The new England kit – one of the most important in the modern era?

Posted by John Devlin

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Whetting the appetite

It’s been a long while now since I’ve been as excited by the arrival of a new kit as I have been by the new England outfit.

Like many I suspect, my interest was aroused by the ‘leak’ of what purported to be the new England shirt on footballshirtculture.com. With its red sleeves, huge outlined crest and the absence of navy – replaced by grey – it was a shocker.

I thought Umbro had gone too far and the idea that this shirt, which might work perfectly well as a training or leisure top, would be gracing the field as England attempted to qualify for the South African World Cup made me question Umbro’s sanity and taste.

Most people felt the same and it was only after Umbro denied the shirt was real and slowly but surely, hints about the new England strip were released (new Umbro logo replacing that incredibly dated elongated version and new England crest minus the unnecessary ‘England’ legend) that it became clear that the white, red and grey monstrosity was NOT going to be the new England outfit.

I suspected something special was afoot when Umbro’s marketing cranked into action with a new blog, increased publicity surrounding their magnificent archive of kits and teasers about the forthcoming England outfit. Something about ‘Tailored by England’? What does that mean?! A press release explaining a new way of sizing seemed to indicate that this was not going to be your normal, run of the mill kit.

When a further leak appeared (albeit briefly on footballshirtculture.com once again) with John Terry wearing a simple all-white, collared shirt my jaw hit the floor. I was stunned. With none of the flashes, red crosses and superfluous and some might say over-worked trimmings favoured by Umbro in recent years, this shirt oozed class and confidence.

All the signs indicated that the leak was genuine – a fact backed up by little slips included in the fascinating videos released by Umbro showing the development of the shirt. Plus, could it also be true that England would now wear a completely all-white outfit?

Umbro’s impressive marketing machine stepped up a gear in preparation for the kit’s unveiling against Slovakia on 28th March and as promised, and as anticipation mounted, the outfit was launched to maximum effect with the teams stripping off their tracksuits in between the national anthems to reveal the strip.

The design

The new shirt itself has a much more fitted feel than other recent kits, not surprising given Umbro’s overall concept for the design. Jersey’s ‘silhouettes’ have been a primary focus for kit design for several years now and slowly but surely the baggy designs favoured in the 90s have been phased out for the 21st century.

The sleeves are much shorter than have been worn for almost 20 years – it’s a trim and elegant design.

The shirt features a non-contrasting collar with a neat single button neck. The only noticeable markings on the jersey are the new style red Umbro logo (very similar to that favoured in the 70s/80s) and the new England crest comprising of a lighter blue. Beneath the crest is a scroll revealing the name of the opposition – an idea influenced by legendary England kits from the past. Above the badge is an embroidered, but not coloured, single star representing the World Cup victory of 66.

Some people have criticised the shirt for being plain and boring (an argument also often fired at Nike) but the fact of the matter is that most supporters who are not specifically interested in football shirts prefer plain designs – not speckled shirts splashed with additional stripes, flashes, panels and swooshes.

The jersey fabric is a soft cotton with ribbed underarm panels and a handful of ventilation holes that appear just below the armpit and on the lumbar region at the bottom of the back. How this fabric will fare in hot temperatures will be interesting – will we see a jersey drenched in sweat after 90 minutes in the hot South African sun next year?

Interestingly almost every player has worn an additional layer beneath the jersey in the two games so far in which its been worn.

The white shorts for some strange reason feature the Umbro logo and England crest in non-contrasting white embroidery, making them barely visible. It’s a curious move and one that I confess I don’t really understand. Perhaps its designed to give extra emphasis to the minimal graphics/branding on the shirt or maybe it’s just a reflection of the fact that until the mid 70s shorts were generally bare.

The socks are also plain with no Umbro logo or England badge.

I suspect that the shirt might work better with the traditional England navy shorts and I am pleased to say that they will be available as change shorts should a clashing situation arise. There are also some rather bizarre half red/half white change socks that do seem to jar with the overall feel.

Acclaimed illustrator and fashion designer Aitor Throup was brought in to work on the shirt and his innovations have been key in the design. The whole idea of tailoring and honestly crafting this shirt is new to the disposable and flash world of football kits. And it is this thinking that I believe has helped lift this strip above the norm.

