In the world of soccer kit manufacturing, Umbro has for many years been a regular presence, stitched into the histories of thousands of teams like a string of diamond-shaped logos along the sleeves of one of their 1970’s-era shirts. For over 80 years, Umbro kit has graced every level of the game in Great Britain and been sported by clubs and countries right around the globe. To wear Umbro kit is to play football itself; one entity exists because of the existence of the other, or so it would seem.
West Ham United will be wearing Umbro kit next season. For the East London club, the connection with Umbro stretches right back to the 1960’s, although few would know it. The first time a manufacturer’s logo appeared on a West Ham shirt was in 1975, and even then it belonged to Bukta. After that, The Hammers’ looked to a succession of other brands for their kit; Admiral, Adidas, Pony, Fila, Macron, Reebok and even the lowly Scoreline at one point, before Umbro took the Hammers’ shilling again in 2007.
Back in the Sixties, Umbro’s kit for West Ham was somewhat perfunctory, as it was for many other teams back then. With none of the design cues we see on today’s modern outfits, a team’s kit was just clothing worn in a particular color scheme. The word ‘design’ barely entered the conversation.
With that unassuming premise in mind, Umbro’s latest brief – to design a kit that commemorates West Ham’s last season at the Boleyn Ground – might seem a tall order. If a nod to tradition is called for, Umbro might have to invoke the kit design trends of the early 1900’s, but that may not be a bad thing. West Ham’s kit when they first played at their present ground looked not unlike Aston Villa’s vintage retro offering of 1992/93 – claret with a sky blue hoop around the shoulders, plus sky blue sleeves and white shorts. Villa’s kit that season was also made by Umbro, thereby showing the company’s skill at combining modernity, history and style in its creations.
Whatever West Ham’s kit looks like next season, it will be keenly anticipated and for good reason. Umbro, especially since Nike’s takeover of 2007, have produced a succession of smart and beautifully unfussy kit designs that maintain their own historic high standards. Having been sold off by Nike to Iconix Brand Group in 2012, however, they’ve had to rebuild support for and trust in their own name all over again while their rivals overtook them in an ever-competitive market. Fortunately for lovers of football kit design, Umbro appear to have done just that with recent contracts for Everton, Derby County, Serbia and Vasco De Gama all showing that none of their original magic has left them.
And so, after only two seasons, West Ham’s association with Adidas is all but over, and that’s a shame, but somehow a return to Umbro feels like the right deal at the right time. As The Hammers prepare to leave the Boleyn Ground and move into a new home at the Olympic Stadium in London, the glories of the past will be key to inspiring its dreams of the future. With Umbro on board, West Ham have the ideal partners to help turn those dreams into reality, and few of its fans will be disappointed with that.
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