England unveil World Cup kit: £90 strip 'the armour of English knights'
Football shirts change faster than Premiership managers and England have a new one for Brazil – yours for £90. But, says Will Dean, results will determine if it becomes iconic
When St George's Park, the FA's all-singing, all-dancing, all-nutmegging training centre, opened in 2012, one of its most striking features was an atrium filled with a series of mannequin torsos telling "the Umbro football story".
They included shots of Sir Alf in his famous blue tracksuit in 1966. Old England kits and images of teams playing in Umbro kits back in the days when the Humphreys Brothers were still around to see their sporting goods cover the back of everyone from Frank Swift to Billy Bremner. It was, for fans of a certain type of corporate branding mixed with interior design, very impressive.
Just one problem. A fortnight after the razzmatazz opening of St George's Park, Umbro was flogged by owner Nike and the whole thing was later pulled down. (Suffice to say, Nike kept Umbro's lucrative England contract.) An apt metaphor, then, for football's merciless capacity for change, particularly when kits are involved. The £50 kit cycle is now so rapid that Chelsea – to name one culprit – has had 26 kits (excluding goalkeepers') since the start of the 2005/06 season. Since 2009, England have been just as sartorially promiscuous, with eight different kits including a home shirt launched solely for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Naturally, these were soon spotted in branches of Sports Direct for about £8 days after England had royally been gedemütigt by Germany.
Ten long months after Nike launched its first pair of England shirts, which have been played in a grand total of 10 times, the firm yesterday announced its latest iterations of the Three Lions jersey. In fact, England's 2013-14 change shirt has been played in by the men's senior team just twice, for draws in Brazil and Ukraine, which means it has made fewer appearances for England than Carlton Cole.
The new Nike kit range begins with the home, V-necked "Stadium" shirt, a bargain at £90 (NINETY), an exact replica of the shirt that James Milner and co will be running around in against Italy, Costa Rica and Uruguay this summer. Nike's bumpf for the shirt repeatedly emphasises its ability to keep wearers dry and cool. Given that England's first game in Manaus against Italy is likely to be played in +30C and up to 99 per cent humidity, at that price you'd hope it comes with built in air-conditioning. "Cheaper" £60 versions of both the home and away kits are also available.
They're rather pleasant though, harking back to the simple – and, it must be pointed out, unbranded – kits of England's glorious 1966-70 past. In the blurb accompanying the launch, Martin Lotti, Nike's creative director, said the home kit nodded back to the all-white kit worn by England in Mexico in 1970 against Brazil. Lotti also cited, oddly, "the armour of English knights", which could make things a bit tasty if we get the Byzantines in the next round.
The kits receive a bit of legitimacy from Neville Brody, the legendary graphic designer behind The Face and Arena. Brody's new typeface for the players' names and numbers evokes the famous font used to brand Mexico '70. It's certainly enough to make the design team at The Independent purr in approval.
It's not the first nice recent kit for Stevie G and the lads, though. Last May's release, which was widely criticised for looking "a bit German" (a comparison rarely levelled at the team) was another model of restrained design. It's likely not to be too fondly remembered by anyone, simply because the most notable thing that happened in it was Andros Townsend's two-game spell as English football's brightest star.
The shirts that England fans remember are – fancy this! – those inextricably linked to memorable games. You can have all the fancy Neville Brody-designed typography you like, but it's unlikely that the new kits will be remembered as fondly as the grey Umbro monstrosity that saw England exit Euro 1996. Just the thought of it evokes Gazza's this-close far post miss. Or there's – more Gazza – the marvellous two-tone polyester Italia '90 shirts, which immediately make one hum "World in Motion" and subconsciously wipe the tears away.
Possibly best of all is the red 1982 Admiral number worn by England for the Bryan Robson-inspired first round shoeing of Michel Platini's France. Not to mention its home equivalent which can't help but be associated with the brief sight of Kevin Keegan in those barely legal blue shorts against Spain.
So for all your sweat-wicking fabrics, laser-cut side panels and "engineered mesh" (I prefer my mesh organic, ta), the success, both in sales and sartorial legacy will depend on what England do in Brazil. A glorious semi-final defeat and we'll look back at it in 20 years' time, dreaming of those nights in Manaus, Belo Horizonte and – who knows? – Rio de Janeiro.
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