Diamonds Are For Everton - The Story of Umbro and Everton

Charting the history of Everton's association with kit manufacturer, Umbro, the past half-century

Rob Sawyer 13/08/2014 17comments  |  Jump to last

The Story of Umbro and Everton

Nestled in the heart of Cheshires Golden Triangle of Wilmslow, Knutsford and Prestbury residence of many North West footballers lies the village of Mobberley. Within the Bulls Head, recently reborn as a gastro-pub, can be found a display commemorating the birth of one of footballs enduring brands. It was here, in his parents pub, that Harold Charles Humphreys founded the business that would come to be known as Umbro.

With its links to the textiles trade, the Manchester region already dominated the fledgling sportswear industry through Stockports Messrs Bucks. It was whilst working as a travelling salesman for the company, eventually better known as Bukta, that Harold had an insight into the clothing and sports supplies business. In 1922 he started his own cottage industry out of a cupboard at the Bulls Head importing clothing items from Manchester for resale to neighbours this trade soon focussed on sports supplies for the moneyed Cheshire-set.

By 1924, 22 year-old Harold took the plunge and, with brother Wallace, formed Humphreys Brothers Ltd. (abbreviated to Umbro) on Green Lane in Wilmslow. The company soon outgrew this facility and relocated to large premises a short distance away on Water Lane this would become the companys administrative and manufacturing base for nearly the next 80 years. A logo was chosen consisting of Umbro lettering within a diamond this has evolved into the double-diamond we are familiar with now.

Umbro Works in Wilmslow, 1930s (left) and the Bull's Head Pub today (right)

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I have fond memories of, as I child in the 1970s, visiting the independent sports shop, run by former Stockport County player Billy McGann, just across the road from Umbros factory. Umbro passed on their seconds to McGann for resale from his bargain box it was from here that my first Everton shirt was purchased.

Umbros breakthrough on the national stage came through supplying the kits for Manchester City and Portsmouth in the 1934 FA Cup Final. Soon Umbro was rivalling Bukta for dominance in the British kit market. Perhaps its finest hour was the 1966 World Cup Finals when a spate of visits by Harold to football federations resulted in every team, bar Russia, donning Umbro kit. Umbro could rightfully claim to be The Choice of Champions.

Everton had tended get their kit, sometimes Bukta-made, supplied via Jack Sharp Sports until Umbro came on the scene just in time for the championship success of 1962/63. The average supporter would have been oblivious to the fact that the shirts worn by Young, Kendall Harvey, Ball and Royle were Umbro-made as no exterior branding appeared until 1974/75 (incidentally, in the 1972/73 and 1974/74 seasons, in which a collar and in-filled white v-neck were featured for the first time, Everton were supplied by Bukta).

Evolution of the Umbro logo (left); Variations of the Umbro logo (right)

Up until the 1970s Umbro and Bukta were virtually unchallenged in the UK. Puma focussed on the boot supply market whilst Adidas, through a distribution agreement with Umbro, focussed on the boot market. Adidas started to lobby for some kit supply deals. Umbro offered them some scraps whilst trying to retain the plum contracts such as Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal. This approach sometimes backfired on Umbro as Nottingham Forest and Ipswich enjoyed considerable success wearing the three stripes. The greatest threat to the status quo in this era was Admiral who snatched the England contract in 1974 as well as supply deals with Manchester United, Spurs, Leicester, Coventry and Leeds.

Brian Labone (1969 kit), Dave Thomas (1978-79 kit), Dave Clements (1974-75 kit), and Mark Higgins (1982-83 away kit)

Spurred into action by Admirals overt branding style, Umbro unveiled their classic design template in 1976 featuring a prominent logo on the chest and the diamond pattern down each sleeve. With some tweaks to the diamonds, badge and shirt material this remained the Everton shirt design for six years. Only in the 1982/83 season was there a radical overall when a silky shirt with v-neck was adopted. In this period replica kit sales, primarily aimed at children, took off, with Umbro offering boxed sets of shirts, shorts and socks.

