Growing up as a younger sibling in a large family there was never a dull moment, but it also presented challenges when it came to my early passion in life – football shirts.
I remember my first experiences of football shirts, around the age of 4 or 5, and the fascination that gripped me. They weren’t normal pieces of clothing, they had a special and glamorous quality. All my older brothers had shirts, mostly Manchester United shirts but there were also shirts of other clubs which to this day I find a bit random, I have a vivid memory of a Southampton shirt made by Patrick, very retro looking even then, with its accentuated collar and slim and fitted cut. It was a great shirt, but the ones that really mattered were the red ones with the three white stripes on the sleeves and soft flocked adidas logo and Manchester united crest on the chest. They were majestic in every way.
My eldest brother had the 1983 version of the home shirt, I know it was that version as it had the proud ‘FA CUP WINNERS 1983’ flocked beneath the crest, which was an update on the same shirt of the previous year. That shirt also had a flocked number ‘9’ on the back (Frank Stapleton) which even now feels advanced for replica embellishments for the time, the very early days of replica shirts. There was also a version one my brothers had with the ‘SHARP ELECTRONICS’ on the chest (ELECTRONICS in black). Sponsorship was a very new thing then, so it was arresting and also a very cool sponsor, as sharp across the shirt works on many levels; sharp dresser, sharp thinker, sharp movements, etcetera.
These shirts back then were my first interactions with football, my gateway. I was too young to attend games, they weren’t televised as often and we had a fairly basic black and white TV (which we were in constant competition for control of) so the clothes and magazines were my education.
I remember the shirts vividly, they were classy things, the shiny material with the engineered pin stripes running through, the heavy-weight knitted white V-neck collar with the red and black stripe accents and then the 3 stripes in white down the shoulders. They also had a weight to them which gave a certain tangible value, and the rich feeling flocked logos. The United crest itself was also very cool, it’s got a devil on it for a start, and for a 4-year-old that’s pretty cool. It is also quite detailed and had the adidas boots integrated into the scrolls on the top of it, so there was much to appreciate in there.
As the years passed by, shirts bought exclusively for me were not forthcoming and so I had to settle for my brothers’ hand-me down shirts, I had the one above, then the iconic 1984 home shirt followed by the ’86-88 design, but only after the new ones had launched. And they certainly didn’t fit, always far too big, very oversized!
My actual first new shirt came later, when I was 9 years old and I was desperate for my very own brand-new United shirt. Money was quite tight back in those days, so it was always going to be a bargain to get me started. I was out shopping with my mum and some siblings on a Saturday afternoon in town and stumbled across a sale in Olympus Sports at the end of 1989-90 season. The outgoing Manchester United home shirt was on sale for about £9. I didn’t really care that it was going to be imminently out of date, just to have that shirt in my size was above all other importance.
It was an absolute banging shirt too – long raglan sleeves that go to the elbow, ‘MUFC’ running through the shiny jacquard material, white piping calling out the raglan, white cross over V-neck with that almost trademark black and red stripe accent and the 3D welted flocking of the logos. Amazing.
I really loved it, I think I wore it nearly every day, my parents would have to sneak it out of my room to be washed, I played football in it, dossed about with my mates in it, wore it day-in-day-out. In fact, in all the family photo albums of that era I am wearing that shirt in pretty much every photo. After that shirt I got a bit luckier or better with my campaigning for the new one to my parents, the new home shirt (1990-92) of the following season arrived for Christmas (full price – around £22 I think) and the goalkeeper shirt for my birthday.
Those shirts really cemented my connection to adidas. I’d been exposed to it from an early age with the ’82 home shirt and my first interaction, but the following years I really grew fanatical about it. This was the period where I used to sketch the shirts and also create my own designs on scrap paper or anything else I could get my hands on to draw on.
I think looking back those designs weren’t good at all; in fact, you wouldn’t see a potential for my later career there, but they planted a seed in me and one which I later came back to in my profession. I would say that I really never planned to do this, although football shirts have been a part of my life from my earliest memories. It is funny how things can work out, but if you have that passion and obsession then it is definitely worthwhile to pursue it. I would always advise people that you should do what you enjoy, and if you are motivated and have the desire, then it can be done, just as I did it.
My time with adidas started with an internship, and I took a chance on moving to Germany for an initial six months. I didn’t have any real expectations or think at the time that I could turn it into a career. adidas seemed like a huge and exciting place, and one that I wouldn’t be able to get into realistically. I thought that the products somehow ‘fell to earth’ or were made by other people, certainly not people like me.
Actually, they aren’t, they are made by normal people, people with a shared drive and passion for what they do, and that is what kept me in the company so many years – hard work, dedication and constant challenges. It has been a real education for me, I’ve learnt a huge amount through doing, trying and creating and, of course, making mistakes.
The culture within the company promotes that environment, an environment that is about constant creativity and working openly and collaboratively to have the confidence to innovate. It has kept me motivated and highly ambitious. My time has allowed me the great honour to work on many great projects with the most famous names in world football, sport and fashion. Teamwork is at the heart of that, and in the design team we really work like a football team. We have different ‘players’ who all bring their unique set of skills and strengths to the team and we function as one unit to get the best results. It really works.
A United Return
That leads us into the more recent history and the partnership of Manchester United and Adidas in 2015. Of course, this was a dream come true for me. I’d never expected it would happen to be quite frank, as United seemed to be in a long (and sadly for me) endless relationship with another sports brand so when it did happen, I was ecstatic.
It is an absolute pleasure to design for the club you support, though it is obviously added to by the weight of years of your own expectations and the expectations of friends and family who supported United too. It is an honour and privilege.
My main memory of the first United home game of the 2015/16 season, was of approaching Old Trafford on a warm sunny August Saturday afternoon and seeing thousands of supporters, just like me, all wearing the famous red shirt I’d had been working on with the team in Germany. It was a very surreal moment.
Seeing the adidas logos adorning the stadium, the buzz was incredible, the whole build up to the match flashed by in an instant. The particular moment that really got me was the team walking out that day with the three stripes on the shirt again, led by Wayne Rooney. New signings, new hope, it was a really emotional moment, and one I’ll never forget. Luckily, we won 1-0, so the day was as close to perfect as you can get.
I always thought to myself, whilst every boy dreams of being a footballer – and I had no chance of that – the next best thing is to design their kit. I am lucky to have had that honour, to do that for a living and work with an amazing team who bring these things to life and appear in front of millions of people every week.
Inigo Turner is Design Director at adidas.