The reports of Umbro’s demise are greatly exaggerated

Like so many others, I believe there has been a massive diamond shaped gap in the football kit market this year.

Whether, as I have thought for some time, that the commercial necessity to produce new kits every year is meaning that designers/manufacturers are running out of steam and ideas or its simply a lack of inspiration, innovation and creativity is up for debate. Whatever the reasons for what is shaping up to be a mediocre 13-14 set of kits, it’s clear Umbro are sorely missed.

When news of Nike’s intention to sell the brand last year many football kit ‘watchers’ feared the worst. This seemed to be confirmed when we heard of Man City and the prestigious England/FA deal going to Nike. When every other club in the Umbro roster also switched camps in preparation for the 2013-14 season it certainly appeared that we had potentially seen the last of Umbro in top flight football.

I was therefore delighted when Umbro contacted me recently and invited me up to their Dale Street, Manchester HQ to show me what their forthcoming plans entailed.

Eager with anticipation I was greeted and shown round the entire workforce. Naturally the company is now much smaller than in the Nike years and with their other office in Cheadle closed Umbro now operates only with key staff, each dedicated and focused on bringing success back to Umbro.

So, has professional football seen the last of Umbro?

The good news is that Umbro are far from dead! In fact there are big plans for 14-15 season with some exciting news about new contracts hopefully announced soon. Of course with such a major ownership shake up the company were never going to be able to leap back into the game straight away which is why the 13-14 campaign won’t see any Umbro kits in the UK top flight (Hhowever, it must be remembered that in other areas of the world there are plenty of Umbro outfits still about). This is only to be expected.

Think of it as like a relegation from the Premier League only to recoup and consolidate in the Championship in preparation for bouncing right back the following year.

As a kit devotee its encouraging to hear that the brand who put so much thought and care into their strips will be back in football soon.

Personally, I can’t wait…

56 Replies to “The reports of Umbro’s demise are greatly exaggerated

  1. Re-consolidation seems to be the answer. For me, the ‘Tailored by’ strategy was a big miss-step. Back in the mid 90’s Umbro did their own thing and had some big contracts in the Premiership. Even as recently as 2005 their templates were still fresh and different. If they can successfully rebrand themselves, then why not? After all, Macron have (IMO) overcome a shaky start to get their act together (still think the new Villa home is a stunner), so Umbro need to get back to focusing on what made the company great. Namely, doing their own thing, with no outside meddling. And while we’re on the subject, what happened to Reebok? I think they’re still active in shoes and athletics, but will the football world ever see them again? I was looking through TC#1 the other day and remembered some remarkable strips for Man City, Bolton, West Ham, Liverpool et al.
    In closing, I would have to disagree with you, John. maybe in England the strips are mediocre (though Man City, Villa, West Ham, West Brom and Chelsea all have at least one really nice design), but for those of us who follow the Bundesliga, there are some stunners in the top two divisions for 13/14. Interesting fact : The Premiership actually has more adidas contracts in it than the Bundesliga. Only Bayern, Schalke, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, HSV, and Nurnberg are wearing the three stripes. Nike have Bremen, Hertha, Mainz, Freiburg, and Braunschweig; Jako have Hannover, Eintracht Frankfurt and Augsburg; Puma have Dortmund, Stuttgart and Hoffenheim; Kappa have Monchengladbach.

  2. Would agree with Martyn the tailored by didn’t work plus I didn’t like them messing with the England kit’s of recent times. They should never used white short’s on two of the recent kit’s. I loved the early 90’s umbro kit’s that they made especially the lace up shirt’s. My team Ipswich had umbro kit’s that era and I still occasionally wear my umbro shirt’s from that time.

  3. Tailored By a miss-step? Tailored By didn’t work? I agree that Umbro took their eye off the ball and sales dropped but Tailored By changed kit design enormously, and unquestionably for the better. Without that you’d not have the fabulous France kits from the last Euros, probably neither of the last two Warrior Liverpool Home kits – roundly praised – and I strongly believe it killed the horrid adidas visible Powerweb trend before it even got going.

