Celebrated in song, the three lions emblem on the England football shirt is known to millions. The top that emblem adorns is now about to get a makeover from another great English institution – the bespoke Savile Row-trained tailor.
England strip maker Umbro has drafted in the tailor Charlie Allen to design a shirt in the hope that an injection of style will help to raise the game of players already clad in performance-enhancing fabric, and it may even sell a replica or two.
The benefits of Mr Allen's touch, which is usually seen in the attire of celebrity clients such as comedian Lenny Henry, cricketer Freddie Flintoff or Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien, will be seen for the first time on Saturday week, when England step out on to the pitch at Wembley to meet Slovakia in a World Cup qualifying match.
Secrecy surrounding the new shirt is unprecedented, according to sources close to the Football Association (FA). Players have been sworn to secrecy and few people in the FA know what the new shirts look like, with even fewer trusted enough to see them.
Even retailers have been kept in the dark. Danny Moss, a buyer in the replica department of JJB Sports, said: "The first time anyone from JJB will see the kit will be when it's on the telly. Normally we'd have been shown the kit a couple of months in advance, but as far as I'm aware no retailers have seen it."
Despite the secrecy, it is understood the designers have gone back to the glory days of Bobby Moore, England's 1966 World Cup winning captain, and have also visited the National Football Museum for inspiration. It is understood that the new shirt will be an off-white retro style, combining the simplicity of the 1966 shirt with elements from the traditional collared shirts. It will feature a return to a collar for the first time in several years, as well as a redesigned three lions emblem – based on a more streamlined version from 1948 – with the details of the opposing team and the season directly underneath.
The day after the game against Slovakia, a temporary store will open for two weeks in London. A tailor will be on hand to measure sports fans up for their own bespoke kit.
Umbro would not comment on the plans last night but its website boasts the new kit is "Honouring the past, looking forward to the future".
Over the past century, the England shirt has evolved from a heavy cotton top complete with rolled-up sleeves into the shiny hi-tech creations worn today. Since winning the World Cup England has introduced no fewer than 40 new kits. At £50 for the shirts alone, this kit will be the most expensive yet.
Critics are cynical about the bespoke approach. "They are obviously trying to create some hype around the shirts," said Mark Perryman of the independent England Supporters Club.
"Hardcore England fans, it has to be said, don't wear replica shirts but a lot of people do. The thing is: you can't change that much, can you? It's basically a white shirt with the three lions on it."
When the heat-regulating fabrics worn by today's players were the stuff of science fiction, the England shirt was a little more than a baggy work shirt with a badge stitched on and a stiff, starched collar.
Shorts and shirts became more fitted, although the collar and buttons remained. They finally gave way to a new V-neck design in the first signs of the shift to the modern lightweight shirts worn by today's players.
The classic crew-necked shirt worn in the 1966 World Cup was a departure from the 'V-shaped' formality. Alf Ramsey took a close interest, requesting that a seam be removed from the shoulder for the players' extra comfort.
The style may have been restrained by the standards of the Seventies, but purists were shocked by the arrival of glaring red and blue stripes on the collar and sleeves of the traditionally pure white shirt.
Shadow stripes featured in a short-sleeved tight-fitting shirt that was increasingly marketed to England fans as something they could wear. It was made available from Wembley via mail order.
The collar has changed again, reverting to a traditional look for the 1990 World Cup. By 1992, the players' names were on the back and squad numbers were on the front of the shirt for the first time.
Decades of design tweaks have seen colours coming in and out, collars and trims dropped then resurrected. Today's shirt is made using a thermodynamic fabric to regulate body temperature and enhance performance.Reuse content