Tradition and uniformity in the world of football kits took a back seat to individuality in the seventies, as many clubs reinvented their colours for a new era.
Leeds United, under the leadership of Don Revie, introduced sock tags featuring each player’s number in 1972. A year later they became pioneers after teaming up with Admiral to create the first commercially available replica kits.
Bert Patrick, the director of Admiral, took the firm from its roots as a small Leicestershire underwear manufacturer to a leading brand in the world of football kits. Following their deal with Leeds, within just a couple of years Admiral’s distinctive, boldly designed and ground-breaking new kits were sported by top sides all over the country. When Revie took over as England manager in 1974, he brought Admiral in as the kit suppliers with the backing of the FA, but the move was not popular with traditionalists in the media.
For the traditional English brands, it was time to play catch-up. Umbro and Bukta would spend the rest of the decade competing with Admiral to sign teams to replica kit deals, increasing their brand exposure by adding their own logos, trims and embellishments to their products. But they also had to contend with foreign influences. In 1975 QPR became the first top flight English team to wear adidas kit. Previously the German brand’s three stripes had only been seen on the players boots in the domestic game.
Clubs were also starting to take note of the importance of marketing their own identities as brands in their own right. By 1975/76, all but one First Division side (Stoke City) wore kits featuring an insignia or club crest.
Kettering Town turned out in shirts emblazoned with the logo of their sponsor, Kettering Tyres, in 1976. This marked a first in English football, although French sides had trialled this earlier and German side Eintracht Braunschweig had famously worn the Jägermeister logo type on their shirts in 1973. Four days after Kettering debuted their new shirts, the FA ordered the logos to be removed.
Following lobbying by several clubs including Kettering Town, from the 1977/78 season onwards, the FA allowed shirts to feature sponsorship logos. It would take two full seasons until any clubs were able to take advantage of this, however. In 1979 Liverpool signed the first shirt sponsorship deal with Japanese conglomerate Hitachi. Everton became the first club to actually wear a shirt sponsor in the Football League (that of Danish tinned meat company Hafnia), due to their first match of the season taking place a few days before Liverpool’s.
Read part 6 – the 1980s here.