    Even if we disregard the influence – which is a folly – the first and second England Home shirts and the last Away were virtually perfection and the City Third from 2009-10, the current Peru Home and Athletic Bilbao 2011-12 Away ARE perfection.

    Great piece, John. I actually think a load of the new Premier League and Football League kits are great but a lot of it is thanks to Umbro’s influence. I do hope they come back strongly too.

  4. Whilst I wasn’t always a fan of their designs – particularly in the 90s – Umbro of recent times has been knocking out some great kits. Their last England shirt was one of my all time favorites and the current Nike effort pales in comparison.

    It’s my view too that the trend towards changing kits every season has had a detrimental effect on design quality as with the colour pallete more or less fixed there’s only so much you can do. There are also far too many template designs, which are really the football shirt equivalent of pub-chains.

  5. I think the issue is probably that, regardless of what material it’s made out of and how classy the kit is, the public at large, for whatever reason, would prefer a Swoosh on their football shirt than a double diamond.

    That’s a sad realisation but the ones which make you the most money often are.

  6. Jay,
    I only meant a miss-step in so much as it seemed to detract from what made Umbro great. Remember the mid 90’s? Contracts with some of the biggest teams in England (and the Brazil international team, in ’94) – back then, the double diamond DID have credibility. I’ll always admit to being a huge adidas fan, and maybe Umbro should have taken their example, with the main brand being football shirts and training gear, and the ‘Originals’ being retro. ‘Tailored by’ could have been used to issue retro reproductions of their contracts’ strips, in conjunction with the clubs. Would have been a big hit. The only England kit I liked during that period was the first one, though it should have had navy shorts, and England away should ALWAYS be red. Best England kit of the modern era? 01/03 with the red stripe running through the badge. NB in closing, IMO the ‘Tailored by’ and the first Warrior Liverpool home just look like polo shirts. The current Liverpool home looks like they didn’t finish the collar and cuffs properly.

  7. Good luck to Umbro,i actually saw a little kid in an England Nike kit the other day and felt quite sad and angry at the same time,England should be in Umbro,supporting an old english brand(i know they arnt these days….neither are Jaguar and Bentley etc. but you know what i mean.)
    The 70’s and 80’s when i was a kid,you couldnt move for umbro kits .The recent club efforts were spot on too,not so much the England kits,i got the feeling they were poor for a reason…so when Nike brought out the new kits they would sell!

  8. First of all, great to hear! But I think what the comments below this article reflect is the different opinions on kits and manufacturers. On the ‘Tailored by…’ range, I’ll leave its influence on other trends and manufacturers to others, but its rejuvenative effect on Umbro feels as clear now as it did at the time.

    Martyn, I enjoy reading your views enormously, but to me the Umbro efforts pre-’09 strike as inferior: some nice designs, sure – Chelsea 05-06 – but on the whole progressively busier and over-detailed. The stylistic simplicity of England’s 09 home risks the polo shirt accusations yet flawless execution renders them void, while colour variations on tradition – white shorts, blue away kits – underscored that simplicity with welcome experimentation.

    Of Umbro’s post-’09 kits I could not, even if the design or execution was not to my taste, fault the ambition behind it; the colour scheme of last season’s Manchester City’s home strip was not to my liking, for instance – navy preferable to black trim – the red and black striped kit of the campaign before spoiled by sleeves that ran horizontal and ‘Etihad’ sponsor detail in gold, while fondness for the last England home effort aside I would have preferred the badge’s normal colour scheme to all-red.

    As a supporter of the club with whom Umbro shared the longest association (indeed that of any sporting club and manufacturer, worldwide?) and the grandson of a man whose company once supplied Umbro with fabrics, I fervently hope for Umbro’s return to both the top table of English football and its lower ranks. It’s a crying shame to see the global sportswear arms race between those two (i won’t name them) result in boring off-the-shelf designs for those in the lower divisions, and even some in the top flight.