Mick Lyons in the 1977 kit

Perhaps there was an element of complacency in Wilmslow, as the 1970s ended, that the more conservative clubs, like Everton, would remain loyal to Umbro. It came as a shock when Le Coq Sportif exploded onto the English scene at the turn of the 1980s Aston Villa and Spurs were amongst those to grab almost instant glory wearing the cockerel logo. Cheshire-based Le Coq Sportif UK, actually an off-shoot of the Adidas empire, was able to persuade Everton into coming on board for the 1983-84 season.

Umbro came under further threat in spite of the bankruptcy of Admiral in 1982. The break-up of the supply deal with Adidas in 1985 resulting in the German company securing kit supply deals with Liverpool and Arsenal to add to the one already held with Manchester United. By now Umbro itself had seen many changes Harold Humprhies had passed away in 1975 and his son, John, who had had taken on management of the business, died only five years later. This left the company shell-shocked and rudderless. It was purchased by its US distributor and moved its premises from Wilmslow to Wythenshawe by the mid-1990s production had switched to the Far East.

Evertons flirtation with le Coq was curtailed after three highly successful years as the supplier was absorbed into the core Adidas operation and effectively withdrew from the UK football scene. Umbro seized the opportunity to return to Goodison with a classy, but contemporary, V- necked shirt with a diamond shadow effect on the fabric. It was accompanied by characteristically tight white shorts with a blue sash and blue socks.

Inconceivable as it might seem today, this kit was worn for three consecutive seasons starting to look decidedly faded by the 1988/89 season. For the Merseyside cup final in May 1989 a new kit was unveiled which featured more intricate shirt patterning and a button-up white collar.

Gary Speed in the controversial 1997-98 kit

The controversial 1997-98 kit

The following two kits were uninspired derivatives of the 1989 vintage, retaining the white collar but offering little in the way of inspiration reflective, perhaps, on on-field performance as the team flirted with relegation. A much classier effort was released for the 1995 Cup Final harking back to the 1930s with its black collar and sock trim. Away kits tended to go more off-piste with the tractor tread pattern and salmon pink/blue away shirt gaining notoriety.

By the mid-90s a new threat loomed on the horizon after a decade focussing boot supply, American giant Nike entered the fray in the kit market with Arsenal being the launch partner. Umbro failed to raise the bar and what followed at Goodison in 1997 was a design travesty. With Everton in turmoil as Peter Johnson scrabbled around for a new manager to replace Joe Royle, Umbro delivered a shirt that echoed the sense of desperation engulfing the club. Poorly tailored with cheap-feeling, faded blue, material , the shirt had an in-filled V- neck that several players ripped out to improve comfort. Further embarrassment came when it was discovered that the yellow/white bands on the chest (by the One to One sponsors logo) had been placed upside-down on the replica production models.

Perhaps stung by the criticism, Umbro went back to the drawing board and responded two years later with a much improved home offering worn by the likes of Kevin Campbell and John Collins. Back was the traditional royal blue and gone were the cluttered features. Perhaps the only talking point was the unusual Star Trek collar. After only a season in this kit, Everton moved to Puma, who were now trying to get a footing in the UK market.

With Everton at a nadir, narrowly avoiding relegation in 2004, missing out on Kings dock, struggling with debt and selling Wayne Rooney, Umbro returned once again. The simple outfit heralded Evertons best season in nearly a decade as a Cahill-inspired team grabbed fourth place. Kits in the subsequent seasons (now changed on an annual basis) became more formulaic - following the Umbro template worn by other teams. After the FA Cup final defeat of 2009, the Blues once more waved farewell to Umbro and bienvenue to Le Coq Sportif (Le Coq now operated through a UK licensee linked to the Pentland Group owners of JD Sports and Mitre). Ironically just as Everton left Umbro the manufacturer got its act together . Now owned by its rival Nike, the Manchester-based company looked to the past for inspiration and launched the Tailored By Umbro range with clean lines, innovation and a sense of heritage.

