The new England away kit has a lot to live up to. Since the home design was rebooted by Umbro in 2009 questions were asked about how the red (lets face it, its not going to be anything but red these days!) away strip would match up.
Umbro whetted the appetite of the England faithful and football kit fans in general with a launch campaign heavily web-orientated with an unveiling date set for the 3rd March friendly with Egypt. I was fortunate enough to be invited up for a sneak preview of the kit with a presentation by Aitor Throup (the conceptual brain behind the design) and David Branch – the leading designers behind England apparel. Aitor explained at length the thinking behind the design before removing black veils from mannequins to reveal the outfits.
The kit is loosely based on the Aztec jersey – a version of which England wore in ’66 – but Aitor and David are keen to point out, this is NOT a lazy re-hash of the kit worn in England’s finest hour.
Essentially the designers wanted to take a ‘body and movement’ approach to the kit and looked at the most common action stance a player would take during a match (generally arms bent, leaning forward) and constructed the shirt around this position before examining the results. The designers discovered that traditional seams/panels wouldn’t necessarily provide the optimum comfort/performance level required for the shirt’s use on the pitch. Therefore an angular, slightly abstract set of panels were formed that wrapped around from the back of the shirt on to the side and pulled over onto the shoulders. Unorthodox perhaps but specifically designed for the shirt in action. This curious construction is most noticeable on the long sleeved version (can’t help but think Umbro ARE leaning towards the long sleeved jerseys being the definitive version of this strip – a move that more than echoes ’66!) where the innovative panels are clearly marked across the elbows giving a ‘base layer’ feel. These panels are in three slightly different shades of red, giving a subtle but interesting effect. The neck is to all intents and purposes a crew design, but with a lower front and higher back – again designed for comfort on the pitch. Similarly the cuffs follow suite with the backs extending a good inch or so lower than the cut at the front.
Ah yes, the cuffs. The stylistic element that has caused most debate amongst football fans and I have to confess they jarred with me at first. But then, the more I looked at and examined the shirt the more sense they made. They’re different, stylish and eye-catching and now I believe that the use of this simple contrasting feature gives the design an extra unique quality.
Umbro aren’t shouting about technology in this design. The varying fabrics aren’t radically contrasting colours that scream “look, hi-tech breathable fabric!” and have led to scores of recent kits adorned with unnecessary white panels that spoil the overall integrity of a kit’s colour scheme. Of course the technology is there but this kit is all about the fit. Tailored to be comfortable and effective on the pitch.
Suprisingly, given the home kits switch to white shorts, the away’s shorts are also white. Although now the England badge and Umbro logo are rendered in red (so as not to spoil the simplicity of the red and white design) and simple vertical stripes are added to each leg. Like the cuffs the front of the shorts on the thigh is considerably higher than the back. The socks, which like the home are minus visible Umbro branding) seem to aesthetically borrow from the recent trend of taping the bottom of the socks around the ankle. It is not yet known what change shorts will be worn with the kit – very possibly the navy change pair from the home outfit.
My belief was that the shirt would be a grower and that a lukewarm initial response would increase in approval once replicas were bought and people realised what a stunning piece of clever design it really is. However, after the surprise launch of the shirt by Kasabian at a Paris gig the overall opinion of England fans has been incredibly positive. I have to agree and the more I see the shirt the more I love it. When you compare it to the previous England away you realise how dated that design now looks and illustrates how far Umbro have come with their modern tailoring approach to their kits.
After the incredible experience of having the outfit presented to me by the designers themselves (a real privilege) and analysing it in detail I can’t help but think that its an absolute classic and a perfect companion outfit for the home strip, ensuring that whether or not Capello’s squad bring home the World Cup trophy this summer, they will definitely be one of the best dressed teams in the tournament.