The impact of the kit

Umbro have really upped the ante for kit design with the launch of this outfit. In my view due to the increased frequency of change, the football shirt world was in real danger of becoming stale and something radical had to be done. With too many designs simply regurgitating previous very recent outfits; a new flash here, a bit of asymmetrical trim there and all neck designs becoming ever more intricate and yet not offering any substantial difference from one season to the next, there was a real need for a big shake up and an innovative rethinking of what a football shirt could and should represent and Umbro have cracked it with this design.

In a way it could be considered a retro look (its certainly inspired by the rich heritage and history of both Umbro and England) but it many ways its ultra modern. It is a kit of paradox – on one hand it focuses on the most workmanlike of all football strip attire: the white shirt. But by pairing it with simarly coloured shorts it embodies the entire kit with the other characteristic of white, namely heroism. Many of England’s important games over the years have seen the team sport all white strips and although photos of the side’s exploits in the 1966 World Cup finals inspired the change it is clear that the players look more classically heroic in an all-white ensemble. On a more practical level, FIFA’s increasingly stringent rules on colour clashes may see more teams adopt single colour outfits.

This paradox is extended by the complete absence of trim or additional colour. Clearly Umbro are saying the shirt and therefore the team doesn’t need these extravagances; it’s a plain, simple and functional football shirt, designed purely to ensure that one team can be clearly identified from the other and that the players are comfortable wearing it and perform to the best of their abilities. However this bold statement (completely bucking recent trends in football kit design) is also saying, look how special and wonderful this shirt, the England shirt, is. This fact is backed up by Umbro’s ingenious marketing campaign and overall design concept of fine tailoring, careful fitting and bespoke cut that is unique to each player that attempts to capture the psychological boost you receive when wearing a well-fitted suit. It’s a shirt of supreme confidence and self-assuredness – but NOT arrogance – and one that no doubt will inspire the England team.

Umbro

tlm-aOf course this isn’t the first time Umbro have changed the way people look at football kits.

Cast your mind back to the 1991 FA Cup final between Tottenham and Nottingham Forest. When Spurs appeared in the tunnel wearing what appeared to be throwbacks to the 1940s; knee-length and baggy shorts, the country gasped and then laughed. However, this brave design statement made Forest’s kit (also produced by Umbro but not due for a change until 1992) look very dated and within a year virtually all clubs were wearing longer, baggier shorts.

Umbro redefined football kits in the early 90s and they have now redefined them again in 2009 ensuring their reputation as arguably THE most influential and important football apparel firms.

It’s a rebirth for England, a rebirth for football kit design and a rebirth for Umbro. The company spent much of the latter part of the 90s and early part of the 21st century in limbo. The glory days of the 60s (the company provided kits for all but one of the 1966 World Cup teams) through to the early 90s when Umbro kitted out virtually the entire inaugural Premiership now long gone. Since then many of their contracts dried up leaving primarily the England team and Nottingham Forest as their main UK deals. Since 2005 however, more and more clubs have signed on with Umbro again and their designs are now much more common around the country. This revival, boosted by an appreciation and interest in their ‘back catalogue’ has culminated with this new England strip.

The new England kit is a ground breaking design and its implications and influence may only become apparent a year or so into the future. It blows recent designs out of the water, instantly making them appear clumsy, dated and old-fashioned. It will appeal to older and younger fans alike – once they have got to grips with its understated minimalist look.

Of course it will divide opinions and generate extreme views – but that’s what good design should do and anyway, when was the last time EVERYBODY agreed on a football kit design?

The important thing is that this outfit has breathed new life into and revitalised the football kit world. The fact that Umbro are now owned by Nike and that Nike acted as consultants on the design should be no surprise as the entire project has many of the hallmarks Nike employ when producing a kit. The thought, concept and meticulous execution of the design along with the marketing collateral that accompanies it has been nothing but superb and I have a suspicion we will see great things happen to the England side whilst wearing this strip – possibly one of the most important football kits in the modern era.


19 Responses to “The new England kit – one of the most important in the modern era?”

  1. john Says:

    quite a lot about the England strip in thiis months 442 magazine.

