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British Cult - The story of Admiral

From the Manchester United kits to those designed by Ralph Lauren that marked the 60s and 70s

British Cult - The story of Admiral  From the Manchester United kits to those designed by Ralph Lauren that marked the 60s and 70s

Football games have been transmitted in black and white up to the one played on 15th November 1969 between Liverpool and West Ham. Stands also weren't colored by supporters' shirts, differently from today. Replica shirts worn by supporters in the stands, as merchandising, are important items for the annual clubs' income. The credit of colorized football also outside the pitch is of Bert Patrick, English entrepreneur in underwear commerce, the first that had the intuition to sell replica kit of British football teams, branded with his mark: Admiral.


The beginning

Watching some kids playing football outside his factory in the British textile district of Leicester, Bert Patrick had the feeling that was the perfect moment for redesign football shirts, also because of the enthusiasm generated by the triumph of three lions in 1966 World Cup. Admiral signed a partnership with Leeds United, that allowed the brand to place his logo on official kits, and also the opportunity to sell the same shirts that were worn by players on the pitch: this is the birth of replica jerseys. Until then, to wear colors of your favorite team, you had to add colored patches on normal shirts, but from now, it was possible to buy them in stores.

Admiral hired designers directly from colleges because students were more interested in the product and not focused on market rules: it was very important that new colors must be recognizable by people and not influenced by them. The second shirt of Leeds United became totally yellow but it was not the success of this kit that made Admiral famous in all the country,  but it has been the failure of the England Football Team. In 1974 Three Lions miss the qualification for the World Cup and it was decided to change everything, also the jersey. The new manager Don Revie had already worked with Admiral when was the coach of Leeds United, so the brand easily became the technical sponsor of the national team, only two years later from his birth as a supplier. With a contract of five thousand pounds yearly, it has been created the first English kit that could be bought for five pounds.


The expansion

The rapid expansion of Admiral had been supported by some marketing choices. They decide to leave traditional colors used for shirts, creating unique kits that catch the attention of fans. In 1976 Galles National team played with reds shirts whit green and yellow stripes, but it was the shirt on English team that evoked a debate between enthusiasts and purists. Collar and v-neck, unusual for that time, it was added blue and red stripes, that made unique kits of the second part of the70s.

It was born in supporters the desire to own shirts, and a lot of clubs chose Admiral as a technical sponsor. Among them the Coventry City, that in 1978 used a brown away kit with white details, today remembered as the worst one produced by the brand, and surely unique in English football history.

At that time workers were chosen as models for advertising, for greater involvement in the creation of products. Clubs felt more connected with Admiral, with the brand name that was worn and exposed more and more in front of tv cameras. The brand decided also that doctors have to use and wear Admiral clothes, to make the logo visible also when matches were stopped because of injuries.

The FA Cup final in 1976 was the further demonstration of the marketing strategies used by the company born in Leicester was unique. Manchester United and Southampton were two contenders: for both teams were designed new kits, but for commercial reasons, they could not have in front the name Admiral. So the company sewed his name on the back side of players, who were head-on to the cameras by their backside during the entrance of Queen Elizabeth II on the pitch. A unique show that made the company in a short time the leader of the market.


The failure

Leeds United, Tottenham, Southampton, West Ham, Manchester United and a lot of other clubs have had Admiral as a technical sponsor. The brand spread is influence also in Scotland, Wales, Germany, Swiss, Sweden, and Italy. It was active also overseas: it was the technical sponsor of some clubs in the North American Soccer League and had the license to make replica kits of every team of the league. In 1978 New York Cosmos won by wearing Admiral kits designed by Ralph Lauren.

Rapid expansion for a company that remained smaller than competitors of that time: Umbro, Puma, Patrick, and Le Coq Sportif.
The opening of a new factory was seen by workers as the creation of a monster, and it did not pass a lot of time that turned out to be a bad decision. Problems in England with football, that became very violent on stands, and the increasing importation of clothes from Asia brought the company in crisis. Political choices did not help and soon banks demanded money that was loaned to companies: a lot of factories had been closed, and among these also Admiral.

The old owner Patrick leave and the new one was Peter Hawking, a rich oilman that want to replace his success in the oil market also in textile. Using the perception of Admiral, which was already seen as a high-quality brand, he tried to raise the company betting on the English National Team: the destiny of the brand depending on the eleven players in the pitch. Three Lions were qualified for World Cup in Spain, bringing Admiral at the first World Championship. But the fact that had to be the beginning of the new era of the brand turned out as the coup de grace. Despite it has been created different replica shirts, the Iberian hot weather and the absence of rain and wind did not help players in wearing shirts that were made by polyester. Admiral had 24 hours for remake shirts: crests were sewn during the night in a hotel but the effort was not enough to prevent England team from leaving the competition.


Admiral today

Admiral closed the last factory in the mid-eighties, needed millions of pounds to continue collaborating with the clubs, which began to rely on Umbro and adidas. Today the Admiral jerseys are loved by collectors and, until last season, they were worn by AFC Wimbledon: the only club left under the technical supply of the brand.

However, Admiral is still an inspiration for fashion brands: in 2018 Represent launched a collection in collaboration with Admiral. The English brand, created by the brothers Michael and George Heaton, has taken over the historic Manchester United suit of the 70s, with curved stripes that go down from the shoulders to the ankle, bringing back to our day a style that at the time appeared innovative.
If today the budget of big clubs are increasingly dependent on kit sales and million-dollar agreements with companies, the merit of all this goes to a British visionary who, like a linen manufacturer, had the intuition to change the world of merchandising football.