Umbro and England – End of an Era


OK, I should really be working this morning but this week’s momentous events at Wembley on Wednesday have prompted me to down mouse and pen my thoughts on the occasion. I’m not talking about England’s 2-1 win over the mighty Brazil (come on, I’m a Scotland supporter) I’m talking of course about the farewell Umbro bade to England – the last home soil international hurrah from the country’s most famous sportswear brand – and a victory over the legendary Samba Boys was a helluva way to go out.

I’m not embarrassed to admit when the above graphic was released by Umbro the morning of the game I felt a lump in my throat. The image exudes a real emotion, sadness, a sense of self belief but above all pride in the work Umbro have produced for England over the past 50 years (give or take a few when Admiral pinched the contract). Add to this a cheeky dig at Nike’s most famous marketing strapline and you have a graphic that shows the depth of connection and meaning Umbro have had with England over the past half century. To see England play without the double diamond logo will take some getting used to.

I’m afraid I don’t really have a deep insight into the machinations of the Nike/Umbro split although to be fair once it was announced (and perhaps even before this) it was inevitable that Nike would cherry pick the cream from Umbro’s roster – including England. And despite its apparent contradictory nature Nike + England could be a very good match. My understanding is that one of the main issues in Umbro’s demise was its failure to be accepted as a trendy High Street sports brand by the ‘kids’ who much preferred adidas, Nike or Puma. Anyone with half a brain can see the quality Umbro imbibed in their football apparel but the brand simply wasn’t perceived as cool enough, which led to a gap in their revenue. Nike of course have no such worries and will surely do very good things for England.

But….I still feel a great deal of sadness for Umbro’s apparent fall from grace. Growing up as a Scotland and Liverpool fan in the late 70s their was only one football brand that mattered. The double diamond logo has accompanied my love and obsession with football kits all my life and over the years I have encountered and admired countless innovations, great ideas and ‘firsts’ in the football kit world, all produced by Umbro. My love for the brand goes hand in hand with my love for kits and one of the highlights of my work in football kits was when an Umbro employee told me in 2005 that my True Colours books (which naturally had featured simply loads of their designs over the years) had helped re-establish Umbro’s heritage and position in the football kit world. This isn’t a case of me blowing my own trumpet here, but just that I was so delighted that I could, in some way, repay Umbro for helping nurture my love of kits over the decades and how proud I was that someone in their company had felt that way about my work.

When Nike took over they were able to bankroll the company who then embarked on the ‘Tailored by…’ campaign and produced some simply superb kits along the way, spearheaded by the still incredible England 2009 home kit that quite frankly completed re-wrote the rule books as to how a kit should look. If you doubt this, take a glance through the current kits and see the ones that have been influenced by this sublime design. Despite links between the two companies this particular kit was an Umbro design, not Nike – although one that was able to be developed thanks to the security provided by Nike. Creative muscles were allowed to flex and Umbro’s designs became brave again. I know some folk found the marketing spin that accompanied some of their designs (especially for England) a little hard to swallow and despite my huge admiration for Peter Saville I do believe his involvement with the England 2010 shirt was a step too far. But one thing you can’t deny was that it was a courageous design full of integrity, REAL creative thinking and imagination – something surely lacking from other world famous brands who simply seem to churn out relatively unchanged designs year after year that hardly ever rock the world. In this day and age of single season kits so many brands simply coast, regurgitating teamwear designs and tired design motifs but Umbro always tried to do something different and poured their knowledge and passion for what a football kit could and should be into all of their kits. They ensured their teams looked classy, elegant and confident.

Their impact in the football kit world is immeasurable. Their influence widespread. And even in their older years they continually produced innovative and challenging designs without ever appearing crass and ill considered.

Quite what the future holds for Umbro is unclear but potentially very exciting and a chance to rebuild. Thanks to their recent acquisition by the Iconix Brand Group and their singular passion for kits I hope that they will still be around in some form. They disappearance from the high profile football world will be greatly missed and the football kit world will become less rich and more formularic than ever before – there is little doubt about that.

Umbro + England – for over 50 years you did indeed just do it, and any right minded football fan should thank you for that.

21 Replies to “Umbro and England – End of an Era

  1. Echoing what Denis has stated, a great piece. I reckon that every single club in the Premier League has worn an Umbro kit at some stage, with also Celtic, Rangers and all 5 international teams from these islands also having been supplied by them. Every person who visits this site must have worn an Umbro shirt at some stage of their life. Doesn’t this make their apparent demise all the more sad?

  2. Indeed the end of an era. Question is what role and prominence now for Umbro, without their iconic association with the England national teams?
    I suppose to a greater or lesser degree their future depends upon gaining a marque UK club, to replace the impending loss of Man. City along with Chelsea a couple of years ago.
    I understand that Umbro’s deal with Southampton, their only other Premier League contract expires at the end of this season.

