For the 75 – 76 season United's new kit supplier Admiral, introduced the iconic white away shirt, the one with the vertical black lines. It was a shirt that would land Admiral in hot water to an extent, a handbags at dawn incident with another sportswear manufacturer that would only go to increase the interest in the shirt, more on that later.
It’s a shirt that many United fans see as the clubs best ever away top, their favourite all time away shirt, it certainly is mine although the first black United shirt of the ‘90’s comes a very close second. Back in the early to mid ‘70’s branding in football was still in its infancy, it was nothing like what we know today with its seemingly bottomless pit of countless teams from everywhere under the sun having their shirts on the rails in the sports shops. Back then with kit branding and design for the masses still a relatively new idea, designers everywhere were busy coming up with new idea’s and concepts, check out Coventry City’s Admiral brown away kit! Fans really latched on to branding, but not everyone at the time was happy with branding in football. Before the 1976 FA Cup final between United and Southampton, the BBC threatened to withdraw their coverage of the cup final due to the fact that both United and the south coast team were about to wear their new admiral track suits with the word Admiral emblazoned across, the BBC were not allowed to advertise.
“The day before the match I had a call from the director of sport at the BBC, saying he couldn’t have this. We had quite an argument on the phone. I said if he wasn’t going to film the final that was his prerogative, but I would see what I could do. They were objecting to having the word Admiral on the front of the teams' tracksuits, so I quickly put it onto the back. When the players ran out of the tunnel at Wembley it was right in front of the camera and all over the screens at home. I got a phone call from him the next morning saying, ‘Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Patrick, the BBC appreciates it’.” Bert Patrick, Chairman of Admiral.
Bert Patrick was the chairman of Admiral, which was then a knitwear company in Leicester. Colour TV had just arrived in the United Kingdom and Patrick saw the chance of a great business idea, selling colourful football shirts to the general public, the same shirts the fans saw on their new colour TV’s every Saturday night. Admiral would get full rights to produce the kit and sell it to the fans. A significant change in culture was about to happen in the UK, one that is still alive and kicking today.
“Before that, the fans took scarves, rattles and bobble hats to matches. If you wanted a Leeds shirt, for instance, you’d buy a white shirt and you’d buy a badge and ask your mother to sew it on. I saw an opportunity for fans to wear the same kit as the team. We had recently won the World Cup and it was the advent of colour television, so I thought the interest would be there for us to design more colourful shirts. I told this to a group of people working in my factory back then and they said, ‘It’s all right for you, Mr. Patrick, you can afford a colour television, but the colours will be wasted on the rest of us.’ That was the attitude, but really we were bang on time.” Bert Patrick, Chairman of Admiral.
The 1968 copyright act meant companies like Admiral could come up with their own designs and own them legally, full rights etc. The first Admiral kits were made out of Aertex, a fabric consisting of loosely woven cotton, sounds comfortable but ask anyone who owned a shirt, like me, what it was like putting it on and taking it off, quite uncomfortable to put it mildly. Aged 9, I owned the Admiral England shirt, the home shirt with the red and blue stripes down the sleeves, with the iron on team badge that would dry up quickly and begin flaking. I remember wearing it in the playground at junior school thinking I was Gordon Hill, but even wearing the correct size with a bit of room in it, it still scratched you when putting it on and taking it off, oh well, happy days !!
The first of United’s away shirts produced by Admiral consisted of a white shirt with three black stripes down the left hand side, with the club badge sitting on top of those black stripes, to the right was the Admiral logo.
The rest of the kit consisted of black shorts with a red and white stripe down each side and white socks with red trim. Going back to the shirt, the collar and shirt sleeves were adorned with a bold red stripe. It looked the muts nuts. This largely white away kit was to last 5 seasons, although throughout the late ‘70’s it would see a subtle change here and there, such as a positional change to the club badge on the shirt, the colour of the Admiral logo and that added fourth stripe.. The disagreement with Adidas occurred as a result of Admiral using three stripes on the United away shirt for the 1975 – 76 season. Legal advice was sought by Admiral (and Adidas), the upshot being that a straight line cannot be construed as a trade mark, that meant Admiral were at liberty to continue using the three stripes on the United shirt. Whilst the legal action was going on, the two sportswear companies tried to come to an amicable trade off.
For a while Admiral added that fourth stripe; however it would only be worn a few times, games including Arsenal and Liverpool being two examples. However, like I said the decision went in Admirals favour so they returned to using just three stripes, its welcome return was in the February of 1976 for an away game at Aston Villa.
United first wore this new white away kit, with changed black socks, during a game at the Victoria Ground to play Stoke City, on the 30th August 1975. United came away with the points courtesy of an own goal scored by Alan Dodd. During that time, United could be seen away wearing matching white shorts.
United enjoyed a fair few victories playing in the white away shirt, but perhaps the most famous victory in the white shirt happened the FA Cup semi final of 1979, over arch enemies Liverpool. Believe it or not, but in those days Liverpool were the best team in the country, managed by football legend Bob Paisley. The FA Cup of the 78 – 79 season started well for Dave Sextons Manchester United with a 3 – 0 leathering of Chelsea, goals coming from Steve Coppell, Jimmy Greenhoff and Ashley Grimes. The Red Devils were to finish a disappointing 9th that season, but in the FA Cup they showed they were still a very good football team, difficult to beat. United had beaten Tottenham in the quarter final replay, that meant they would meet Liverpool for the semi final at Maine Road on the 31st March.
Liverpool faced United in a very drab looking yellow kit.
It was Liverpool who took the lead with a goal from Kenny Dalglish early in the game...
...it didn’t last long only two minutes later big Joe Jordan had leveled matters.
Old Trafford legend Brian Greenhoff made it 2 – 1 United in the second half.
It looked as though United were going to win it when Alan Hansen scored for Liverpool, a replay would be needed.
The replay would take place five days later at Everton’s Goodison Park. United started well, going close with chances by Sammy McIlroy and Joe Jordan. The first half was full of incident. United didn’t have it all their own way, Liverpool had chances including a decent chance by Graham Souness. It was a classic English cup tie with plenty of goal mouth action.
Gordon McQueen almost put United ahead, unfortunately despite only being yards from the goal line, his effort went over the cross bar, and Joe Jordan saw a header hit the cross bar. Despite the fact Liverpool themselves saw a header his the cross bar, United were beginning to edge it, the United fans out singing the Liverpool fans. United shaded the first half.
In the second half Jimmy Greenhoff got his head on the end of a cross from Mickey Thomas, the ball sailing past Ray Clemence into the Liverpool net.
That’s how it ended, 1 – 0 to United. Since those days of Gordon Hill and Jimmy Greenhoff at Old Trafford, the white away shirt with the stripes has occupied a place in the history of the biggest club in the world. It may be more than 30 years since United last wore but even today its recognized everywhere on the planet. A design winner.
Richard Fenton. May 2015Follow @ricky_red_manc