There can be little doubt that one of the most fondly regarded and remembered sportswear firms in the modern era is those legends of 1970s kit design and pioneers of the replica shirt market, Admiral.
Even now in the days of identikit templates from the world’s largest sportswear giants, it’s always an Admiral shirt that starts the glassy-eyed reminiscing. From the firm’s 1980-83 England shirt, that is regularly considered by many to be the greatest England jersey ever, to the infamous chocolate brown Coventry City away outfit without which no discussion on the ‘worst kit ever’ is complete (although let’s be honest, it actually wasn’t that bad) Admiral are always on the tip of the tongue of any football kit anorak.
Now the story of the firm features in a brand new documentary from Fox Films called ‘Get Shirty’ that is to be screened on ITV1 on Wednesday 21 September 2016 at 10.40pm.
The firm originally started as an underwear manufacturer in the Leicester area before becoming more intrinsically involved in the football kit world in the early 70s producing generic versions of famous team strips of the day. Owner Bert Patrick then came upon the genius idea of paying teams for the exclusive right to produce copyrighted and branded replica versions of their strip, as well as kitting out the team itself of course. Leeds United, under forward thinking boss Don Revie, were the first to sign up in late 1973 and it was Revie that also took Admiral to England when he took over as national coach a few months later, overseeing a bright, colourful design that upset the purists but delighted schoolchildren!
New, lavish and extravagant designs were created that swept aside the primarily plain, single colour kits that proceeded them and embraced the growing emergence of colour TV and increased football coverage. Soon clubs throughout the land, realising the financial benefits and increased exposure they would gain from replica sales, were ditching their former suppliers and switching to Admiral.
The company’s logo featured on every kit – the first real time this had occurred on a consistent basis – and often in multiple versions down the sleeves and shorts. The outfits were accompanied by heavily branded tracksuits and physio bags to ensure maximum brand exposure.
Such an innovative and exciting business model, supported by widespread marketing, soon ensured that schoolboys up and down the country were wearing Admiral replica kits and the football world was full of taping, tramlines, chevrons and stripes all coming together to form some of the most iconic strips ever. Nothing was sacred and design rules were there to be broken.
As well as their superb Leeds and England kits, other notable Admiral-supplied teams of this fruitful era including Manchester United. Aberdeen, Crystal Palace, Coventry, Wales, Norwich City and the company’s home team, Leicester City. No more generic strips – these were bespoke designs, all of them distinct and recognisable at a mere glance.
It wasn’t long before the other sportswear firms around at the time joined the party. Competition in the market place was fierce and everyone wanted a slice of this groundbreaking business idea Bert Patrick had created.
Admiral’s flame burned bright and brief. Sadly, soon financial problems hit the firm who insisted that its kits were produced in its Leicester factory despite increasingly cheap manufacturing labour from abroad and in 1980 Admiral went bankrupt, despite kitting out the England team at the time with one of their most famous designs.
Admiral, under different owners, has enjoyed several revivals since then although it’s never quite managed to match the glory days of the mid 1970s. Today, in the English professional game it’s only AFC Wimbledon that wear the famous brand, but it mustn’t be forgotten that every time a fan pulls on a replica jersey they are part of the incredible and long lasting legacy pioneered by Admiral in that little factory in Leicester.