  2. Rich Johnson Says:

    Just a bit…a whole ‘free magazine’…i.e. a whole huge advertising feature!

  3. Ricky Says:

    I think the new England kit looks really good – radical and yet retro at the same time. My first look at the kit was seeing the highlights of the Slovakia game and it caught my attention immediately. The past few England home tops have been samey but this one is a breath of fresh air. As a Scot I’m really hoping we go back to Umbro if this is the sort of design thats coming out. The current Diadora contract finishes next year – come on SFA sign back with Umbro! Some of the Diadora kits have been nice but they’ve lost the quality that Umbro (and even the short stint with Fila) had.
    A very nice strip though, wonder if they’ll bring out a matching red away one next year?

  4. Tom Probert Says:

    Great article – it was so demoralising reading all the posts on footballshirtculture.com saying it’s just a polo shirt etc. The bravery of the design is stunning. I’m looking forward to seeing a red (ultra minimal round necked perhaps?) away kit in the same style. Any news on an away kit do you know?

  5. John Devlin Says:

    Thanks Tom – you summed it up with the word ‘bravery’. It does take real guts to buck the trend in kit design – a red equivalent would be good as well. If you see the two shirts together now it just looks odd but thats the price you pay for staggering kit launches I guess.

    Ricky, as a Scotland supporter as well I’ve also never taken as much notice of an England shirt as I have this one! I do really like the Diadora Scotland kits but it would be interesting to see what Umbro would concoct were they awarded the Scotland contract.

    Incidentally, I do recommend 442 this month, the England kit magazine is superb. Thats what I would like to see, a whole magazine devoted to football kits every month!

  6. Rich Johnson Says:

    England kits on the whole have always tended to look best when kept simple. The kits from 86 and 2000 are cases in point. As for Scotland, I’ve liked quite a few of their recent away kits, but the home ones have been hit and miss. I have to say I liked the tartan one from 94/96…what did other Scotland fans make of that one?

    A kit magazine…now you’re talking!

  7. Ricky Says:

    I agree with Rich about the England kits being kept simple, i think thats why i like this one so much.
    As regards the Scotland Diadora kits, its more the materials and the generic badge that disappoint me rather than the style or colours. They must have a skipload of those rectangle Scotland badges cos they’ve used them on every strip for the past 7 years!
    As Rich mentioned the tartan one was a great strip, although the badge looks a bit clunky these days (i must have a thing about badges!) Incidentally Score Draw have just released it as retro top (saw it in Burtons). I feel ancient!!

  8. Rich Johnson Says:

    You’re not alone re badges Ricky…it seems to be something most people (here at least) get quite passionate about, including myself. Witness the debate about the liverpool badge not so long ago. I remember when Arsenal changed to the cartoon approximation they have nowadays, all due to being able to copyright it more easily. Coventry, who I think have a great crest, tried to change theirs a few years ago to an overly simplistic abomination (again for commercial reasons), but the outcry from the fans was so huge, it was dropped.
    Can’t believe the tartan kit is already considered a retro item…then again, it is 13 years ago! Guess we are just old!
    I still love the Mexico 86 scotland kit…even the hooped shorts, which I believe most people couldn’t stand.

  9. Matt Wilkins Says:

    I hated the new England kit when it first came out, I thought it did not look retro, it just looked like a polo shirt. I thought it looked too spartan, and I hated the new umbro badge and the fact that it was all white – not all white with navy trim, just all white.

    But its grown on me. I love the look of the shirt and the feel of it when I first saw it in the sports direct shop, and it looked wonderful. I still think that the extended logo is not as dated as you make out (I think it looks better than the new one on the england shirt), and that this kit would be better with navy shorts, but I cannot argue that the players look really good in it. In the matches against opposition who wore overly complex adidas templates, England looked far better and made the jerseys the Ukrainians and the Slovaks wore look dated and overcooked.

    I dont think that this is without parallel, however. Remember the mid 90s? all the teams in the prem and English and Scottish football wore complex kits with fussy detailing, fade patterns and shadow and watermarks, shiny plastic material. A lot were just awful, and most look dated now. But when the home kits for Newcastle (My team….come on the Mags!) and Liverpool came out, simple, made out of great materials and with great collars and no shadow patterns, just down to earth kits, they were a breath of fresh air. The magpie shirt is a classic from that period, and IMHO, the best the Toon ever wore.

