Kit domination - All about Umbro

(Posted on 27/08/15)

Kit domination - All about Umbro

It may be hard to imagine for the younger football supporter of today more accustomed to the worldwide kit dominance of adidas, Nike and Puma but 25+ years ago it was Umbro who ruled the football kit roost. In the late 80s/early 90s when plans for the brand new Premier League were hatching it was Umbro that led the way in terms of quality, innovation, design flair and amount of teams supplied. In fact by the time the Premier League kicked off in 1992 Umbro kitted out half of the clubs who formed the inaugural roster - an incredible 11 teams! Add to that a good smattering of clubs lower down the league and the importance of Umbro can be clearly seen.

The post-modern approach to kit design that consciously took reference from historic football strips was spearheaded by Umbro. Gone were the V-necks and wrap over round necks that symbolised 1980s football fashion, now replaced by neat, button-down collars and compact plackets - clearly inspired by good old-fashioned collars and first sported by Scotland in the 1988 Home Internationals. New lighter weight fabrics prompted baggier jerseys with longer sleeves that reached down to the elbow, adorned with all manner of bright and bold patterns and decoration. The football kit world hadn’t gone through such a massive rejuvenation since the early 80s continental influence and controversy reigned amongst more traditional fans who were shocked and stunned by the sartorial surprises that were appearing on pitches up and down the land.

Of course within a year or so every other football manufacturer followed suite, and the trends started by Umbro filtered throughout the rest of the league.

As the 90s progressed Umbro’s designs grew ever more inventive with unique collar designs, innovative and challenging change colour schemes, asymmetrical markings, even baggier shirts and longer shorts - don’t forget the shorts!

Looking back over the array of kits that featured the famous double diamond logo in the late 80s and into the next decade it's truly impressive: Chelsea with their Commodore sponsored home shirts and array of exciting away designs including the infamous graphite and tangerine 1994-96 away outfit, Manchester City’s stylish array of sky blue tops along with their fabulous purple candy striped away shirt, Everton’s salmon pink and navy away kit, Leeds’ Top Man shirts (still favourites amongst the Elland Road faithful), Aston Villa’s 1920s style claret and blue home shirt with curved yoke panel…the list goes on and on. So many iconic designs emerged from that era, fondly recalled by fans and all manufactured by Umbro.

Of course you can’t mention Umbro in the 90s without referencing their splendid Manchester United kits that redefined kit culture and accompanied Alex Ferguson’s young side as they embarked on a period of English football supremacy. Umbro’s first kit for their hometown side is one of their best and featured a cool lace-up collar and geometric shadow pattern. Their deal with Manchester United also spawned one of the first black change kits following the Premier League rule change that abandoned the traditional referees strip.

Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Luton Town, Celtic, Nottingham Forest, Oldham Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur also sported some of their most famous designs in this era.

And it wasn’t just domestic sides that were graced by Umbro, at one point or other during the 1990s Umbro supplied the kits for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Brazil. Add to that continental kits for the likes of Napoli, Ajax and Lazio amongst many others and it plain to see just how far Umbro’s sheer dominance stretched.

Back to 2015….despite producing some sublime and elegant designs this season Umbro today have not managed to repeat their previous success but their influence and legacy throughout the 80s and 90s is without compare.