  9. I for one am a massive Umbro fan, I thought they went through a lull between 2005-2009 (see Everton’s home kits from this period) but came back with a bang Withe the Tailored By range. Genuinely wish Spurs had used them rather than Puma.

  10. Ill be honest i didn’t like Umbro’s modern rebrand to the narrower diamond in the early to mid noughties but otherwise theyve been superb. Looking through Johns books there i would say in terms of innovation and designs and yet classic simplicity they are second to none. Would have loved if Arsenal could have got another stint with them in this ‘Tailored’ era, and they recreated the classic 70s shirt but of course due to the long term deal in place with Nike that wasn’t possible. Nike done a good job of the classic kit back in 2010 but its an awful pity the fly emirates logo tended to peel far too easily.

  11. City’s 2009 kit was majestic. Ireland had a nice classic white and green first away kit as part of the three mobile sponsorship and the black with green chest band kit the year after wasnt bad albeit a template, but we probably didnt fare as good as England or Wales did under this era.
    Peru and Universitario have had nice kits also

  12. Nick,
    Thanks for that. I was refering to the time when I got into football – following the ’94 World Cup – and the fact that at the time Umbro kits were everywhere. adidas didn’t really get going until ’95 in England (Newcastle 95-97 shirt still one of the Magpie’s best), and even later in their home country – for me their mid/late 90’s kits bordered on the over fussy, with too many shadow patterns, extra little tags etc. But during this period Umbro issued some stunning kits. Of course their were miss-steps (grey Man Utd anyone?), but on the whole it was a golden era for the company, which lasted until the mid 00’s ‘X-Static’ era. The Chelsea ’05 home kit with the white V-neck is probably my favourite of theirs. My main problem with the ‘Tailored By’ era was the OVER simplicity. The strips seemed to be a little too ‘plain’, with odd colour choices (as you mention) such as the black Man City collar and the ‘wrong way’ sleeve stripes, not to mention the purely red and white England strip, which, while classy, just seemed un-traditional. Of course, we can’t simplify the argument by saying that ‘Tailored By’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back sale wise, but I don’t think it helped…
    Re. long association with suppliers – being a fan of German football, Bayern have been supplied by adidas since 1965, while Germany’s contract dates from the early 50’s.

    Also – watching this weekend’s Bundesliga highlights, it was interesting to see one or two anomalies – Leverkusen made a point of saying that last season’s home would be this seasons away (just with red shorts), yet they wore the all red AT HOME against Freiburg, while Hannover launched the new kit with red shorts, but played in black against Wolfsburg – it was a home game, and red shorts were no clash…also, Hamburger SV have a third kit that is the best use I have seen so far of adidas’ ‘wings’ template – all red with white trim, the blue of the badge and the sock turnovers making a nice contrast.

  13. Hi Martin, thanks for your post.

    I don’t disagree with any of your analysis about that particular era of Umbro kits. To name just a few of my favourites from that period, Manchester United home ’94-’96, Chelsea home ’95-’97 and the run of England home strips from ’95 to ’04, save perhaps the over-fussy – though I loved it at the time! – ’98 World Cup version. Some simple, some elegant, some more innovative; like you I love the Chelsea home strip you mention as well as that England shirt with the elegant thin red stripe. Umbro’s last design for Manchester United, that reversible effort, was a study in restraint and sophistication.

    My argument is that in last two or three years prior to the ’09 makeover Umbro had somewhat lost its way. England’s WC ’06 away=fairly uninspiring, the home strip released the next year far too busy and spoiled for having too many Umbro logos. The away strip of Capello’s early days was the real nadir – it, lamentably to a kit lover of my age, a ’90’s lover! – bore traces of the Admiral period and simply was not of the quality required for an England kit.

