An emblem of culture: Umbro and Football

This time of year, you can barely scroll through a social media app of choice without seeing the release of a new kit. In many colours and patterns, crafted by the hundreds of different sports manufacturers who partner with football clubs, each shirt represents the ambition, the excitement and the unknown of the new season ahead. However, for Umbro, a brand who have been creating these feelings and so much more since they first adorned a kit in 1934, this is extremely familiar.

Such history in the kit-making game has been possible due to a consistency. A commitment to remain inspired by the classical designs of which Humphrey Brothers Clothing (Umbro) sketched out almost a century ago. As such, Umbro has become a company capable of regularly creating timeless football shirts for whichever team it partners with – partly because it was them who were among those who shaped what modern football shirts of today even look like. From the 1934 FA Cup final in which their kits first featured, as they kitted out both Manchester City and Portsmouth on that spring afternoon at Wembley, to their latest shirt designs for East London culture club, West Ham United, Umbro have remained relevant throughout and have become a staple of football culture along the way.

Today, football and fashion intertwine almost seamlessly. Companies such as BALR. pride themselves on this very reality. However, before the swinging sixties and the elevation of footballers from sportsmen to celebrities or even fashion icons around this time, the sport and fashion remained very much separate. Yet, helping to transition this change and enhance this growing movement for football to become as much of a culture than it is a sport, were the sports clothing brands amongst it all. The great Tottenham Hotspur team of 1961 catapulted themselves to stardom wearing Umbro, then fittingly tag-lined as ‘the choice of champions.’ Then, in 1966, English football’s crowning moment – and arguably still their only crowning moment. As Bobby Moore, soon to be the toast of the entire nation lifted the World Cup trophy, he and every one of his heroic teammates were draped in another champion Umbro jersey.

The champagne lifestyle was often the reward for the players and they became idolised by the public. And as a result, the brands that they wore were given similar status. Fast forward to the 1980s and the casuals fashion scene was bubbling on Merseyside, and there were far more brands in football – mainly in the terraces. Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse, adidas were brands that became fetishised. But, as the fans sung songs in the stands it was Umbro who were still dressing the champions on the field. For those in Merseyside, the case was European Champions. From 1977 to 1984 Liverpool FC won 4 European Cups, dominating the continent and winning admirers worldwide as the passion of the Kop translated into on-field success. Through these years, despite all the imported brands in the stands, it was Umbro who supplied all the gear needed for the players on the pitch and as such, the English brand is still one close to Liverpudlian hearts today.

The 1990s brought with them far more modern kits – new materials, geometric prints and often extremely jazzy designs. Logos got bigger towards the mid-nineties, where Umbro’s ventures into Brazil a decade earlier had paid off by supplying kits for the 1996 World Champions. From an English perspective, Umbro is forever attached to the powerful memories of Italia 90, as Gazza’s tears trickle down his face only to be rubbed into his now iconic England shirt. Happier memories were decorated by the brand in 1998 as an 18-year-old Michael Owen darted at a shellshocked Argentine defence, before lashing in one of the most famous World Cup goals of all time. A penalty shootout later and it was the pain again, but once more it was another ‘where were you that night’ moment that the Humphrey Brothers had been a part of.

As well as footballing memories, the nineties conjured up a football shirt style that still resonates today – look no further than your local hipster spot to prove this, where the baggy jerseys of yesteryear have found spaces in the wardrobes of anyone from skaters to rappers to Hypebeats. When this happens, the most revered brands take notice and take action. Palace teamed up with the once humble sportswear brand to recreate items connoting Gazza’s tears but in a whole new, millennial-friendly style. Forever edgy brand, Off-White worked with Umbro, elevating them from training pitches to catwalks with their mish-mash of styles and cultures that made a huge impression at the most recent Paris Fashion Week. And Umbro themselves, aware of the cultural influence that their rich history in sport and design brings with their famous diamond logo, have conjured up their Pro Training range, targeting a younger, streetwear loving audience that is just as likely to kickflip as it is to kick balls.

The presence of football culture in these different realms of fashion and, to an extent, society, is evidence of the power of the sport. It is a testament to those who make the sport what it is, whether that be the players, the managers, the fans, or perhaps the unsung companies who have helped football transition into the global cultural phenomenon that it is today. Umbro, the Humphrey Brothers, have been there since the earliest days and, as football dresses itself in a thousand kits ready for whatever stories will unfold in 2017/18, they will be there once again.