by Sachin Nakrani
When the final whistle blows on England’s World Cup qualifier against Montenegro next Tuesday, time will also be called on a piece of Three Lions history. For the match in Podgorica represents the last in which the national team will wear shirts made by Umbro, ending an association that dates back to the 1950s and has played a part in some of the most iconic images of recent decades.
Bobby Moore wore an Umbro shirt when he lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966, as did Michael Owen when he soared past the Argentina defence in 1998. And the shirt Terry Butcher drenched in blood after sustaining a deep head wound against Sweden in 1989? That was made by Umbro, too.
Many other celebrated, and not so celebrated, moments of England’s past also occurred in Umbro shirts but there will be no more following the Football Association’s decision to switch kit suppliers to Nike. A contract believed to be worth over £20m a year and running until 31 July 2018 was signed with the American sportswear giant last autumn and their first England kit will be launched next month before making its playing debut in the friendly against Republic of Ireland at Wembley on 29 May.
Nike will supply kits for England’s men’s and women’s sides at every level as well as provide sponsorship and equipment for the FA’s national centre at St George’s Park in a deal Alex Horne, the governing body’s general secretary, has described as “wide-ranging and comprehensive”. But for many traditionalists there is sadness at seeing an end to England’s relationship with Umbro, a company founded in Chesire by Harold Humphreys after he was inspired to go into sports kit manufacturing by the famous White Horse FA Cup final of 1923.
The “England kits made by an English company” notion is somewhat falsely romantic, however, given Umbro was owned by Nike until recently, and it should also be remembered that for a 10-year period up to 1984 it was Admiral who supplied the national team’s shirts, shorts and socks. According to Mark Perryman, spokesman for the England Supporters’ Club, those who follow the national side do not care who makes the kits as long as the players wearing them are winning.
“The fans I speak to aren’t bothered about the change to Nike; they’re far more bothered about squeezing past Montenegro, a country that has a population the size of Hammersmith but could well stop us getting to the World Cup,” he said. “Success is all that matters and it’s noticeable that sales of England shirts have dropped in recent years as the team has increasingly struggled on the pitch. Nike is taking over this contract at a precarious time and it wouldn’t surprise me if Umbro are quite delighted at losing the deal.
“As someone who’s always thought nylon stretched across an English man’s chest represents a bad look, I’ve never bought an England shirt. Umbro have made some decent ones, though, such as the classic 1966 shirt and the one worn at the 2002 World Cup, and it’s always been nice that their shirts have never carried an advertiser’s logo. Hopefully Nike will maintain that tradition.”
Leaked images of the soon-to-be launched shirt suggest that will be the case, although that may not please those who purchased the existing England home shirt, which was released only 13 months ago and was meant to remain current for a minimum of two years.
Umbro themselves seem rather bitter at the end of their association with England, seen most starkly in an advert the company released prior to the team’s last match, the friendly victory over Brazil in February. Alongside snapshots of the different England kits they have made was the logo “For over 50 years, we just did it”, an obvious play on Nike’s long standing logo “Just do it”.
Whatever England do in the near future, their kits will no longer bear Umbro’s double diamond. The era of the swoosh has arrived.