Despite the positive reaction to the range, Nike decided to cut its losses on Umbro in 2012, selling the brand to the US-based Iconix group transferring the plum contracts such as England and Manchester City before the deal was completed. The future seemed bleak when, for the first time in memory, no British league teams wore the double-diamond logo in the 2013/14 season only Stockport County, wallowing in the Conference North flew the Umbro flag. However in other parts of the world, particularly South America, Umbro was continuing to tailor impressive kits. Closer to home, the Irish national team remained loyal to Umbro.

In the Autumn of 2013, into the second season of a three-year deal with Nike, via Kitbag, Everton were considering their kit supply options. Whilst Everton were a small fish in a large pond for Nike, Umbro, desperate for a top-flight relaunch partner, could promise close collaboration. The 5-year tie-up was announced in inspired fashion with a mystery tour to Umbros Manchester HQ for some hand-picked Everton supporters. Hull and Derby County were also signed up in the subsequent months.

The 2014/15 kit was unveiled in June 2015 with the tagline Fabric of Everton emphasising the longevity of the relationship albeit with some breaks between Humphrey Bros. and Everton. Despite reservations in some quarters about the use of navy trim the home kit is sleek, uncluttered and respectful of the clubs heritage.

We can only hope that the Umbro-clad triumphs of 1963, 1966, 1970, 1987 and 1995 will be added to in the next five years.

Rob Sawyer (of EFC Heritage Society)

Images sourced from, and other websites

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Reader Comments (17)

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Chris Williamson
1 Posted 16/08/2014 at 07:34:53
Ahhhh I love a bit of history me. A right nice read on a Saturday morning thanks.
David Ellis
2 Posted 16/08/2014 at 08:22:51
My first girlfriend lived in Mobberley - lovely spot
Matt Traynor
3 Posted 16/08/2014 at 08:28:31
Didn't One2One end up changing their corporate logo to reflect the cock up on the replica kits, as this was the cheaper way of doing it?

Also, can't remember the manufacturer, but when we had that Salmon Pink striped away kit in the early 90s, the club's motto was incorrect. I spotted it on some poor kid's top in the away end at Blackburn. No-one believed me and the kid got passed from pillar to post whilst everyone had a look.

Was actually a decent game. Beat them 3-2 (they would be champions the following season) with goals from Tony Cottee and Bob the Pole.

Brendan Connolly
4 Posted 16/08/2014 at 11:08:14
Another great read Rob. Thanks.

Matt, the salmon pink and navy striped shirt was an Umbro shirt. I was at the "fabric of Everton" event on Tuesday, when Jimmy Martin said that was his all time favourite Everton shirt - mainly because it was so different to the usual blue, yellow or white.

Not sure whether we're on a different wavelength, but the main issue with the "One to One" shirt was the blue, yellow and white band around the middle. As you indicate, the band on the team shirts was the opposite way to the replicas, so team shirts were changed. Hence it being referred to as "the upside down shirt".

I'm a collector of Everton memorabilia, including match worn shirts, so if anybody out there has any shirts they'd consider selling, please contact me for a quote.

Alex Kociuba
5 Posted 16/08/2014 at 20:58:26
Can anyone elaborate on Matt (3) "Didn't One2One end up changing their corporate logo to reflect the cock up on the replica kits, as this was the cheaper way of doing it?"
Colin Malone
6 Posted 18/08/2014 at 00:54:05
Same old umbro as last time, Kids kit not ready till after school holidays, just in time for the winter. the excuse last time was Man Utd had the same kit maker and took preference. Get fucking rid.
Eric Myles
7 Posted 18/08/2014 at 02:05:58
Colin, the last time Man Utd and Everton both had Umbro kits at the same time was 1991 and 1992 so you either hold a grudge a long time or you are thinking of the wrong kit.

I suspect you are thinking of Nike a couple of seasons ago, and we have indeed got rid.

Karl Masters
8 Posted 18/08/2014 at 06:35:24
A few factual errors, but a really good read nonetheless.

What comes across from the Umbro logos is a real sense of artistic design flair. Really innovative like the logo that makes a figure of a player from the letter or the world champions version.

Sadly, this appears to be from another era, when it was still a family company rather than a conglomerate's plaything as appears to have been the case for the last 30years or so.

