For all those Admiral football kit fans out there… an extract from ‘Got, Not Got’ and a photo of the tatty old poster I sent away for…
… “There was no school uniform at Huncote Primary School, so virtually every boy in Junior 4 sported an Admiral shirt to top off their baggy, flared trousers. As Mr. Hughes’ eye passed over his class he would have seen a riot of colour fit to shame the parrot cage at Twycross Zoo. Luton Town’s orange, Coventry’s sky blue, Leeds’ yellow away and the red England away shirt (though I doubt he would have recognised them as such, being more interested in folk singing than footy).
The shirts you wore had no bearing on the team you supported. I was an all-blue, match-going Leicester fan, but I was happy to wear West Ham’s claret and light-blue chevrons on my chest. Alan had never been to Luton but sported their lairy Day-Glo with the white-and-navy stripe down one side. Richard did support Leeds, but the shirt came before the affiliation. Steve wasn’t Welsh, as far as he knew, but was seldom seen without his gaudy red, yellow and green international shirt. Mitchell was a Leicester fan but would carefully line up the tram lines on his Coventry shirt and shorts.
And we all did this because, for just a couple of years, Admiral was IT!
The Admiral brand could be traced back to 1914 when it was used by theLeicester underwear concern, ABC Hosiery Ltd. By the 1970s the company were called Cook & Hurst Ltd., based in the suburb of Wigston.
At this time the first manufacturers’ logos were beginning to appear on football shirts, and it was Admiral who seized on the possibilities of commercialising strips. Bert Patrick, chairman of Cook & Hurst, had formed an idea born out of England’s 1966 World Cup win and the advent of colour TV. If kits could be uniquely designed and visibly branded then contracts with clubs could be signed, and the parents of young football fans would have to buy Admiral kit rather than the plain, generic shirts currently available. With a young, go-getting sales force, Admiral set about conquering the domestic market.
Don Revie’s fondness for making a bit of brass to supplement his salary at Leeds was a big help in the early days. Leeds were the first to wear the nautical trademark. Then, when Revie became England boss, a £16,000 deal was cut and England’s traditional plain white shirt was suddenly adorned with red-and-blue sleeve stripes and a yellow logo, much to the horror of traditionalists and to the delight of schoolboys across the nation. That shirt was the must-have item of 1975, and when Manchester United were also signed up, Admiral had the ‘Big Three’. The rest quickly fell into line.
The Admiral agents had an eye for an opportunity. When Southampton beat Manchester United in the 1976 FA Cup Final they wore an Admiral strip that had been designed and manufactured since their semi-final victory, and the multiple logos down sleeves and shorts were exposed to a huge global TV audience.
Although Admiral had kitted out local club Leicester Cityfor a few seasons, only one logo had been on show. The enterprising Peter Shilton had signed his own deal and wore a ‘PS’ Admiral design on his otherwise gleaming white strip. In 1976, the outfield players also got to sport logos, and plenty of them. My dad recoiled with horror when he saw Admiral’s typically unrestrained design. It was the end of football as we knew it, he reckoned. And he was probably right. But we loved it and, after I got it for Christmas 1976, I seldom wore anything else.
In every copy of Shoot! there would be a full-page colour advert showing their latest designs; there was an Admiral Annual which showed only photos of games in which both sides wore the approved brand; and you could send away for a giant poster which displayed the company’s growing roster of clubs from Aberdeen and Dundee to Orient and Eintracht Frankfurt.
In commercial terms, Admiral had done such a great job by 1977, they were hauled over the coals in Parliament by Newport MP Roy Hughes:
“My object is to focus attention on the undesirable practices of certain sports equipment manufacturers,” he complained. “The most unpleasant aspect is that children are being exploited. One of the principal offenders appears to be the Leicesterfirm of Cook & Hurst, the chairman of which is Mr. Bert Patrick and their trade name is ‘Admiral’. The attitude of that firm is arrogant… The English football team now has ‘Admiral’ emblazoned on its tracksuits. The firm of Cook & Hurst says that it has exclusive rights to use the English lion emblem on its products. It relies for that on the Copyright Act 1968 and its predecessors. That is an abuse of those Acts, which were intended for such items as jewellery and motor-car accessories… Star-struck youngsters who wish to wear the colours of their favourite teams are having to pay through the nose for the pleasure.”
The general opinion of the Commons was that it was all a jolly rotten do, but there was nothing they could do about it. But Admiral, having lived by the sword of commerce, would soon die by it…”
Read the rest of this article in ‘Got, Not Got’ available here…