    And that brings me on to my next point. A kit can look classic, but the team who plays in it has to make it a classic. Would, for example, the penguin for Birmingham City be considered such a classic if they had been in the third tier of English fooball fighting for survival? Somehow, Id doubt it. And the Forest kit from 1992-1993 I think was the best the club ever had, but its not a classic I dont think, because the club went down that season. It might be a great kit, but the team who wears it has to make it a classic.

    On Umbro, in this country, they did go though a lull, but they still had huge contracts with famous teams in other parts of the world, Lyon signed for Umbro when they became THE team in France, Santos are long term clients for Umbro (and after some great kits, have been given a shocker as the home kit) and Independiente, one of Argentinas big five and the record holder for the Copa libertadores, were also on the roster. But Umbro never really gave them a classic iconic kit (partly because of the team being a pale shadow of the side of the 70s and 80s) Great to see them coming back though.

    Keep up the good work on the kits!

  10. John Devlin Says:

    Great post Matt – thanks, I really agree with what you say. I also think you’ve touched on a really interesting point about the team wearing the kit making it appear ‘classic’ by their endeavours on the pitch.

    One of the fascinating aspects of putting together my books was tracing the fortunes of a club whilst wearing a great looking kit as opposed to a ‘bad’ one. It is amazing to see patterns emerge – I believe that a classy kit can inspire a team – when they look good, they play good! Of course as you point out its a mutual situation, the team can make the kit look even better if they play well in it!

    I thought your phrase ‘a breath of fresh air’ describes the new England kit perfectly…cheers!

  11. David King Says:

    I think the current England shirt is the best ever. Great fabric, and I believe made in England (boy do we need the jobs). Manchester City’s new home shirt appears to also be tailored in England. I’m not even a City fan, but am considering buying it, ditto the West Brom one if it is tailered in England, especially if it is still sponsorless.

    Great shirts Umbro, keep it up.

    PS – True Colours 3 please.

  12. John Devlin Says:

    Totally with you on that David – I support Scotland and even I’d consider wearing one!(Well maybe not…) Do you know any more about why some teams are “tailored in England” and some are not?

    I’ll see what I can do about TC3!

  13. Charlie Says:

    I think this is a good kit for England, even though I’m Scottish.
    John – what did you think of the maroon/gold trim Scotland jersey from a few years ago?

  14. John Devlin Says:

    Hello Charlie – thanks for your comment. I didn’t mind the actual design of the maroon third jersey, I just am never keen on Scotland wearing anything other than navy blue at home and if I remember correctly the kit was premiered in a home match? Fingers crossed for a good result against Macedonia today…

  15. Tony Spike Says:

    Just want to add (i know this is old) but against italy we trotted out in red shorts not the navy you suspected

    And with an all red goalkeeper kit in the middle of the tesm lineup we have never looked so goddamn patriotic (we looked like an england flag)

    I think we won that game aswell …….i think its something should be done more often

  16. Andy Rockall - Statto_74 Says:

    I couldn’t disagree more Tony. Always Blue shorts for me, Navy preferably, the numbers can be red.

    Many countries don’t play in the colours of their flag, Wales, N. Ireland, Italy, Germany & Netherlands are some examples.

  17. Denis Hurley Says:

    @Tony – this kit was worn with navy shorts against Ukraine, it was the Euro 2012 kit which had red alternatives.

  18. Kitclashes Matt Says:

    Wearing all red in Slovenia annoyed me. Do we not own navy shorts anymore?

    The numbers on the home shirt should always be red too.

  19. Tony Spike Says:

    Yeah my bad …..i thought it was the italy game, i dont remenber us having a blue set that year tbh i remember the red cos it stood out….i know their are many teams that dont wear their national colours and im not saying we should stop wearing blue shorts (though tbh i prefer an all white england kit) ….i just thought it was a clever idea while we had that all red keeper kit

    And im sorry matt but blue shorts with the red away looks just plain wrong to me ……i hated it in 04 (at least i think it was 04 you got me questioning my memory now Denis lol)

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