    Perhaps another option may be to procure deals with well supported clubs (ie those who can shift plenty of units), outside of the top division; such as Leeds Utd.. Sheff. Wed, Derby County…..even Bradford City?
    What do you all think on the future direction and relevance of the double diamond?

  3. Interesting article, John.

    There has been a big love in for Umbro recently, but I would disagree with one thing, that they have always showed imagination and ensured their kits were classy. There was a time, around 2006-2009 when Umbro kits were awful, with them using that awful diamond template on almost every kit, even the England team.

    Of course, their kits since 2009 have been fantastic. The Nottingham Forest kits are superb this season. Personally, I’m interested to see a new supplier, and see what Nike do with England.

    As for what the future holds with Umbro. Yes, they have lost nearly all of their big deals, but maybe that could just signify a fresh start for the company. If I were them, it is going to be very hard to get any of the top teams, it seems. So they should try and snap up a lot of your more average Premier League teams, and as mentioned by Steve, some well supported teams outside of the Premier League.

  4. Sad to see Umbro go, though the last home kit for England (with no blue on it and a horrible one colour crest), while having a superb design, was not the best.

    In South America, they have created some really nice kits for Universitario, Santa Fe and LDU Quito, and a really great one for San Martin this year. I pretty sure whoever takes over the contracts for those teams will not produce anything near as nice.

    I hope that they can keep hold of those teams, and try to build on that.

  5. BIG mistake was making the iconic 3Lions all red to “fit in” with the red & white only look.

    However they have produced “solid” eye pleasing kits for a long, long time but perhaps the losing of the England marque will spur their designers onto better more innovative overall kits.

    Perhaps they have rested on their laurels and assumed that they were always going to be in prime position with the FA.

    Or as per usual was it just down to money ….. perhaps in a brown envelope ? who knows not I !

  6. Fantastic piece, John. I think that’ll act as the definitive eulogy on the England-Umbro pairing.

    There’s a huge amount to agree with on the comments too. If Umbro can get a decent portfolio again, made up of well-supported supposedly sleeping giants, it could work out well. The bids for those contracts will be far less than for Premier League teams – with less potential for international sales – so with a lesser outlay perhaps they can become more profitable through modest turnover.

    I also agree that the Nike kits will be great. They’ll probably turn the crest into a heat transfer, which will be a shame, but aside from that I bet they’ll do well.

    Besides, as you say, Umbro proved they couldn’t be trusted with the crest in the end.

  7. Really enjoyed reading this. It’s been very sad seeing the number of Umbro kits in English football dwindle year on year. I’m a Manchester City fan and I’m not relishing the move to Nike, to be honest. Umbro is an integral part of our history.

    As others have said, there’s certainly hope for Umbro surviving in one form or another. Would be great if they could hold on to some of those South American contracts.

  8. Sad to see Umbro parting company with England,though the last few kits wernt my cup of tea,hopefully the company will emerge stronger and produce quality stylish football kits.For the record the 86 England kit was my favourite.

  9. I am a Belgian football fan and I was very sad to hear that Umbro and the English National Football team are parting company. For me England was Umbro and vice versa. Some kits were classics!

  10. 99% sure it’s a teamwear shirt with an England crest stuck on it. DIY. I know it’s a mix of two styles but I reckon it’ll just be a standard Umbro catalogue item.

    If you’re on Twitter gimme a shout (@Jay29ers) and I’ll tell you a little bit more.

  11. Terrible to see Umbro’s decline.I’d agree with Eric’s point at 4 about the brands poor shows from 2006 up until the start of ‘tailored by’ range’ but also a big problem for umbro is that it just solely focused on football and made almost no attempt to diversify into other sports, instead coasting on its england contract.

    Even more disappointing is how good Umbro’s products have been in the last 2-3 years compared to Nike’s offerings.For me not one nike kit in this time will be remembered with the same fondness as a tailored by Umbro kit (england, man city etc).

    There was potentially a chance for Umbro to be revived like Nike did with Converse but Nike had other ideas!

    What next for Umbro?Hard to know.Iconix only other sports connection is Starter in the U.S which doesnt seem to be a major success (correct me if I’m wrong) and thats probably with more know how than they likely possess with Umbro.The blueprint of latterday umbro is worth the best one to follow without doubt.

    The Umbro of 2009-2012 saw how appealing the brand was.I’d hate for its possible disappearance to be a missed oppurtunity.

  12. Whilst watching the game from Ukraine last night I was thinking how the Nike England kits had really grown on me since their release.

    As I thought what I liked about them it dawned on me that I was just grateful Nike hadn’t completely bollocksed them up! Sad isn’t it? or should that read, sad aren’t I?

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