Nike is the world’s leading supplier of athletic shoes and sports apparel. Formed in the USA in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman as Blue Ribbon Sports, the company’s recent domination of the worldwide football kit market is astonishing. Their first appearance on an English club’s shirt was with Sunderland (the local team to the company’s UK office in Wearside) in the early 80s, and a Nike shirt featured in the 1984 Milk Cup Final. Curiously the shirt featured the Nike logo on the left hand side of the jersey and the club badge on the right; a reversal of the traditional placement that sees the team crest generally placed over the heart. Was the reason for this switch an audacious attempt to buck the trend and shake up football kit design? No, it was simply easier to take pre-existing branded team shirts (that already included the Nike logo on the left) and sew the Sunderland badge on rather than produce whole new jerseys.
After the brief Sunderland adventure the Nike swoosh disappeared from the English top flight and did not reappear until 1994 as part of a high profile deal with high-flying Arsenal – an association that continues to this day.
By the end of the decade Leeds Utd and Sunderland (again) joined Nike’s roster before their biggest coup in 2002 when the firm disposed Umbro as technical suppliers to arguably the world’s biggest football brand; Manchester United.
Since then Nike and football has grown from strength to strength and the company have been prominent in recent World Cups with their kits for Brazil and Holland amongst others. 2007 saw the firm further bolster their English presence with deals with Fulham and Aston Villa alongside the ‘teamwear’ contracts they hold with several lower league clubs where the clubs simply purchase Nike strips ‘off the hook’ and add their own branding and sponsorship.
Nike are sometimes critiscised for producing plain strips but true kit conniseurs appreciate their unique restrained and elegant approach to kit design which is often highly conceptual and firmly ensconced in history and tradition.