of Admiral, Umbro were to get their hands back on England.

Umbro made it all the way through the late 80's and early 90's without once turning to drugged up art students or a kaleidoscope for inspiration. Well, maybe a school geometry set for some of the fine detailing on the red away shirts of the day but we'll gloss over those.

In time for the homecoming of football they played their trump card with a gem of a design for Euro 96. This was so classy it didn't even have the diamond logo on anything other than the socks. It proudly spelt out the word 'Umbro' above the centrally placed three lions crest. It was a bold statement that Umbro and England go together like port and stilton, fish and chips, Dave and repeats, Palace and losing. sorry, couldn't resist that one......

Other than the awful little crosses in red, blue and purple(???) across the shoulders a year or two ago, none of Umbro's creations have been too adventurous. Dropping blue from the latest offering did get tongues wagging as to the lack of attention to history, but other than that each kit will have a special meaning for all of us as we can tie them in with different World Cups and European Championships from recent times. All emotional, all full of disappointment, but all full of pride.

My own personal favourite saw the single red stripe which was worn by Beckham and co for 'that' free kick against Greece. Like i say, we all remember each one fondly.
Terry Butcher's blood over the crew neck in '89, Beckham getting sent off against Argentina at the '98 world cup wearing arguably Umbro's boldest effort. All gems, all engraved in our minds.

Will Nike, or Nikeee as i refuse to pronounce it, generate the same emotions as i felt researching and typing this? Umbro are in essence, and have been for a while, the same company. Who knows if the designers will stay with the parent company, will the new owners only be buying the badge and the name?

It is just a name on a shirt at the end of the day, but it's been the same name for thirty years. I don't really do change, especially when it involves an England kit especially designed for the world series........


  1. Great article, Al. Fingers crossed Nike can retain that strength of connection with the England national team that Umbro have always had. Although the Umbro England kits haven't always been great, they have at least been unique in the grand scheme of things. Let's hope we don't end up with a Nike template kit...

    1. Thanks Chris. Can you imagine England running out with United's tartan pattern? The Scots would go berserk!
      Nike wouldn't even understand the irony.

  2. Great piece again, mate. Like you, I loved that 1982 kit, although my first England shirt was like the one Keegan, Hill and Francis are modelling.

    Watch out for those Yanks, they'll be changing the name of the club soon. South London Athletic or Charlton Cheetahs or something equally awful.