Friday, January 08, 2016

The History of the Replica Football Shirt

A replica football shirt is defined as an (official) copy of a kit. It is a huge business in the United Kingdom.

Though replica shirts have been produced since the late 1950's, they were initially marketed only to children, and sold as part of a full playing strip. Kit designs were also not copyrighted and at times different clubs, such as Derby County and Spurs, wore identical outfits and different manufacturers produced the same designs.

In the good old days any old red shirt could indicate that you were a Liverpool or a United fan. A dark blue would indicate either Everton or Chelsea.

There were only certain teams which deviated - Arsenal had those white sleeves and Blackburn Rovers played in their blue and white halved shirts.
But then things began to change!

At Coventry City, Jimmy Hill realised the kit was something more than just a uniform to wear on the pitch and he introduced the first ever kit of just one colour (other than white) as they changed from their hitherto mostly dark blue shirts with white shorts to a kit of all sky-blue. Bill Shankly only adopted all red for his Liverpool side in 1965-66 - three years after Coventry's all sky-blue affair (below).

Moving into the 1970's Bert Patrick who was the chairman of Admiral (top right), a Leicester-based knitwear firm, spotted an opportunity to produce football teams’ kits in exchange for prominent branding on the shirts, plus exclusive rights to sell the replica versions to fans.

Leeds United, who had changed from their traditional colours of blue and gold to all white in the early 1960's, became the first club to offer their fans the chance to buy replica kits in 1975 as part of their deal with kit supplier Admiral. When Don Revie left Leeds to take over as England Manager the national team entered into a similar arrangement with Admiral.

When Bert Patrick's Leicestershire knitwear company Cook and Hurst, started producing the official England football kit using the trade name ‘Admiral’ - they became the first to include the manufacturer's logo on the chest - and in 1974 he paid the Football Association £16,000 a year for the privilege. 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 revolutionary deal allowed Admiral to sell British-made replica shirts to supporters for £5 - increasing to £9 with shorts and socks included.

Now Nike, the current England kit manufacturer, have a £25 million sponsorship deal with the Football Association, and charges fans around £90 for a replica shirt.

Nike also currently represent the England national women's football team too (right).

Between 1975 and 1980, use of different coloured trim on shirts increased by 40 per cent, and manufacturers’ logos soon became ubiquitous.

The Admiral agents had an eye for an opportunity. When Southampton beat Manchester United in the 1976 FA Cup Final both teams wore an Admiral strip that had been designed and manufactured since their semi-final victories, and the multiple logos down sleeves and shorts were exposed to a huge global TV audience.

In the last 25 years, the percentage of clubs changing their home kit at the start of any season has doubled to almost 100 per cent.

Things really took off when Liverpool became the first club to wear a sponsor's name on their shirts following their 1979 deal with Japanese electronics manufacturer Hitachi (right).

Replica shirt sales are important to both sponsors and clubs. In the 1980's, when hooliganism was a factor, club replica shirt sales were quite low and clubs did relatively little to limit the use of official club logos.

Despite Admiral's innovative deals, by the start of the 1980's the competition from the Far East had become too much and Patrick, faced with low profits which were dwindling into losses, was forced to close his factories in Wigston, Leicestershire. Admiral was bought up by a Dutch oil company called, Frisol. By 1984, England had a new kit manufacturer, Umbro.

In 1990, following the National League Baseball Association example, Arsenal were one of the first clubs to register its name, to stop traders outside the football ground selling the club logo at an undercut price (Hallam, 1992).

Following this and the launch of the new FA Premier League in 1992, the League and all individual clubs now jealously protected 'official' club and League products from reproduction or imitation by non club producers.

Today, as the game has rid itself of the 'hooliganism' tag and wearing club shirts has become fashionable, effective licensing deals are crucial to commercial success. All top clubs now have extensive club shops or superstores selling exclusive official club merchandise.

The market for replica shirts has grown enormously, with the revenue generated for leading clubs and the frequency with which they change designs coming under increased scrutiny, especially in the United Kingdom, where the market for replicas is worth in excess of £200m.

Several clubs have been accused of price fixing, and in 2003 Manchester United were fined £1.65m by the Office of Fair Trading. The high prices charged for replicas have also led to many fans buying fake shirts which are imported from countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.
Nonetheless, the chance for fans to purchase a shirt bearing the name and number of a star player can lead to significant revenue for a club.

In the first six months after David Beckham's transfer to Real Madrid in 2003 the club sold more than one million shirts bearing his name.

When Newcastle United signed Alan Shearer (below) in July 1996, the North-East club made £250,000 on the day of his signing, just in terms of Shearer replica shirt sales. 

When Inter Milan, in contrast, signed Ronaldo in 1997, the club had prepared no shirts carrying the Brazilian's favoured No.9. Instead, counterfeit No.9 shirts appeared to satisfy local demand, forcing the club to play their new star as a No. 10 in order to cash in later on official shirt sales!

The adult market for replica football shirts as leisurewear only developed significantly from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today sales to adults provide the bulk of a billion dollar industry, Manchester United alone selling approximately 2 million shirts per year.

Top selling player shirts (as at 30/09/2015):

10/ Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool/Brazil)

9/ Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal/Chile)

8/ Sergio Agüero (Manchester City/Argentina)

7/ Neymar (Barcelona/Brazil)

6/ Wayne Rooney (Manchester United/England)

5/ Eden Hazard (Chelsea/Belgium)

4/ Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United/Germany)

3/ Memphis Depay (Manchester United/Netherlands)

2/ Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Portugal)

1/ Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina)

# Information courtesy of

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