    Perhaps it was England’s uninspiring performances under McLaren, subsequent failure to qualify for Euro ’08, general disillusionment with the national team post ‘Golden Generation’ as well as these aforementioned kit designs that led to a decline in sales?

    In any case, let’s hope for a successful return!

    Lastly, Manchester City shared an association with Umbro that lasted from – it’s generally accepted by City fans – the maroon effort that the team sported in the ’34 FA Cup final to 1997.

  14. Am I right in thinking that the England v Scotland game will be the first in well over 50 years to have neither kit provided by Umbro?

  15. I think you could well be right!

    Also, a side note – how refreshing to see that both teams are wearing their traditional kit colours – white/navy/white vs navy/white/red……. FIFA/UEFA, take note!

  16. Well said Jon, glad to see England have dropped white shorts as first choice, never liked that look

    and alao nice to see Adidas are continuing the traditional Scotland outfit with red socks that latterly Diadora brought back, think we went 10 years with Navy or White(!) socks as first choice if I remember right

  17. Also, still on the subject of Umbro, it was also nice to see two national teams in Umbro kits when Wales played Republic of Ireland in Cardiff. For some reason the Irish were in their black third (or is it away? I’ve lost track) kit, despite it not clashing in any way with our red.

    Shame the match was a rather boring 0-0, I almost feel asleep watching it to be honest.

  18. Thanks for your comment Denis!

    I too would’ve loved to see Arsenal in the ‘Tailored by…’, as well as the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and West Ham. In fact, there’s scarcely a team I wouldn’t like to see decked out in such a fashion!

    Soft spot aside, I’m not a Forest fan, no. In fact, I’m a proud Manchester City supporter – never prouder than when the boys in blue run out with double-diamond emblazoned on their shirts! I’ll never forget receiving my first matching kit, the Kinkladze kit of 95-96; what a vintage season for kit designs!

  19. As nice a shirt as it was Nick, it hardly brough City much luck, relgated in the first year and a dismal 14th in the 2nd teir the follwing season. Maybe that had more to do with Ball, Neal, Coppell and Frank Clark!

  20. Haha, you don’t have to remind me Andrew! Cor, relegation via goal difference one year and then five managers (including caretakers) the next, and a revolving door of players, what sunny days they were!

    That relegation devastated this then 10-year-old fan and imbued a hatred of Coventry and Southampton that took a good decade or so to shed – I’ve since made my peace!

  21. Haha I’m not sure if we’ll ever locate the culprit, but suffice to say that Alan Ball got the lion’s share of the blame! I blame ‘Typical City’ or ‘Cityitis’, a disease that is still very much active, if you take the examples of 2012 (almost bottled it) and 2013! (very definitely bottled it, to a relegated side!)

  22. Personally I think the best City home kits of the modern era were the Reebok ones. Doesn’t anyone think it’s strange that Nike’s first away kit is not the trusty old red and black? If the leaked pics of the third kit are right though it looks a stunner.

  23. I miss umbro from the top leagues of Europe, though they are still doing well in South America (the recent Nacional third kit is a stunner, and they have produced a brilliant retro Universitario “Lolo” shirt)

    And umbro were still being innovative in their kit designs, see the red and black Man City shirt, the second England home with a very original collar, and last seasons Man City 3rd, with a neat Crew/V hybrid. The collar designs for the 2011/12 Man City home and 2012/13 Athletic Bilbao shirts were also really neat.

    They also introduced two really cool innovations that just begged to be taken up by other makers, and hopefully will be someday, the 2009/10 Sunderland home with the embossed detail around the badge, which was also featured on the Glentoran change from that season, and best of all for Cruz Azul, who had their old crest embossed around their current. Can you imagine an Arsenal shirt with the Cannon sewn onto the shirt and the letters AFC underneath, then the watermark of the club motto and the laurel leaves around it, or the Liverpool crest with the Liver bird and LFC below, and the more ornate crest embossed around it? It would be a good comprimise between those who want a simple crest and those who like the ornate one. Why not have both on the same shirt?