I really like the Home shirt for this season, but the rest of it is nothing special and the two away kits, particularly the one they wore at Leicester, are grim and lacking in any imagination at all. The black kit doesn't even have something like the pink lines that the Le Coq one had to make it stand out, whilst we looked like we were Heart of Midlothian in an away match on Saturday.

So the jury is out for me for now, but there is something good about Everton wearing Umbro that I like, so I hope they get their act together in the forthcoming seasons.

Brendan Connolly
9 Posted 19/08/2014 at 17:34:27
Hi Karl
I'm intrigued about the factual errors.
Can you elaborate please?
Alan Humphreys
10 Posted 19/08/2014 at 17:44:29
As a Humphreys and an Evertonian I'm both proud of the relationship between umbro and Everton and the fact that their name is derived from mine - never knew that!!!

I too like the home kit but preferred last years kits in general, they had a lot of design elements and the away yellow and blue kit still looks great on my lad.

Nick Entwistle
11 Posted 19/08/2014 at 17:44:07
If its not Umbro, its not right.

Matt, I have laid across my lap the salmon pink atrocity. I can assure you that on this one the motto is correct. As for the Blackburn game I think it was from this and the subsequent photos in Shoot! and Match magazines where my only recollection of it being worn came from. The 'free poster'(!) of Bob the Poll in pink was on my wall for some time.

Karl Masters
12 Posted 20/08/2014 at 06:27:19
Only small stuff, Brendan, like a photo of Dave Clements in an Umbro badged shirt stating it was 1973-74 season, but as Rob actually states, we wore a Bukta kit that year. Photo was actually taken at start of 1974-75 season.

Another minor error is saying we wore the diamond sleeved kit for 7 seasons but in fact it was only 6 (1976-82) which again Rob does actually refer to.

It's only minor stuff, but irritating to read (to me at least!) and then makes you wonder how accurate some of the other facts are, which is a shame as it's a fascinating article, well written on the whole, and something I really enjoyed reading.

Karl Masters
13 Posted 20/08/2014 at 06:36:14
Nick and Matt: I seem to recall the error on the badge on some shirts was in the word OPTIMUM which as with the test of the motto was in capital letters but looked like it said OPTINUM.

Umbro were a bit slapdash around then, the 1991-93 kit was a very uninspiring rehash of the one before it and the away kit that preceded the Salmon pink one was ( not for the first time either ) an identikit of Chelsea's away kit, with the yellow shirt with the 'lightning flash' across the chest and blue shorts.

Matt Traynor
14 Posted 20/08/2014 at 07:13:13
Karl #13, that was indeed the error - Optinum. It could've been the stitching I suppose, but it looked for all the world like a spelling mistake. It may not have been on all the batches either - could've been a production error on some of the batches.
Kristian Boyce
15 Posted 20/08/2014 at 13:49:37
Matt #3 - One2One became T-Mobile around 2002. I recall that for the last few games of the 2001-2002 season we wore T-Mobile on our shirts to show the change. We then had Kejian the following season.

The issue with the One2One logo was that it had a prominent red colour in it. I know that it was altered so that it wouldn't appear on the shirts, but the original logo was used in all other marketing.

A slightly sad fact is that I used the One2One partnership as a case study for my university dissertation on football shirt sponsorship.

Nick Entwistle
16 Posted 20/08/2014 at 19:00:01

I know exactly what you mean. The problem is with the stitching. The thread stretches from the Nil over to the Satis like some fancy joined up stuff and again from the Nisi to the Optimum within-which again from the U to the M on a downward 45 degree angle where an 'N' is formed though of course with the remaining three strokes of the M remaining.

I hope that makes things clear...

Karl Masters
17 Posted 20/08/2014 at 20:39:20
Actually Nick, looking at this season's shirt on my wardrobe, the letters in the motto are joined by a single thread which is a bit poor as it goes and not as good as the last time we had Umbro.

There is no repeat of the 1992 problem though as the letters are spaced far enough apart for the letters to still be clear.

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