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Kitted Out

By Rob Sawyer :  23/12/2009 :  Comments (8) :
This season has seen a return, to considerable fanfare, of Le Coq Sportif as kit supplier with an outfit “inspired” by the one worn in the glory years of 1983-85. Those of us born before the 1980s will recall just how revolutionary Le Coq’s kits were.

The 70s were dominated by Wilmslow-based Umbro and newcomers Admiral. Bukta were on the wane whilst Adidas made limited forays into the UK market (notably with Nottingham Forest and Manchester United) somewhat restricted by commercial agreements with Umbro (the licensee in the UK for Adidas football boots). Nike would not make a significant impact on kit supply until the 1990s.

Kits had changed relatively little over the years with branding and synthetic fibres slowly becoming more prevalent from the mid-70s.

Le Coq’s heritage was as a post-war family-run French unit that built a reputation for rugby, football, athletics and cycling attire. By the late 1970s it was actually a branch of the Adidas empire through “Adidas France”; headed by Horst Dassler — son of Adidas founder Adi Dassler.

Dassler Jr approached Robbie Brightwell — famous for his 1964 Tokyo Olympic feats — to set up a stand-alone Le Coq subsidiary in the UK. I spoke to Mr. Brightwell recently and he gave me an insight into the Le Coq’s ethos at the time.

From the off, he decided that kit manufacture needed freshening up with colour, style, fresh designs and new materials. In came snug fitting kits, shadow patterns and detailed trim. Club logos appeared in the centre of shirts and the Le Coq rooster emblem on the shirt sleeves.

Budgets were limited so Brightwell targeted clubs from each ITV region in order to maximise television exposure (in the days when ITV football coverage was region-based). With a mix of good judgment and luck, many of the teams went on to great success at home and abroad including Aston Villa, Spurs and Everton. Other clubs sporting the rooster included Derby County, Portmouth and Chelsea.

Kits were designed and manufactured locally in Macclesfield (unheard of these days). Brightwell spoke highly of Howard Kendall who, he recollects, had some input in selecting Le Coq and their kits. He credits Kendall with appreciating that replica kit would become an increasingly important source of income — to be worn by males and females.

Everton’s kit followed the template with sleek shirts with round neck and white inlet, tight trimmed shorts and hooped socks. The shirt also sported subtle shadow stripes — an innovation by Le Coq. The away kit was a, then revolutionary, silver-grey —later replaced by a more orthodox yellow and blue ensemble.

The second and final Le Coq home kit (1985-86) became infamous for its large white bib on the front — it was only worn for a year before Umbro returned as kit manufacturer.

Le Coq also went into footwear manufacture and many of the 19848-5 squad wore their boots.

Robbie Brightwell left the company in the mid-80s and soon afterwards the brand disappeared from the UK football scene almost as quickly as it appeared. It re-emerged in the mid-late 1990s — mainly kitting out second-tier teams.

The company has gone through a few owners over the years and is now owned by a Swiss consortium.

The “Le Coq Sportif” you see today in the UK is “Focus International” who hold license the rights to the brand in the UK. The clothing is manufactured a long way from Macclesfield in the Far East.

The reaction to this year’s return of Le Coq Sportif logo to the Everton shirt has been mixed. Many welcome the concept of a tribute to the 1983-85 kit but not the actual execution. It will be interesting to see what kit is unveiled for 2010-11 — hopefully no white bibs will be evidence.

In these testing times for the Blues there is maybe a glimmer of encouragement: during the first season of the 1983-85 kit's lifespan, Howard Kendall nearly lost his job until events turned round in the early months of 1984 with silverware on the horizon.

Clutching at straws? Only time will tell…..

Reader Comments

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David Ellis
1   Posted 24/12/2009 at 02:19:20

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Thanks Rob - very interesting.

It's funny how replica kits are now considered appropriate clothing for adults. In the 1970s it was definitely for children only.

No doubt they will go out of fashion again at some point and hit the revenue of football clubs that most rely on this.
Steven Pendleton
2   Posted 24/12/2009 at 04:42:19

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The revolutionary kit (home and away) that they have supplied this year isn’t working. It’s obvious they are to blame for our season.

Bring back Umbro!!
Alan Williams
3   Posted 24/12/2009 at 07:41:25

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Very interesting, Rob, we import kits for many teams from Asia so like you I have seen the change. I struggle to get the replica kit market as I would never be seen in such an outfit and struggle to even wear any colours at all. I had a royal blue t-shirt on for both Wembley trips with a very discreet Everton on which for me was extravagant.

When I grew up it was not seen as fashion more of a case you never wanted to be associated to your team in case you got battered at away games. Nowadays the lads dress very smart when we go the games so we can stay on the ale all day in town so times do change.

On the other hand, my 6-year-old son has every kit possible from Everton and never takes them off. As a side issue when I go away on holiday I always wear Everton shorts without fail but would never in a million years wear a football top!! How strange is that? COYB

Tony Finn
4   Posted 24/12/2009 at 08:51:55

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Alan, I (and loads of others no doubt) follow EXACTLY what you do there. The shorts but no top is definitely an "Everton" thing. And also stranger, I always prefer to get a pair of the change home (i.e blue shorts that we wear at united) than the white ones?!!
Phil Bellis
5   Posted 24/12/2009 at 10:08:42

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Definitely an age thing. We used to dress smart to aways so we could get in the nightclubs later; been invited to many a post-match do in places like Coventry, Southampton.

I remember travelling down to a London game in the late 60s and Man Utd fans, also having a game down south, got on at Crewe and were stunned that we were going to the match in suits and ties. Discreet is the word, no replica tops, just the odd 3-button polo with the old-style letters EFC or a small badge.

My prize possesion is a small gold pendant with the Everton crest; it was bought as a present from a jeweller’s in Liverpool and I think it’s official club merchandise but I’ve only ever seen one other. I’ve been asked so often where did I get it, I could’ve sold dozens of them.

Dennis Stevens
6   Posted 24/12/2009 at 16:53:49

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The comments here confirm what I’ve long felt, that the club are missing out on a whole swathe of potential business by not addressing those who want items that are a little less "in yer face".

A few years ago, when we were with Puma, the club had the "Tower" range of casual wear & I hoped this would be maintained regardless of kit supplier. I’m sure there are many of us who would gladly support the club commercially by sourcing items of casual wear from them if it carried a subtle "EFC" or "Tower" logo, or even a discreet "St Domingo", but don’t want anything with a large brightly coloured club badge on it.

I reckon those "of a certain age" would provide a healthy boost to the club’s coffers if offered the right sort of product to buy.

Nick Entwistle
7   Posted 24/12/2009 at 22:20:01

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The yellow and blue orthodox? It had blue zig zags all over a yellow background.
The blue reminded me of pulsing electricity. Never made me into a Peter Beagrie though.
Rob Sawyer
8   Posted 25/12/2009 at 19:51:47

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I think you are making reference to the 1990-93 away kit by Umbro which did have blue zig-zags over the yellow shirt. The Le Coq yellow/blue designs in 1984-85 and 1985-86 were relatively modest affairs. Andy Gray scored a brace wearing the yellow kit at Filbert Street in 1985 in a televised game. I recall him head-butting the post accidentally as he wheeled away after scoring!

By the way Football kit anoraks will enjoy the books true Colours (Vol 1 and 20) by John Devlin.

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