    Another innovation were the spiral socks on the Nottingham Forest change from last season, they looked great with the conservative blue shirt and black shorts. Same it looks like it died on the vine.

    On the subject of great kits by Umbro, the remaking of the War Machine shirt for Lille last season was brilliant, and should have been made the home shirt.

  24. Two teams in the Greek Superleague ( Panetolikos and Levadiakos) wear umbro kits. Also some other clubs in the lower divisions.

  25. Not sure if Shakey can confirm this, but there is talk that this Tuesday will be the last time we’ll see Wales in an Umbro kit with a new supplier to be announced very soon. Rumours going around that it will be adidas – which has got me both excited (back to the 80’s!!) and in despair (boring templates) in equal measure!

  26. Umbro are still a very big name in Norway, they make the national teams kits, and probably most of the club shirts in most divisions. Umbro also are heavily involved in Håndball, they make the national sides kit too.

  27. Super news that umbro are back. A bit of a two fingers to boring Nike. Hopefully more will join. Its a an awful pity they hadnt the clout to outbid puma for Arsenal. Would love to see what Umbro could produce for us.

  28. Yes, great news indeed!

    The sooner Umbro return to their former prominence the better.

    I hope that sooner rather than later the England shirt is free of the nike swoosh, and resplendent once more with the double diamond.

  29. Re. England – isn’t going to happen – contract worth too much financially to the FA.
    Interestingly, as a fan of German football, the DFB was offered a Nike deal that outbid adidas, but opted for tradition…sadly the English FA doesn’t think like that.
    I’ll be interested to see what Umbro come up with for Everton, now they’re unencumbered by Nike marketing strategy. I yearn for the mid 90’s when Umbro were barve, vibrant, and original. Sure, some of their outfits were a bit extreme (the 95-96 psychedelic vomit approach as used on Nottingham Forest, Everton and Celtic aways spring to mind), but always original, and when they got it right (usually for Man Utd, but occasionally for Everton, Forest and others), they were stunning. We’ll have to wait and see.

  30. Actually, how about a quick ‘favourites’ list? here goes :
    Man Utd – black away, 93-95
    Aston Villa – home, 92-94
    Forest – blue third, 97-99
    Chelsea – home, 04-06
    Everton – home, 95-97
    I’ve limited myself to one kit per team, so that’s just a few.

  31. I agree with those sentiments Martyn – that bravery was welcome, even if sometimes the results were a bit, well, hallucinogenic!

    Sadly, the FA screwed themselves over with Wembley, and $ talks – I wish they could have followed the lead of the German FA. England in Nike stinks.

  32. Hull’s outfield players were forced to wear amber socks at WHU last night rather than the regular home socks (black & amber hoops) as the PL deem them to clash with Hull’s dark change GK socks! What nonsense!

  33. on the subject of Hull it has been announced during the half-time break against Arsenal that they will be wearing Umbro kits from next season.

    They had worn Umbro before switching to Adidas 4 years ago.

  34. Great to see Umbro making inroads again Jon.

    Here is a thought. I wonder if all of the British suppliers could merge their powers and form a supercompany and yet keep their brands?

    They could split their contracts evenly. Id imagine the monopolies authorities wouldnt go for it but id imagine all their assets combined would only match the financial draw of the big two or three firms.

    At least it would give the british brands like Bukta, Umbro and Admiral more exposure.

  35. Umro have always been my favourite football kit maker. They went through a period in the 90’s were they went beyond the norm and produced some well remembered designs that still generate conversation and debate today.

    I think in part to their success it encouraged other brands such as Asics, Pony & Mizuno and so on to play their part in English football.
    Asics made some great kits for Portsmouth, Bradford, Norwich and Coventry, Pony offered new takes for West Ham, Spurs and Huddersfield whilst Mizuno made stylish kits for Swindon and Reading.
    I always been biased in my praise for kits that did something different rather than plain and safe.

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